The Titans’ new offensive coordinator presided over some huge offensive gains by a number of Rams players when he was in Los Angeles last season. Here’s a look at how that might relate to his work with the Titans’ receivers and quarterback.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Titans fans might best be described as guardedly optimistic regarding the team’s offense looking ahead.
There’s plenty of hope that quarterback Marcus Mariota will return to his efficient ways, that Derrick Henry and Dion Lewis will form a productive running-back tandem, and that a cast of young receivers will grow into their roles.
There’s also caution, based on the struggles the team’s offense endured last season, when it finished 23rd overall.
But if there’s hesitation here, it surely couldn’t match the apprehension Los Angeles Rams suppporters felt going into the 2017 season, with their team having finished last in both overall offense and points the previous year.
All of that changed quickly under current Titans offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur, of course, when the Rams made some spectacular leaps, piling up the most points in the NFL and producing a top-10 offense overall.
The key question now: Can LaFleur work that same kind of magic in Nashville, when he becomes an NFL play-caller for the first time in his career? Rams head coach Sean McVay called the plays when LaFleur was offensive coordinator in Los Angeles last season.
What’s encouraging is how much players at the offensive skill positions improved under LaFleur and McVay. Do you remember how often Titans general manager Jon Robinson used the phrase “maximizing talent” when he began the search for a new head coach this year? That’s exactly what LaFleur helped the Rams do in 2017.
Let’s look at some of the highlights, as well as how they might apply to current Titans:
• At wide receiver, the Rams’ Robert Woods set career highs in receiving yardage (781), touchdowns (five), catches per game (4.7) and yards per game (65.1) last season. It was Woods’ fifth year in the league. Meanwhile, rookie Cooper Kupp led all first-year receivers in receptions (62) and first downs (42).
Those numbers bode favorably not only for a Titans veteran like Rishard Matthews, who’s played six seasons, but also for the inexperienced receivers – like Corey Davis, Taywan Taylor and Tajae Sharpe – that LaFleur will be looking to mold over the next several months.
• At tight end, LaFleur’s Rams produced some significant increases in the stats of Western Kentucky’s Tyler Higbee, who was in his second season in the league. He more than doubled the catch total of his rookie season (from 11 to 25), more than tripled his receiving yardage and improved his average reception from 5.3 yards as a rookie to a whopping 18.4 yards last year.
Titans tight end Jonnu Smith has to like those numbers, as he will be heading into his second year after making 18 catches as a rookie.
• The quarterback position obviously saw the most dramatic change, as Jared Goff made huge strides under LaFleur and company after seven so-so starts as a rookie. A few samplings: Goff’s passing yards per game improved by almost 100 yards (155.6 to 253.6), his quarterback rating jumped from 63.6 to 100.5 and he more than doubled his touchdown-throwing percentage.
A bit of LaFleur tweaking with Mariota could work wonders as well, considering how impressive the Titans’ former first-round pick looked in his initial two years. Mariota already has three seasons under his belt, so he’s not in the exact same spot as Goff. But Mariota has certainly shown an openness to change, evidenced by his current offseason work on throwing from a wider base.
What’s interesting, too, about LaFleur’s work in Los Angeles is that the Rams’ huge offensive gains didn’t come from slinging the football all over the stadium. They threw the football just 56 percent of the time last season, which was actually five percent than less than the 2016 Rams did – and just one percent higher than the Titans of 2017.
It’s reasonable to wonder how much credit LaFleur should receive for the Rams’ revitalization last season, since McVay was the play-caller. But McVay’s response to that question stayed the same throughout last season.
“He’s as responsible as anybody for the success our offense has had,” McVay told USA Today. “In terms of organizing the game plans, being able to run the meetings, making sure that everything is in alignment on the same page, he does it all. I can’t say enough about the contribution he has made to our team.”
And Titans fans can’t wait to see the contributions he makes to a young offense here.
— Reach John Glennon at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @glennonsports.