Slow and Steady: The Tennessee Way

That southern draw isn’t the only thing that seems to be stuck in molasses in TN.  The Grizzlies are having a final tour for the Grit and Grind era.  The possession, defensive, and pace-management style can make for a horrid watch, but it can win games.  This era also took Memphis to 7 straight playoff appearances and a conference final. Today’s football game is an air raid.  Today’s basketball game is volume shooting.  The Titans and Grizzlies had several things in common throughout their recent playoff runs.  The main theme behind their success is founded in their dwelling in the counter-culture of their respective sports.  You either play the way the “best” teams are playing or play to defeat that.  Neither Tennessee team has ever had the pieces that are needed to play the popular way.  Both franchises have done what it takes to win in years past.

Last year the Titans had 443 rushing attempts.  The Titans would have to run the ball 27 times per game, the remaining 5 games, to hit that number.  I hope they do.  DeMarco Murray, at the age he came to the Titans, was not that much better than Derek Henry.  Both are volume backs.  The difference is the coaching and experience.  I’m not saying that to discredit this year’s staff or say I wish Mularkey and company were still in Nashville.  I’m just arguing that they’re not comprised of the necessary cast to air it out yet.  Henry averaged 4.2 yards per carry last season, compared to 3.7 this season.  The line is virtually the same, but the supporting back isn’t.  I’m also here to argue that Dion Lewis isn’t any worse than that version of DeMarco Murray.  If you notice, DeMarco hasn’t been getting many carries since leaving the Titans.  This years line looks mentally overwhelmed to me and I can live with that.  Vrabel’s a defensive guy and LaFluer hasn’t called the plays much.  In my opinion, both are good “young” football minds.  What you’re seeing this season is a lack of experience and familiarity at nearly every level.  It never turns out well when you exit a roller coaster before it’s truly finished.  In all but one of the Titans’ victories this seasons, they ran the ball over 30 times.  That’s what they need to do to win with the current roster.  There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

I’m not here to tell you Marcus Mariota is or isn’t a good pro QB.  I’m just arguing he’s not built for the air raid.  He’s smart, he seems to be a great guy, hard worker, and he’s talented too.  He has wheels when needed and has shown that he’s capable of making the right decisions and not putting the ball in a risky spot.  His arm’s not great, but it’s just as good as several other starting quarterbacks in the league.  However, he’s not Brees, Brady, Rogers, Rivers, or Roethisberger.  The air raid only works if you have a well-above-average quarterback.  Average quarterbacks need great receivers to mask their perceived inefficiencies.  There is one good receiver on the Titans active roster and no great ones.  Their only great receiver went out at literally the very beginning of this year. The unsuccessful air raid also puts your defense in a vulnerable spot.  The Titans defense is good.  No defense is good if they’re on the field too much.

Time of possession and ground-and-pound aren’t sexy styles of play.  They aren’t fun to watch.  I don’t care and if you’re a Titans fan, neither should you.  The only statistic that ultimately matters is wins.  That’s how you get into the playoffs.  That’s how you compete for titles.  I think LaFluer is smart enough to start connecting these dots too.  He’s made Mariota better this year.  He just cannot make Mariota an air raid quarterback in under a year.  Mariota had a 13 to 15 touchdown to interception ratio last season.  This season it’s 9 to 6.  That’s all you can ask of a player that ran a bunch in college.  That’s all you can ask of a player that’s had that many different playbooks.

I hope the Titans ownership has not given up on their two Heisman trophy winners like most of their fan base.  I think both have some legitimate issues to fix.  However, neither of them has been groomed the correct way since exiting college.  There’s a lot of players out there that run fast, jump high, and are extremely strong.  The difference at the pro level is a cerebral one.  The arms race, at that level, is a mental one.  Look what “average” players, who’ve been underneath a veteran to start their careers, can turn into.  Mariota and Henry haven’t had that luxury.  Both guys were needed and leaned on heavily, from the start of their time in the NFL.  Today’s media climate rewards witch-hunts.  It’s just easy to play on your fans’ frustrations.  It’s lazy journalism.  I don’t care if there’s ever anyone other than number 8 under center as long as he gets better each year.  I don’t care if they hand the ball off to anyone other than 22 as long as he’s a better player each year. Marcus’ injury proneness is a concern.  He simply doesn’t need to run as much or at least needs to slide sooner.  The line protecting better or him getting rid of the football sooner need to happen as well.  Derek Henry needs to quit being so cheeky and get north quicker.  He’s got to start using his body in between the tackles.  Adjustments can be made and players can turn it all around after a rough start to their careers.

The hard thing to do is build a franchise in the correct fashion.  The hard thing to be is a fan of a losing team.  It’s too late to quit working towards the vision they’ve had in years past.  This is your Titans team no matter what you say or believe.  Our agenda as humans should be to strive to be better each second of your life.  I’m good with anyone who’s doing that successfully.  If Mariota and Henry aren’t showing signs of improvement next year, then let’s look at options.  If LaFluer and Vrabel aren’t on the same page next year, let’s look at options.  For now Tennessee football fans, let’s try not to run anyone out of town with your electronic pitchforks.  I know your passion is second-to-none, but you have to have realistic expectations for two teams with new coaching staffs and middle-of-the-road talent.  The southern drawl has as special place in my heart, but southern hospitality takes the cake.

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