The Titans spent the first nine weeks of the season establishing themselves as a power-run offense. They are that, to be sure. But as the Packers found out Sunday, when Marcus Mariota is playing well they are capable of being so, so much more.
Mariota toyed with a banged-up Green Bay secondary, en route to 295 yards passing and four touchdowns—three before halftime—as the Titans scored a decisive 47–25 win.
The onslaught started true to Tennessee’s growing identity. Out of an offset I-formation from his team’s own 25, Mariota faked an end around to WR Tajae Sharpe before handing off to DeMarco Murray. The Comeback Player of the Year front-runner then followed fullback Jalston Fowler between the tackles and emerged on the other side, before winning a footrace to the goal line.
That is the Titans as most have come to know them this year: a hard-nosed team that punishes defenses with its Murray/Derrick Henry combo. Bolstered by Murray’s 75-yard touchdown scamper, that duo combined for 154 yards Sunday. From there, though, the Packers witnessed why the Titans have been so dangerous offensively since about Week 5 of the season. Defenses just don’t know what is coming.
The Titans first TD pass actually came courtesy of Murray, who dropped a 10-yarder in to Delanie Walker off a trick play. Moments later, Mariota came out from under center, play-faked, then lobbed a touchdown of his own to Anthony Fasano, who had released across the field on a slow-developing route.
Fowler, a fullback, was lined up offset on the right side of Tennessee’s line as an extra blocker when Mariota dropped straight back and delivered a deep dime to Rishard Mathews for another score. Murray and Walker were together in similar positions, with Walker motioning as an H-back, when Tajae Sharpe slipped wide open for a 33-yard TD.
No two plays look the same. When a defense is scattered and confused, as Green Bay’s was Sunday, it’s a nightmare.
“I love it,” Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers said earlier in the week, via The Tennesseean, after watching Tennessee’s offense. “I love it that there’s still those schemes out there, just to watch them on film a couple times we’ve gotten a chance to. I love the different formations, especially when they had Henry and Murray in the backfield at the same time and doing misdirection stuff.”
Some irony in those comments, perhaps, because Rodgers’ own offense has been slammed as being too vanilla and predictable. Even Sunday, as Rodgers threw for 371 yards, the first and fourth quarters were near-total busts—Tennessee outscored the Packers 21–0 over the opening 15 minutes and pitched a shutout in the final stanza, too.
As such, the Titans were milking a big lead almost throughout (35–16 at halftime, 41–22 in the third quarter). That’s about the only element that slowed them down Sunday, as they were content to stay more conservative with those comfortable cushions.
When they put their foot on the gas, the Packers had absolutely no answers. With their 47-point explosion, the Titans now are averaging 33.7 points per game in their past six games. They have gone 4–2 during that run, a record which would be even better if Mariota hadn’t committed a handful of costly turnovers.
For better or worse, though, he’s still maturing as an NFL quarterback so the mistakes will happen from time to time. So long as the offense continues to grow with him, the Titans won’t complain.
Due credit here to Titans coach Mike Mularkey and first-year offensive coordinator Terry Robiskie. They probably were not planning on springing Murray for a long TD run early vs. the league’s No. 2-ranked run defense, but they did have a game plan ready to counter Green Bay’s strengths. Mularkey’s promotion from interim to full-time head coach this past off-season was widely panned (including by us), but both Mariota and the offense as a whole are better than they were a year ago.
All that said, Tennessee is still a 5–5 team. Mariota does still make killer mistakes on occasion. It’s a work in progress, with a long way to go before the finish line.
But on Sunday, the Titans absolutely took it to the Packers, from start to finish. The win kept them within striking distance in the AFC South race, ahead of an important trip to Indianapolis.
Whatever happens there, know that it won’t be easy for the Colts’ defense. In a matter of weeks, the Titans’ offense—one that still starts with a power-run desire—has morphed into a versatile, dynamic attack. The Packers had no chance against it Sunday.