As training camp approaches next week, the hype around the Titans continues to grow. The team won a playoff game last year and improved on both sides of the ball during the offseason. However, in a much tougher AFC South, the Titans will need to prove they are contenders on the field. There are three key things the Titans need to improve on in 2018 if they want to take another step forward.
Win the Turnover Battle
Quarterback Marcus Mariota struggled with interceptions last season, throwing the third most in the NFL. This key will hinge on him turning it around and taking better care of the ball. When the Titans won the turnover battle last year they went 4-0. However, only winning the turnover battle four times is unacceptable. The new look defense should be able to force turnovers at a higher rate with Malcolm Butler being added to the secondary and safety Kevin Byard and cornerback Adoree Jackson gaining another year of experience. The key will be the offense being more careful with the ball. Matt Lafleur’s offense only threw seven interceptions with Jared Goff under center last year, which was the lowest number in the league. Tennessee cannot afford to give the ball away as much as they did last year if they want to improve this season.
Improving Coverage Versus Tight Ends and Running Backs
The Titans were much better last year in coverage against wide receivers with the addition of Jackson and Logan Ryan. However, their linebackers and safeties still struggled in coverage against tight ends and running backs. Tennessee did not have to face an elite tight end last year, but still struggled in coverage against Jack Doyle of the Colts twice and even Stephen Anderson of the Texans. Neither Avery Williamson nor Wesley Woodyard is known for their coverage abilities. The addition of Rashaan Evans and another year of experience for Jayon Brown should help the linebackers to improve in this aspect. They will have to as they will face top tier tight ends this year. Rob Gronkowski, Zach Ertz, Evan Engram, and Jordan Reed will all take on the Titans in 2018.
Running backs also gave the Titans problems in the passing game last season. The Titans allowed running backs to accumulate over 40 yards through the air eight times last year. This included Todd Gurley’s 158 yard receiving game in Week 16. Evans and Brown should assist in this effort as well as Jonathan Cyprien who needs to improve after his less than optimal effort in coverage last year. Keeping tight ends and running backs under control will improve the Titans’ third down defense and allow the unit to get off the field more often.
More Consistency From Young Wide Receivers
Outside of Rishard Matthews, the Titans’ top receivers will be entering their second season on the field. Corey Davis and Taywan Taylor both showed flashes of greatness in their rookie years, but struggled with route running and consistently being in the right position. Tajae Sharpe was a great surprise for the team two years ago after being picked in the fifth round, but missed all of last season. Matthews will bring a veteran presence along with free agent acquisition Michael Campanaro. However, the success of the offense will depend on the three young targets taking on a bigger workload.
Davis was the fifth overall pick last year, but missed training camp and six games with a hamstring injury. He is expected to breakout and attempt to be the number one target for Marcus Mariota. Sharpe and Taylor are going to battle for the slot position, but both will get their opportunities. Their inexperience harmed Marcus Mariota and the offense last year in a big way. To have the team reach their potential, all three will need to step up.
If the Titans are able to improve on these three aspects this season, they should take the next step. The team went 9-7 both of the previous two years. To improve on that number, it will be key to work on these problems.