NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- If the Tennessee Titans miss the playoffs, the primary reason will have been their inability to maximize their offensive talent and a lack of continuity between scheme and players.
But the Titans are trying to avoid that scenario. They are 8-6 with a 62.3 percent chance to make the playoffs, per ESPN's Stats & Information, even if it doesn't feel that way. The most recent push to get more out of their offense has come from players hoping to continue riding the success of quarterback Marcus Mariota in the no-huddle.
"That’s his niche, not huddling up," tight end Delanie Walker said. "We’re a pretty good-conditioned team. I don’t think other teams can run with us when we’re in no huddle. I think it works for him."
Mariota is in the midst of his worst NFL season, but there are specific situations such as play action and no-huddle in which the young quarterback has looked extremely strong. In an offense looking for consistent spark, players want to go with what's working.
"I’d rather have Marcus calling the shots," receiver Rishard Matthews said after Sunday's loss to the 49ers. "There’s proof in the success when that happens. I’d like to do no-huddle more. I know we’d all like to do it more. We definitely talk about it a lot. Sometimes we go into it a lot. Sometimes we don’t. This game, we stayed in it, and I feel like we were pretty good when were in it."
So will coach Mike Mularkey and offensive coordinator Terry Robiskie adhere to the request implementing more no-huddle this week against the Los Angeles Rams? The initial answer appears to be yes, but it's unlikely to be a complete 180.
The Titans players' words, Matthews' in particular, have opened some eyes, but the feelings aren't really new. At least three Titans players have been frustrated with the offensive game plans and playcalling throughout the season, but winning partially hid those issues. Now that the Titans have lost back-to-back games and their once-secure playoff berth is in peril, players are becoming more vocal in their belief there needs to some offensive change to save the season.
Matthews said that at times the Titans offense has been predictable and lacked creativity. That's how to argue for anyone who has watched a lot of Titans football this season. The Titans scheme is run-first and often slow-developing.
The Titans coaching staff, and Mariota as an extension of that, speak of the no-huddle as a package they put in their game plan when the defense shows vulnerabilties to it. It appears to remain something that will be used as a package, albeit one that should increase, rather than a central element of the offense.
"It’s something that we feel like that we can use to our advantage," said Mariota, who calls the plays in the no-huddle. "It’s not something that we want to dive into and be heavy in. But, if you’re able to get to it and change tempo, I think you can make it tough on defenses."
Seventeen of the Titans' 23 points Sunday at San Francisco came in three consecutive drives beginning late in the second quarter when no-huddle was the central element of the offense. Their lone turnover, a Walker fumble, also came in the no-huddle.
Mularkey said the no-huddle was "effective" against the 49ers and "they really like it," but there are "a number of factors of whether it will be used or not" going forward.
Those factors start with the Titans not wanting to abandon their run-first identity, which typically happens when they go to their three-receiver no-huddle formation. It makes them a heavy passing team. Some people would say that isn't a bad thing, but Mularkey and Robiskie believe you need to run the football to win.
"You do give up a whole lot. That's the big loss," Robiskie said, noting the matchup advantages in the passing game such as Matthews on a linebacker become disadvantages in the run game. "The big problem with it, if you decide on going to it, there's a chance you're giving up on some of your run game."
Robiskie also said precision and communication are more difficult in the no-huddle. Mariota agreed that element is "tough" but praised his teammates for excelling in that last week.
So the players' desires are clear. The coaches' decision on how the game plan looks will weigh the visible success and their noted concerns. We will see Sunday just how much this offense will adjust -- and if it's enough for a win.