With a mere 5-6 record, the Titans sit in third place in the struggling AFC South. Marcus Mariota leads their offense, but many have written off the Titans this season due to their defensive struggles.
The Titans’ mediocre record can be only be attributed to its defense, who’ve given up the seventh most points to opposing teams this season. Second behind only the Atlanta Falcons in touchdowns scored and lead the NFL in offensive touchdowns, the Titans owe their overall performance to their surging offense.
In only his second season, Mariota has commanded the Titans with 25 total touchdowns. His biggest improvement from last year has been his success in the red zone, where Mariota has 16 touchdowns and is yet to throw an interception or even be sacked. The Titans’ offense is more than just passing, as they are equally threatening with the ball in the hands of running backs DeMarco Murray or Derrick Henry, who have averaged 4.7 and 4.1 yards per carry and scored 8 and 1 touchdowns, respectively. Mariota is an additional menace to opponents when running, scoring two rushing touchdowns and averaging more than five yards when forced to scramble downfield.
Mariota’s youth has not been a concern, and his natural leadership shows when one examines his targets. Eight players have a receiving touchdown from Mariota, and he makes average receivers better players. Take for example, receiver Rishard Matthews and tight end Delanie Walker, who have six and five receiving touchdowns, respectively.
Mariota and Murray’s success stems from the greatly improved offensive line. The Titans have the seventh fewest sacks against and one of the strongest offensive lines in the NFL. After firing head coach Ken Whisenhunt last season, his replacement, Mike Mularkey, placed an emphasis on protecting Mariota and opening gaps for the team’s running backs. Taylor Lewan, Quinton Spain, Ben Jones, Josh Kline, and rookie Jack Conklin make up the Pro Bowl-worthy O-line, and all five have had fantastic seasons, showing little to no signs of weakness. If this team continues their offensive success, there are very few defenses that can consistently stop the Titans.
The defensive side of the ball is the only roadblock left for the Titans. After rebuilding for a number of seasons, they finally have the offense their front office has dreamt of. Despite Mariota’s newfound success, his team will be unable to make the playoffs and witness long term success unless they address their serious defensive struggles.