As the dust settles and the disappointment recedes it seems a sensible time to take a look at the season gone and the season to come. First of all, although I use the word disappointment the Titans can look back on their first winning season since 2011 with no small measure of pride. The last 12 months have been a great step forward, and a sense of hope is returning to a franchise who have long been mediocre at best, atrocious at worst.
Consider for one moment where this team stood a year ago. Dead worst in the NFL, holding the first pick in the draft, Mike Mularkey had been installed mid-season as interim head coach but the team had shown little sign of improvement under his leadership, there was no faith in the front office to make the right decisions for the future of the team, the ownership looked like a mess, and the fans wanted to see heads roll.
Sceptical as many fans were (myself included), Mularkey was made permanent Head Coach and started talking about “exotic smashmouth” football. Jon Robinson was also hired as General Manager replacing the unpopular Ruston Webster.
When considering what has been achieved over this season and what is possible this coming off-season these moves both have a part to play. How does a 3-13 team with a head coach who has failed twice previously get to 9-7? More importantly, where do they go next?
In attempting to answer the first of these questions it seems worth taking a look at Jon Robinson’s first few moves as a General Manager. First of all, persuading the Eagles to part ways with DeMarco Murray at very little cost. Secondly trading back from the top pick in the draft allowed the team to bank some picks for the future and still pick up a difference maker or two at the time (Particularly Jack Conklin who has been rock-solid at right tackle). Ben Jones was bought in at center and suddenly the Titans have a dominant O-Line and a ground game to match.
Alongside all of this Marcus Mariota has taken huge steps, addressing concerns over his ability to throw the deep pass and the ball security issues which had plagued his rookie campaign. Admittedly it is easy to say that the improvements in the team around the young quarterback have made his life easier, but this doesn’t account for how improved his play has been (Eight back to back games with two or more passing TDs anyone?)
Clearly though, we are still talking about a team that have a lot of work to do this off-season if they want to be considered a serious contender next year, not least on the defensive side of the ball. First and foremost, this year look for Jon Robinson to upgrade the secondary. Whether through free agency, trade moves or the draft there are major needs here. While there is a lot of buzz around the idea of acquiring a number-one receiver, it is a luxury the team can ill afford as long as their defence keeps making mediocre receivers look like Randy Moss.
On the offence the needs look a lot less urgent, as mentioned above a true number-one wide receiver is always a nice thing to have (although arguably not a necessity for a run-first offence) longer term a viable replacement for Delanie Walker at tight end is something that will have to be addressed in the next couple of years.
Ultimately though, this has been a transformative season for the Titans, with 2 picks in the top 18 at this year’s draft, an aggressive GM who seems perfectly prepared to make bold moves and a nucleus of talented young players it is no wonder that Josh McDaniels wants to sit tight in New England another year on the off-chance a vacancy comes up in Nashville.