When reflecting upon the Titans 2017 season, the word paradox comes to mind. Despite regressing in scoring, passing, and rushing compared to the 2016 season, the Titans made the playoffs. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what went wrong with a Titans offense that commanded lofty pre-season expectations. That finger of blame can point at many areas. Areas like underwhelming offensive execution, predictable play calling, injuries, and underachievement across the board. Each could deservedly be considered as fatal flaws. The Titans fatal flaw last season, after careful reflection and study of how the season progressed, was the receiving core.
Why the Pass Catchers Struggled
Well, the injury bug struck early. Talented 2017 rookie Corey Davis suffered a hamstring injury early in the season and it clearly lingered all season. Davis, the FBS all-time receiving leader struggled to get in a groove all season and the numbers clearly showed it. He finished the regular season with only 34 catches for 375 yards and zero touchdowns. Davis was far from the only pass catcher that struggled on the season.
Next generation statistics helped provide some insight into the biggest problem the wide receivers experienced this season. The Titans pass catchers struggled all season with creating separation from opposing defenders. Ironically, Davis, who struggled with a hamstring that limited his mobility all season, lead the team in average separation yards with 2.7 yards. Davis was followed closely by wide receiver Eric Decker and tight end Delanie Walker, both with 2.6 average yards of separation. Rishard Matthews rounded out the list of qualified Titans pass catchers with 2.5 average yards of separation. The league averaged teetered between 2.9 and 3.0 yards of separation.
What about the Quarterback?
Quarterback Marcus Mariota deserves his share of the blame for the passing offenses struggles this season. Suffering from hamstring and ankle issues all season, Mariota struggled with turnovers. Mariota played in 12 games but managed only 13 passing touchdowns and 15 interceptions. Throwing the ball as effectively and efficiently was clearly affected by his hamstring. The receivers clearly needed to improve their ability to separate, but in addition Mariota needed to do more down the field. None of the qualified Titans pass catchers averaged more than 12 average targeted air yards.
Taking a look at Mariota’s pass chart from 2017 shows that there is definitive room for improvement passing the ball downfield.
How to Improve Things Going Forward
Hopefully the new scheme offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur is implementing helps open the play action passing game up. A full, healthy offseason for Corey Davis and Marcus Mariota should do wonders going forward. Adding a talented deep threat in the draft or free agency going forward wouldn’t hurt either.