After going 5-27 in 2014-15, the Tennessee Titans were more or less an afterthought heading into 2016. But at 5-6, the Titans are very much alive in the AFC South.
“They’ve been able to do it because of the run,” Derrick Mason said on CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney. “They built a way of playing. They have a format to try to win football games, and that’s running the football. I think they feel that on the offensive side of the ball they don’t have a lot of playmakers, but what they do have is an offensive line that is good. They built this team to run the football, and because of that, they’ve been able to play-action and get a lot of big shots down the field. Marcus Mariota is in the top five in passing yards per attempt, and that’s basically a testament to how good they’re running the football.”
Indeed, DeMarco Murray is second in the NFL with 1,000 rushing yards, second with 4.7 yards per carry (minimum 150 carries) and fifth with eight rushing touchdowns.
“Everyone thought DeMarco Murray was done because of his days in Philadelphia. Frankly, I thought he was as well,” Mason said. “But we see it wasn’t DeMarco; it was Philly. I would dare to say he would be Comeback Player of the Year because of the way he’s playing.”
Tight end Delanie Walker, meanwhile, has been the team’s top pass-catcher. He has 46 catches for 607 yards and five touchdowns.
“Arguably he’s the second-best tight end behind Gronk, but he doesn’t get the notoriety because the Titans (have a losing record) and because of the market he plays in,” said Mason, who played for the Titans from 1997-2004. “But each and every game, Delanie shows up, and that is what has put the Tennessee Titans in the position that they’re in now. They lost last week, a heartbreaker. They can’t figure it out against Indy, but they put together an offensive unit that can beat you via the run or pass.”
Mason, who played for the Ravens from 2005-10, was also asked about Ray Lewis’ recent comments about Joe Flacco. Lewis blasted the Super Bowl XLVII MVP, saying he lacked leadership skills and passion for his job.
“It’s hard because you can’t expect someone to be who you were,” Mason said. “You can’t expect someone to be who you think they should be. We can’t expect Joe to be the Ray Lewis of this team, and Ray shouldn’t put that pressure on Joe. Joe has done it the way he’s been able to do it. He’s kind of like Eli Manning – a guy that doesn’t say much, but when he steps out on the field, he goes out there and plays. This is a guy that won them a Super Bowl. He’s been a Super Bowl MVP. To say he doesn’t have the leadership qualities, I think it’s absurd. They’re just going through a rough patch right now. All teams go through it. Ray went through it when he was there. I just think it’s unfair to criticize, especially someone that has won you a Super Bowl, someone that you’ve been around that puts in the work.”
Flacco has thrown for 2,643 yards, 10 touchdowns and nine interceptions in 10 games this season.
“Listen, Joe understands that he needs to get better,” Mason said. “Everybody knows that, and Joe would be the first person to say that. But to criticize him when they’re still in the hunt to win that division, I think, is completely wrong. But listen, if anybody can do it, it’s Ray. He’s still the face of that organization even though he’s not playing. I know Joe. He probably took it as constructive criticism and he’s going to let it roll off his back and keep playing.”
Mason, a Michigan State product, also weighed in on the Big Ten. Although he lives in Nashville, Mason was brave enough to say that the Big Ten is the best conference in America.
“I’m in SEC country, so if I get on the radio and start screaming Big Ten, it’s like blasphemy,” Mason said, laughing. “But I have the numbers to back it up. This year, the Big Ten has been as strong – especially the top – as any other conference. We’ve got potentially four teams that have a real argument of making it to the College Football Playoff. I don’t think there’s any conference in college football that has four legitimate teams that you can argue should have an opportunity or a right to be in the college Football Playoff. But it’ll come down to this Ohio State/Michigan game. If Ohio State wins, I think they’re in. I really do. But do you take a Big Ten championship team as well? I think that’s the dilemma that the panel will be in.”