It has certainly been a case of the good, the bad, and the ugly for the Tennessee Titans in the first half of the 2015 season. But as Bill Parcells used to say, you are what your record says you are, and the record says 2-6.
There was so much optimism after the season opening win in Tampa, which quickly went away in a six game losing streak. At the end of that came the firing of Coach Ken Whisenhunt, a move that surprised many. But it was a move that had to be made, for the present, but especially for the future. Whisenhunt had the second-worst record of any coach with any team in league history, 3-20. Only John McKay of the expansion Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1976-1977 was worse. He was 0-23 before walking away himself. McKay uttered the greatest line ever by a coach when he was asked about his team’s execution and said he was in favor of it.
Mike Mularkey, twice a failed head coach himself, is now the interim coach and he is of an offensive background. So the hope is this will not stunt the growth of Marcus Mariota. Mariota missed two games with an MCL sprain, but in six games played he threw 13 touchdown passes, or more than Vince Young or Jake Locker ever threw in an entire season. Mariota’s first half was bookended by four touchdowns, and no interception masterpieces. He is the only rookie quarterback in league history to have a pair of such games in his rookie campaign. The second overall pick, when on the field, has surpassed expectations.
The offensive line and running game, each appearing to be woefully inadequate, may yet be but there is hope and reason to believe they might not be so bad after all. Mularkey immediately slimmed down the playbook, simplified the language, which freed up blocking schemes—and the o-line shined against the Saints, allowing Mariota to win the game with time in the pocket and assistance from a revitalized rushing attack led by Antonio Andrews.
The defense and special teams have been stronger than expected. The defensive line has been keeping the Titans in during a series of low-scoring losses. Jurrell Casey has been tremendous, and special mention must go to Derrick Morgan, moved to linebacker and finally realizing his potential. Brian Orakpo has been a consistent force, harkening back to his Pro Bowl days in Washington. The secondary has been the weak spot. Constant injuries to Jason McCourty have not helped. But Coty Sensabaugh has stepped in well, mostly. Ryan Succop has only missed one field goal, and punter Brett Kern has swung field position often for that defense to go to work.
Most eyes will now turn to see where the Titans go in hiring a coach. Mularkey is sure not to be it. Whomever it is must be an offensive-minded coach that can help Mariota to grow. Mariota is exceedingly smart but that does not mean he needs an unwieldy playbook to have to decipher as before.
But my eyes are staying in the present. The reality is the Titans still have plenty to play for. Despite being 2-6, they are only 1½ games out of first place, and those first-place Colts just lost Andrew Luck for likely six weeks or more. Mariota gives the Titans a chance still, and with both games against Jacksonville and a home game against Houston remaining, it will take an upset or two. But maybe that ‘week 17’ game in Indianapolis can be for something?