A Season in Review: the 2017 Tennessee Titans

A Season in Review: the 2017 Tennessee Titans

Back before the 2017 NFL season started, I had a look through the regular season schedule for the Tennessee Titans with a view to seeing what the chances were that I’d have any loyalty to a team in the playoffs or just be watching games as a neutral. After looking at the fixture I made the following prediction:

“As it stands, I can imagine the Titans getting 10+ wins this season, and think they should be disappointed by anything less than a 9-7 season and a return to the playoffs.”

So how did the Titans fare? Well, they finished 9-7, making it into the playoffs (the first time since 2008) as the 5th seed in the AFC, then beat the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium 22-21 in the Wildcard Round, only to lose in Foxborough 14-35 in the Divisional Round. And yet while I don’t think the Titans could have really expected to go beyond this stage, I actually feel disappointed with the way the season panned out for the franchise.

The 2017 regular season schedule for the Titans, featuring Pro Bowl tight end Delanie Walker

The schedule for the AFC South teams was very kind this year – only 6 games were against teams with a winning record, 2 of which were the Jaguars – so this was always going to give the Titans a chance to push for a wildcard spot if they did not win the division. While wins at Jacksonville (who ended 10-6) and at home to the Seahawks (9-7) in the opening 3 weeks suggested this was a team that could go far, they were brought crashing back down to earth in a humbling 14-57 loss at the Texans (4-12) as rookie QB Deshaun Watson ran riot. They then lost to a Dolphins (6-10) team that was led by the less-than-impressive Jay Cutler and in Week 7 were taken to overtime by a Cleveland Browns team that failed to win all season! After their Week 8 bye, they were able to get back on track with close wins over the up-and-down Ravens (9-7) and Bengals (7-9) before another humbling at Heinz Field, where the Steelers (13-3) won 17-40. Their late push for a Divisional title faltered following losses to the Cardinals (8-8), Rams (11-5) and a resurgent 49ers who salvaged a poor start to the season to finish 6-10 with Jimmy Garoppolo under center.

Even while they finished 5-1 in their Divisional games, this must be looked at closer as 3 of these games (both Colts fixtures and Week 13’s game against the Texans) were against backup quarterbacks, while the Texans had also lost JJ Watt and Whitney Mercilus to Injured Reserve by this point in the season. It’s fair to say that they had an easy schedule and an easy division, yet they still only just scraped into the playoff due to their record in the conference.

There were some bright sparks for Tennessee this year. Derrick Henry continued to impress with his increased work load and I wouldn’t be surprised if he is promoted to starter in 2018. The O-Line continued to draw praise from pundits, with Taylor Lewan being selected to the Pro Bowl. With Dick LeBeau in place as Assistant Head Coach and Defensive Coordinator, the Titans defense ranked 4th in the league on rushing yards and 13th in overall yards (16th in points). Defensive lineman Jurrell Casey was selected to the Pro Bowl, safety Kevin Byard was the league leader in interceptions (8) and was selected 1st team All Pro, while rookie cornerback Adoree’ Jackson impressed as a starter and will only improve going forward. Marcus Mariota did not have a great season and arguably regressed a bit this season – though he was hampered by a hamstring injury picked up in Week 4 – but he showed flashes of the quality player we know he is towards the end of the season and is also a clear leader on the team who puts his team before his body (check out the block he threw on the Chiefs’ Frank Zombo to allow Derrick Henry to pick up a game-sealing first down on 3rd & 10 and the reaction of his teammates). I would argue though that his regression was more symptomatic of the Titans offense rather than an issue with him.

Punter Brett Kern was selected for the Pro Bowl, but I doubt the Titans would have wanted to use him so often in matches

The offense as a whole this season was terrible! Despite averaging more yards in both the rushing and passing game, Derrick Henry started only 2 games, while the lead back continued to be DeMarco Murray. First round draft pick Corey Davis showed some real flashes of his potential, especially in the playoffs against New England, but he struggled with injury throughout the season, which limited his effectiveness. The signing of Eric Decker in June really excited me, but though he was probably not on his best form this year, he was also not often used as the Red Zone target that we have seen him excel as being in recent seasons with the Jets. Mike Mularkey had previously described the offensive style as exotic smash mouth. The offense this season was rarely exotic and sometimes not even very smash mouth.

I do not want to put all the blame on Mularkey – while he is the Head Coach, Terry Robiskie is the Offensive Coordinator – but unfortunately if things are not going in the direction the team wants, he will be the one at risk. The offense this season was what stopped them performing as well as they should and a change was clearly needed ahead of next year. I am not overly surprised to see that the Titans and Mularkey have parted ways, Mularkey was the right person to get the franchise back on track but I did not see him as being the person to push them on to the next level.

Looking ahead to 2018

Mariota’s passer rating in 2017 regular season (79.3) was the worst of his NFL career (91.5 in 2015, 95.6 in 2016)

I think that there is plenty to be positive about in 2018. Mike Vrabel has been named as the new Head Coach so it will be interesting to see the effect he can have considering his limited NFL coaching experience (he was the Texans’ linebacker coach 2014-2016 and Defensive Coordinator this season). It will also be interesting to see what changes are made with the offensive coaching staff considering this was where the issues seemed to lie.

Looking at the roster, there is not really much that needs improving if the big pieces can stay in place. The important this is to work on the depth. The Titans offense fell apart following Jack Conklin’s injury against the Pats and the defense was clearly tiring as the Patriots maintained their drives. The AFC South will be much more competitive next year with Andrew Luck and Deshaun Watson fit (and who knows what the Jags will do at QB!), but I feel that the Titans should be able to push on from this year and fight for the Divisional title.

Hopefully they are going to do better than this season, as I’m planning to watch them play at Wembley!


All images in the text of this article are from the Tennessee Titans website http://www.titansonline.com

NFL 2018: The UK Games

NFL 2018: The UK Games

The 2017 NFL season may still be ongoing for some teams as we continue through the playoffs, but for 28 teams (by the time the weekend is over) it will be time to consign this season to the record books and start looking ahead to the 2018 season.

With this in mind, a few days ago, the NFL announced the team’s involved in 2018’s London games as part of the 2018 NFL International Series. As well as one as-yet unannounced game in Mexico – we know the Rams will be involved as part of a previous deal but do not yet know who their opponents will be – we will be getting 3 matches in London. As well as some returning teams, including regular visitors the Jacksonville Jaguars, 3 teams will be making their London debuts and I’m sure fans of the Tennessee Titans, Seattle Seahawks and Philadelphia Eagles will be looking forward to the chance to finally see their teams play this side of the pond.

As with last year, I have decided to take a quick look at the 3 UK fixtures to see what fans could have to look forward to. Though the announcement has come slightly later than last year – so we know the final regular season records for each team – there is still so much that could change between now and the matches, but at least we can begin to get an idea of what we may have to look forward to in October.


Seattle Seahawks (9-7) @ Oakland Raiders (6-10) – 14/10/18

Neither team will be happy with the way their 2017 seasons went and you can bet they will be looking to get back to winning ways in 2018. London has never yet seen a match between two teams with winning records.

Wembley will host 2 games in 2018, with the other played at Tottenham’s new stadium

Derek Carr may have had a down season, but with former Raiders Head Coach Jon Gruden – who won Super Bowl XXXVII with the Buccaneers – returning, you would imagine that he will be back to his best in 2018 and looking forward to taking on Seattle’s Legion of Boom. UK fans will also be hoping to see 3-time Pro Bowler Khalil Mack at his very best against Russell Wilson, who always seems so be able to throw in a couple of magical plays per game.

The big draw for this game will be the first appearance of Tottenham Hotspur’s new stadium. The stadium has been been designed with the NFL in mind and has a retractable artificial turf for NFL games. There will only be 1 game here in 2018 but the plan is for it to host 2 games a year going forward, a good opening game between 2 successful teams will go along way to helping secure the NFL’s future here.

Philadelphia Eagles (13-3) @ Jacksonville Jaguars (10-6) – 21/10/18 or 28/10/18

The only 2018 game in the UK that pits two teams who made the playoffs in 2017, this game has the potential to be one of the best games Wembley has ever seen!

Despite losing star receiver Allen Robinson to injury in Week 1, the Jags relied on a top-class defense that contained 4 Pro Bowlers to top the AFC West and get to at least the AFC Divisional Playoffs (at time of writing they are still to play their game against the Steelers). They are a team on the up and if they can get a more reliable quarterback then the sky could be the limit in 2018.

The Eagles 13-3 record was level with the Patriots, Steelers and Vikings as the best in the NFL this season, but this season will likely not reach the heights that it could have courtesy of Carson Wentz’s ACL injury in Week 14. Wentz was on track for an MVP season before his injury and the fact that they won 2 of their remaining 3 regular season games and their NFC Divisional Round Playoff game against the Falcons with Nick Foles starting under center, which shows just how good this team was this season.

If both teams can continue to play at this season’s high level and also improve on their problem areas, then this will be a match nobody will want to miss. Oh and as if that wasn’t enough, it will likely be another chance for UK fans to cheer on London-born Jay Ajayi.

Tennessee Titans (9-7) @ Los Angeles Chargers (9-7) – 21/10/18 or 28/10/18

As a Titans fan, I have been looking forward to them coming over for a while, especially in recent years as they have started to become more competitive again. Their 9-7 record may flatter to deceive somewhat (more than that in the coming days) but they are a team on the up and will (hopefully) continue to improve in 2018. When it is firing on all cylinders the Titans offense can be brilliant to watch with Derrick Henry in the backfield, 2-time Pro Bowl offensive tackle Taylor Lewan and receivers Corey Davis and Delanie Walker all on the pitch. And if the receivers are having an off day, Marcus Mariota could just start throwing touchdown passes to himself again! Mariota is one of the most impressive young quarterbacks in the league in my (somewhat biased) opinion and will treat the Wembley crowd to one hell of a show with his dual-threat ability. On defense, the Titans have an impressive front 7 and a set of young defensive backs including Adoree’ Jackson and 2017 interception leader Kevin Byard who will benefit so much from their playoff run this season.

Fans will be hoping Marcus Mariota is at his best when he comes to London – From http://www.titansonline.com

The Chargers narrowly missed out on a playoff spot this season, but quarterback Philip Rivers reminded us all of the quality he possesses in 2017, while Joey Bosa continues to impress at defensive end and was named to his first Pro Bowl this year.

This may not have the same attraction as the other 2 games, but this could also be a great spectacle between 2 improving teams. Every team who won in London this season made it into the playoffs as Divisional champions, while Jacksonville have previously use the London games to get themselves back on track after poor starts to the season. I imagine both franchises will be looking to use this game as a springboard to launch forwards in their quest for a 2018 playoff berth.


Will you be going to any of the games? Which one are you most looking forward to?

Tennessee Titans: the 2017 Schedule

After plenty of articles focusing on rugby recently, one of my colleagues has been begging me to do one about the NFL. I feel I know the sport relatively well, but not enough to come out with many smart comments during the offseason. However with the release of the regular season schedule, I felt that this was something I could finally write about.

I have decided to keep this specific to the team that I follow, the Tennessee Titans. After 4 consecutive losing seasons, the Titans finally showed promise last season, finishing 2nd in the AFC South with a 9-7 record (tied with Divisional Champions the Houston Texans) despite losing star QB Marcus Mariota to injury in Week 16. In a division that tends to underwhelm, the Titans will be hoping that 2017 will see their first trip to the playoffs in almost 10 years.

While writing this, I will be judging it on the whole by teams’ performances from last season. This may not be wholly representative of how teams will perform this year, as they will have evolved throughout the offseason and, with the Draft still to come, will not yet be the finished article until the season starts.


The Titans’ 2017 Regular Season schedule is as follows (team records from last season):

Week 1 vs Raiders (12-4)

Week 2 @ Jaguars (3-13)

Week 3 vs Seahawks (10-5-1)

Week 4 @ Texans (9-7)

Week 5 @ Dolphins (10-6)

Week 6 vs Colts (8-8)

Week 7 @ Browns (1-15)

Week 8 BYE

Week 9 vs Ravens (8-8)

Week 10 vs Bengals (6-9-1)

Week 11 @ Steelers (11-5)

Week 12 @ Colts (8-8)

Week 13 vs Texans (9-7)

Week 14 @ Cardinals (7-8-1)

Week 15 @ 49ers (2-14)

Week 16 vs Rams (4-12)

Week 17 vs Jaguars (3-13)

At first viewing, this actually looks like a relatively kind schedule for the Titans, with only 4 matches against teams who finished with double-digit wins last season. 2 of these teams (the Seahawks and Raiders) are faced in the opening 3 weeks of the season, which may make it difficult to get a positive start to the campaign, but both of these fixtures are at home which will improve the chances of a Titans victory. Miami away is a winnable game – this same fixture at the exact same point in 2016 ended in a 30-17 victory – and a trip to Heinz Field could easily go either way, with the Steelers of recent years dangerous in attack but not always so reliable on defense.

Looking at other teams outside the division that I expect to be pushing for the playoffs, I think the Titans have again been rather fortunate with home games against Baltimore and Cincinnati and a Week 14 trip to Arizona. All 3 of these teams, especially those in the AFC North, play in tough divisions so will be looking to put in 100% for every win they can get. However with all these games in the second half of the season, it is possible that the rigours of the season could be taking its toll on those teams by this point.

Divisional game are so much harder to predict as form goes completely out the window. As I mentioned at the start, the Titans and Texans both finished the season with 9-7 records. What won the division for the Texans was their respective records within the AFC South: the Texans went 5-1 whereas the Titans could only manage a 2-4 record! As it stands, there is no team who look ready to break away and take control of the division, so these matches could easily go either way. The Texans have one of the best defensive front sevens in the NFL and a star receiver in DeAndre Hopkins, but they are missing a star QB at this point, with only Tom Savage and Brandon Weeden on the depth chart. For this reason I think it could be beneficial for the Titans to visit Houston in Week 4 as I feel they will be more vulnerable earlier in the season. For similar reasons I am looking forward to the trip to Jacksonville in Week 2. On paper the Jags are a very strong team but they seem to struggle to put it together on the field regularly. Blake Bortles looks to be a franchise QB but there are definitely questions over his performance, especially after his regression last season, so it will be good to face him in Florida while he is still relatively early in his redevelopment under the new coaching team.

In my opinion, the Titans bye week comes at a great point in the season. As mentioned above, I feel that the opening 5 games are certainly winnable, as will be a home game against the Colts and Week 7’s trip to Cleveland. It is possible that the Titans could enter their bye week with a 7-0 record (unlikely, but I can dream!). The next 6 weeks will also be arguably the hardest stretch of the season for the Titans, so a bye week immediately before this gives the team a chance to rest up before the hard fight.

After this stretch of harder matches, the Titans will finish with a trip to San Francisco and home games against the Rams and Jaguars. While I expect all 3 of these franchises to be better than in 2016, the Jags are the only one I can really imagine pushing for the playoffs. If the Titans are still fighting for a playoff position – or a higher seeding in the playoffs – then this relatively easy end to the regular season could push the Titans over the line.

With Week 1 still over 4 months away, there is still plenty of time for everything to change. There is still plenty of time for teams to bring in veterans through trades or free agency (such as Marshawn Lynch to the Raiders), while we still have the Draft to come later next week. As it stands, I can imagine the Titans getting 10+ wins this season, and think they should be disappointed by anything less than a 9-7 season and a return to the playoffs.


How do you feel the Titans will do this year? What do you think of the schedule for the team you follow and how do you think they will do? Comment on here or feel free to tweet me @PS_tetheridge