NASHVILLE to PHOENIX – We've reached the final quarter of the regular season.
And if all goes well, the start of an exciting stretch for the Titans.
After deciding to take a break to stretch on this flight to Arizona, I decided to knock out the latest edition of the Titans mailbag.
Let's call this airmail. Here we go….
Leon McCray from Plainview, Texas
Question: Hello Jim. What's up? (1) I read where Delanie Walker said the NFL does not respect him and probably the reason is that because he plays in Tennessee. Well I have noticed the same thing for a while now for any Titans players. Delanie does play in all games and does way more for his team than Travis Kelce, Greg Olsen and many other TEs but does not get talked about as much as any of them. I know that that might change if we keep winning and make the playoffs. (2) I don't believe there is such a thing as 2 starters at running backs on the same team. DeMarco Murray is a good running back and he says he is about 100% but I really do think he is near the end and it is time for Derrick Henry to take the bulk of the Load and keep Demarco as backup. Have a good day Jim.
Jim: Hey Leon. Thanks for the questions, and comments. (1) I do agree Delanie is underrated. But it's not like he's completely flying under the radar. He's been to back-to-back Pro Bowls, and there's no doubt he has earned respect across the league. Now if he played in a bigger market, he'd be talked about even more. (2) As for the running backs, Henry is definitely coming on. I thought Murray really looked good last week as well, too. Look for both of them to continue getting plenty of opportunities moving forward.
John Williams from Houston, Texas
Question: Greetings, Jim. As I sit here and read Dan Pastorini's book, I think back on all the teams over the decades and one the common threads I have come to realize is that many of these teams were slow starters; mostly good teams too. The problem is that a good team can jump on you and leave little room to recover. What can you attribute to these slow starting teams? Coaching - players or a combination of both? Second thought: Mariota has proven he's a gamer - the tackle he made a few games ago on the 2 yard line. That was McNair-like. I hope his body holds up for 10 more years. The team appears to have the "it" chemistry - can they hit on all cylinders when it means the most? Pittsburg part deux? Keep up the good work man.
Jim: Hey John. I wish I had a better explanation for the slow starts. I think the biggest issue has been the inability to convert on third down early in games. It's killed drives, and kept the offense from being able to get into an early rhythm. As far as Mariota goes, he's a gamer, no doubt. He's tough, and his teammates love him. And there's no doubt this team has great chemistry, and an ability to win close games. Someone always seems to step up. That's a sign of a good team.
Michael Newsome from Drexel, North Carolina
Question: Hey, Jim. I've been a Titan die-hard since day one. I was 12 when they moved Nashville, which happened to be when I was starting to get into football. So, new fan, new team ... it just worked out, and I've been cheering since. I don't think I've ever seen our fans question coaches more than they do right now.
When Coach Mularkey was hired, there was a lot of fans voicing unhappiness. I took a "give him a chance" approach, let him prove himself one way or the other. In his 2 seasons as our full-time coach, he has a 17-11 record, 0 losing seasons, tied for 1st in the division last year, and has us in 1st place again this year. Why are there so many doubters of him?
Personally, I love the identity he has built this team around. I absolutely loved our old school Titan teams with a stout defense, run-first attitude, mean offensive line, and deadly mobile QB/unstoppable TE combo, and I'm glad to see it return! Haven't we won 9 of our last 10 at home under Coach? 5 wins in our last 6 divisional games, I think? What is there not to like and feel good about, right now?
I understand we aren't blowing teams out, but that isn't the style of ball we play. We you lean on a stout defense and smashmouth run game, you aren't going to put up 35 points every week. You are going be in the grinder!
Jim: Hey Michael. Appreciate the email. Believe me, I heard from plenty questioning the decision to make Mike the permanent coach. But I figured most would give him a chance, like you. And by winning 17 of 28 games as head coach, I thought that would quiet some of the critics. I realize it hasn't quietened them all. Mike has done a great job. Go back and look at the other guys hired as head coach the same offseason and check their records 28 games in. Some of them are out of a job. During his time with the team, he's helped change the mindset of the team, and he's changed the culture. And yes, he's won games. It's remarkable how much things have changed from a few years ago, when I covered teams that went 2-14 and 3-13. Over time, I do sense more and more folks are on board. As for the identity, I kind of like Tony Dungy's description of the "dump truck" Titans. I definitely saw it as a compliment, and he said it was himself.
Chase Hornsby from Cedar Hill, Tennessee
Question: Hey Jim big fan here. Man I know it ain't pretty but the Titans are winning games. To me it doesn't matter how you win whether it's an inch or a mile but were winning especially close games we find ways to win yet we are so underrated leading our division with a win over Jacksonville, yet Jacksonville is constantly being put above us in the NFL power rankings, and on the new playoff percentages. Can you help us fans understand why this is? And do you think this has an effect on the Titans to go out there and keep winning games as motivation? Thank you for taking the time to read this and give us fans insight!
Jim: Hey Chase. I've noticed the power rankings myself. The Titans were 12th in a recent one I saw, and the Jaguars 7th. This, of course, despite the fact the teams are tied at 8-4, and the Titans beat the Jaguars 37-16 in Jacksonville in Week 2. Do the players see it as motivation? Well, the "no respect" theme seems to always be in play in sports. I haven't heard any players discuss this, but I definitely think the team has something to prove moving forward, not only to critics, but to fans and themselves as well. This team is doing well, but there's no doubt it can be better.
Rob Smith from Aiea, Hawaii
Question: Hi Jim! Happy Holidays and thank you for always keeping us informed to the goings on with the team!
My question is, why all the Mariota has regressed statements this season?
I understand that he's had a few BAD games and that he hasn't done as well, stat wise, as last year. But really, he didn't have an off-season to work on his footwork much with his leg injury and he has some new receivers and some were injured too making it even more difficult overall.
The "system" that he plays in doesn't ask him to throw for 300+ yards a game. Yes, his numbers aren't eye popping, but he still has 15 TD's (10 pass / 5 rush) vs 12 INT's and NO fumbles. The 4 INT game was an anomaly. The Titan's are winning and he's found ways to do that when needed.
I don't think he's regressed at all. I think that with all that's happened it's caused him to feel that he needs to be a bit too precise with his throws and his footwork has not been up to par, and his receivers are still getting into the groove. He's just where he should be. We're getting "HOT" at just the right time. Mark my words, the Titans are going to make a statement by the end of the year!
Thanks again Jim and Have a Good One!!!
Jim: Aloha Rob. Well, look at the stats, and they aren't as pretty. And Marcus has thrown more INTs this season than he did in 2015 or 2016. So that's where it is coming from. But some factors can't be ignored – the team has some new targets in rookies Corey Davis, Taywan Taylor, Jonnu Smith, and he didn't work with veteran Eric Decker throughout the offseason as well. He's dealt with a hamstring injury this season that limited him for a stretch, and he faced more pressure early. And you make a good point in him not being able to get ready for the year this offseason like years past, since he was rehabbing an injury from last year. With that said, he's still guided four game-winning drives, and he's had plenty of good moments. I expect him to keep improving, and I think he's going to be a great one in the league. Did you see Matt Ryan throw three picks on four passes on Thursday night? He's been in the league a while, and he offered proof that the league isn't easy to carve up. Have a great one and thanks for the question.
Ardie Melton from Sacramento, California
Question: Hi Jim. Another ugly win against a mediocre team. I understand that these types of games build character, but a light has to be shined on the fact that we just can't put these teams away when we have a chance.
Two weeks ago, i recommended to you that we sit Murray for a couple weeks to get him fresh for a playoff run. I still believe that we have time to do that with games coming up against the Cardinals and 49ers. We can definitely win with Henry, and it feels that the team, and most importantly the OLine, thrives blocking for him. Maybe bring him back for tough games against the Rams and Jags? (btw, i will be at the Niner game (front row in the end zone) with the family - side note: the last game i went to in SF, the Titans lost with Neil O'Donnel taking snaps - it's also the year we went to the Super Bowl)
Btw, is there any way we can game announcers to pronounce Mariota's name correctly? Maybe you can run up to the booth and phonetically spell it out for them? Thanks for the work you do,
- Frustrated fan in Cali since '78.
Jim:* Hey Ardie. You should be enjoying 8-4 after 2-14 and 3-13 a few years ago! :) It's better to win ugly than lose pretty any day of the week. And those 10-2 Steelers beat the Colts by three and the Bengals by three recently. It's tough to win in the league. The 8-4 Jaguars lost to Arizona, where I'm headed, just a few weeks ago. Win and advance, as they say. Now can the team play better? Yes. But I don't get the complaints about the ugly wins. As for Murray, he's playing, not sitting. The team needs him now, along with Henry. Keep a look out for me at the 49ers game! I was also at that game at Candlestick, when the Titans lost 24-22. That Super Bowl team won a lot of ugly games, too, if you recall. It is crazy how folks still get Mariota's name wrong. He's been dealing with it his whole life, so he's used to it. Have a good one.
Steve Hall from Jacksonville, FL
Question: Is the bowl game two days before the critical game versus the Jags on New Years Eve going to chew up the field before the most important game of the year for both teams?
Jim: Hey Steve. Fair question. The grounds crew will be busy. The turf is in the process of being replaced, so it should be in good shape for December football. It should be fine, but I'm sure the grounds crew hopes it doesn't rain during that stretch, which would make things more difficult.
Steven Tilton from Safford, Arizona
Question: Hello again Jim! I hope things are going well for you! I have written you before about this back in the offseason, but as the time approaches it comes up again! I just read that the Titans expect to stay in the Phoenix area after the Cardinals game to practice during the week leading up to the 49ers. What chances are there for fans to either watch a practice or nab some autographs before or after a practice? I don't mean to be rude or pushy, just super excited that the Titans are going to be so close to us fans from Arizona for a short time! Thanks for any/all information you can share on this subject!
Jim: Hey Steven. The team will stay in Arizona and practice in the Phoenix area for the week before heading to the Bay area next Saturday. Unfortunately the practices will be closed to fans, however.
Henry Pieri and Gallatin, Tennessee
Question: What are the Titans Playoff chances?
Jim: Better with each win!
Thomas Schweigert from Mandan, North Dakota
Question: Jim thank you and can you please do me a favor? I just watched Mariota after the game and I want you to pass something to him. Thank you not just for on the football field but thank you for being best role model I just hope I can raise my boys to be half the man you are, not on the field but off the field! You are the class act. Thank you the respect you have for everyone around you.
Jim: Hey Thomas. Appreciate the email. I'll pass it along next time he walks down the aisle. And you're right on – he's a great guy.
Llewellyn Roux from Lompoc, California
Question: Hi, Jim! When the Tennessee Titans play at the Arizona Cardinals next Sunday, I believe they may finally be the last and 31st NFL opponent to visit and play a game, preseason or regular season, for the first time at the University Of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, more than 11 years after that stadium opened back in 2006. What do you and the Titans think of that fact? Thanks for answering.
Jim: Hey Llewellyn. That's a great stat. I was there when the Titans played at the Cardinals in 2005, but that was in old Sun Devil Stadium. So this should be fun. It's a heck of a place. I've been inside for a pair of Super Bowls, but this will be my first year there to see the Titans.
Have a great weekend everyone!
QB Vince Young guides an 18-play, 99-yard drive, capping it off with a 10-yard touchdown pass to Kenny Britt on fourth down on the game's final play for a 20-17 victory over the Arizona Cardinals on Nov. 29, 2009. (AP Photos)