VOL. 8 | NO. 47 | Saturday, November 14, 2015
Whisenhunt’s Failed Tenure Now Easier to Understand
It was only one game, one win, but it was clear in the aftermath Sunday just how much the Tennessee Titans needed the victory they got in overtime against the New Orleans Saints.
Tennessee rookie wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham, who entered Sunday’s game with six catches in seven games, had five catches for 77 yards against the Saints.
(Paul Spinelli Via Ap)
After an emotional week highlighted by the firing of Ken Whisenhunt, interim coach Mike Mularkey and the remainder of Whisenhunt’s staff was able to rally the team and find a way to end a six-game losing streak that derailed the 2015 season almost from the start.
In time, probably even this week when they turn on film of the unbeaten Carolina Panthers, who come to town Sunday, the raw emotion of what transpired last week will begin to fade. The business of just playing football will again become the focus around St. Thomas Sports Park.
But as the Titans move forward, this underlying issue that lingered throughout most of the Whisenhunt era cannot be ignored: Ken Whisenhunt was 3-20 during his time in Tennessee largely because of his own doing.
His refusal to make the necessary adjustments and adaptations to his schemes got him fired.
It’s funny how the same cast of characters that hadn’t won a game since September, couldn’t protect the quarterback, couldn’t run the football and couldn’t find ways to get certain players involved in the offense did all of that against the Saints last Sunday in the Superdome.
Granted, the Saints defense will never be confused with the ‘85 Bears, but wins are wins and the Titans will gladly take it.
The old saying is that doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result is the definition of insanity.
So going forward, it appears that Mularkey at least is willing enough to at least try some different things.
First on the agenda was to protect Marcus Mariota and allow the franchise quarterback the chance to show off his talents. So things like rollouts, and keeping tight ends and running backs in to block – the simplest of football tactics – suddenly now are part of the offensive game plan.
Sorry, J.J. Watt, that change means when you come to town right after Christmas for a rematch, chances are the Titans might even double team you instead of asking a now benched rookie to keep you off the quarterback.
All the excuses of why the Titans couldn’t or wouldn’t run the football disappeared, as well.
Tennessee had 28 rushing plays on Sunday, and Mularkey said this week his target number of runs in a game is somewhere between 25 and 30.
And finally, and perhaps most telling of just what an epic fail that defined the Whisenhunt era was, his use of rookie receiver Dorial Green-Beckam.
For weeks, Titans fans had been clamoring to see more of Green-Beckham, the 6-5, 240-pound rookie with loads of talent but also with plenty of questions about just how ready he was to contribute.
In seven games under Whisenhunt, Green-Beckham had just six catches for 104 yards, and the two touchdowns he scored early in the season were a faded memory by the time Whiz was fired last week.
But in one game with Mularkey as head coach and Jason Michael calling the plays, the Titans didn’t worry so much about what DGB couldn’t do or didn’t know. They just put him in position to make plays on the football field.
The result: Five catches for 77 yards, including two receptions on the winning overtime drive.
In explaining how the Titans managed to get Green-Beckham more involved, Mularkey may have inadvertently explained the difference between the Titans under Whisenhunt and the Titans as they stand now.
It basically came down to the coaching staff finding a way to use the system to fit Green-Beckham’s talents, instead of requiring Green-Beckham’s talents fit the system before he is declared ready to contribute.
During the week of practice, the Titans realized Green-Beckham had too much to think about, so they went about simplifying things for him in the game plan even as game time was drawing closer.
“That was a lot to do with why he had (success). Actually, we pulled back some at the end of the week,” Mularkey explains.
“We put a load on DGB because we wanted to get him involved, but we also recognized that we probably overloaded him, because of the mistakes he was making in practice.
“So we went back as of Friday and pulled back some things and put him in position to be more successful, which is our jobs as coaches. And it turned out to be good.
“He still has some things he’s got to get better at, but he certainly took a step forward in our opinion.”
Just like the Titans as a whole. There are still things they must get better at, but just one game into the Mularkey era, they look to have taken a step forward.
Five things to watch
1.Will the Whisenhunt firing momentum carry over?
The Titans had a little extra bounce in their step Sunday in the first game for interim coach Mike Mularkey.
They saw the Miami Dolphins have that a few weeks ago when Dan Campbell won his first game against them. Miami’s newness has apparently worn off.
Will the fresh feeling of a new voice and new message from Mularkey stick or begin to fade away this week?
2. Marcus Mariota’s learning curve.
Mariota showed last week in his return that if kept in one piece and allowed to time to throw that he can be effective.
The result was his second four TD game of his young career and a comeback win in overtime for the Titans.
The Panthers defense, however, will present much more of a challenge than the Rob Ryan’s woeful group.
Carolina isn’t 8-0 for nothing, as defense has been their calling card for much of the year.
3. Keep on trucking. Mularkey said when he took over that the Titans were going to re-establish the running game and use Antonio Andrews as their featured back.
He was true to his word against the Saints, running 28 times behind a reworked offensive line.
The Titans will have to employ that again this week against a much more formidable foe in the Panthers.
4. Win a home game.
The last time Titans fans witnessed a victory in their home stadium was Oct. 12, 2014 – 13 months ago, when they beat the Jacksonville Jaguars 16-14.
Asking them to knock off an unbeaten Panthers team on Sunday would be a tall order for a team that has now lost nine straight at Nissan Stadium.
5. Keep Dorial Green-Beckham involved.
DGB, a raw rookie who has plenty to learn, was often invisible under Ken Whisenhunt.
But on Sunday in New Orleans, the rookie wide receiver was given a task so he could be involved in the offense and made the best of it with five catches for 77 yards, including to key grabs in overtime.
Kudos to the coaching staff for figuring out how to use him while he is still feeling his way around the NFL.
Three matchups to watch
Michael Oher vs. Brian Orakpo
Oher wasn’t very good for the Titans last year playing right tackle.
But he signed with the Panthers in the offseason and seems to be playing OK, even going back to protecting the “blind side” of quarterback Cam Newton by playing left tackle.
A change of scenery was good for Oher, as it has been for Orakpo, who had his best game to date for the Titans Sunday in New Orleans with two sacks and a blocked field goal.
Marcus Mariota vs. Luke Kuechly
Kuechly is one of the best middle linebackers in the NFL, and will be calling the defensive signals for the Panthers.
Mariota is emerging as a talented young quarterback and going against Kuechly and the Panthers defense will be a challenge for the rookie this week as he tries to carry over his outstanding play from last week in New Orleans.
Jared Allen vs. Taylor Lewan
The old vet against the kid. Lewan has had his ups and downs, and dealt with everything from penalties to a nagging pinched nerve in his shoulder.
Long-time pass rusher Jared Allen still has some tricks up his sleeve.
The mission given to the offensive line by ownership and Mularkey was to protect Marcus Mariota at all costs. They allowed no sacks last week, but that challenge gets tougher on Sunday.
Terry McCormick covers the Titans for TitanInsider.com