EDITOR'S NOTE: This story was published before news broke that the Titans will start Ryan Tannehill against the Chargers on Sunday.
The Titans opened the door for a quarterback change heading into Week 7, but there's another AFC team that should be considering a shakeup at the position right now.
Before I get to that other team, let's talk about what's happening in Tennessee. Marcus Mariota was pulled in the third quarter on Sunday for backup Ryan Tannehill after the maligned Titans starter completed just seven of 18 passes for 63 yards and threw two picks. Tannehill wasn't much better, going 13-of-16 for 144 yards and an INT in the 16-0 road loss to the Denver Broncos. But the prevailing issue in Tennessee is that we've reached a point where Mariota could lose his job in a make-or-break year. While he hadn't turned the ball over this season until Sunday, he has registered a career-low 59.1 completion percentage a year after connecting on a career-best 68.9 percent of his passes. Most importantly, the Titans have scored just seven points in his last nine quarters.
Head coach Mike Vrabel has yet to announce which QB will start Sunday vs. the Chargers. No matter which signal-caller he chooses, things don't look promising for Mariota, the No. 2 overall pick of the 2015 draft, or Tannehill, a former first-rounder who was dealt by the Dolphinsin the offseason.
If Vrabel picks Tannehill, recent history suggests he'll be back on the sideline before long, as he's missed time in each of the past three seasons due to injuries. If the nod goes to Mariota, who's missed at least one game in each of his NFL seasons, he's probably going back out there as a less confident version of himself after being benched, so Tennessee can't expect him to play better.
The Titans sit between a rock and a hard place at the position, and they're stuck in that spot until the offseason, when they can move on from Mariota and Tannehill, who are both in a contract year. Obviously, I'm not high on either passer right now, but I'd stick with Mariota as the starter because I still think he gives the Titans the best chance to win, despite his struggles.
Before I move on, it's worth digging into how Mariota got to this point. In his five seasons with the Titans, he has never consistently transcended the offense around him, but it's also true that the team has done a poor job of developing him. I would put Mariota in the same category as Lamar Jackson, skill-wise, and although Jackson may be more dynamic and explosive, Mariota is one of the top runners at the position, too. However, the Titans have never truly leaned on his strengths as a rusher to maximize his skill set.
It doesn't help that he's gone through four offensive coordinators in five years, from Jason Michael (2015) to Terry Robiskie (2016-17) to Matt LaFleur (2018) to current OC Arthur Smith. None of those coordinators ran an offensive system that accentuated Mariota's strengths. Mariota was often used in the West Coast offense or a variation of it, but he's a spread quarterback who thrives when he's able to use his legs. Instead of setting him loose as a runner, the Titans made a concerted effort to prevent the injury-prone Mariota from taking big hits by limiting him to no more than 64 rush attempts in a season. Jackson had 147 rush attempts in 2018 alone, a season in which he made just seven starts. I understand wanting to protect your quarterback, but Mariota needed to be in a system that was better tailored to him.
OK, let's move on to the other QB situation I hinted at early on. The Bengals sit at 0-6 with two games to play (vs. Jacksonville and at Los Angeles Rams) before their Week 9 bye. Just three teams average fewer points per game than Cincinnati (16.2), and while QB Andy Dalton has his lowest passer rating (82.8) since his rookie season, all the blame can't fall on him. He's not getting any help from a run game that ranks last in the league, he has one of the worst offensive lines in the game and his best receiver, A.J. Green, hasn't played a snap all season.
That said, it only makes sense that the team should be thinking about giving fourth-round pick Ryan Finley a chance to start some games this year. Whether the rookie QB gets his opportunity coming out of the Week 9 bye or later on, it will be an audition to see if he can be a starter in this league. The N.C. State product played well in his three preseason outings, showing above-average accuracy (73.4 percent completion rate), good touch on the ball and pocket poise.
I know there's a lot of season left, but like Mariota in Tennessee, Dalton doesn't appear to be the answer in Cincinnati anymore. He's signed through the 2020 campaign, but the Bengals won't take a cap hit if they choose to release the veteran after this season. Put it all together, and it's probably time for Dalton to get a fresh start elsewhere, which would leave the Bengals with a decision: ride with Finley or take a quarterback early in next year's draft.
Each week in the 2019 campaign, former No. 1 overall pick and NFL Network analyst David Carr will take a look at all offensive players and rank his top 15. Rankings are based solely on this season's efforts. Now, let's get to it -- the Week 7 pecking order is below.
The Seahawks are a scary team as we near the midway point, and their quarterback is the driving force. He's becoming more impressive with every performance. Sunday against the Browns, his composure on the field, especially after losing tight end Will Dissly in the first half, kept the Seahawks from wilting when trailing early. Wilson led his team to a comeback victory and recorded his sixth consecutive game with at least a 100.0 passer rating (117.6 on Sunday).
The Bucs seem to be the only team that can slow down McCaffrey. They held him to 57 scrimmage yards Sunday after limiting him to 53 scrimmage yards in Week 2. The difference in those two performances is that McCaffrey scored a pair of touchdowns Sunday to help the Panthers improve to 4-2.
The Chiefs lost back-to-back home games for the first time in the Mahomes era, averaging 18.5 points per game in those two losses. In Sunday's loss to Houston, Mahomes was outplayed by fellow 2017 draftee Deshaun Watson in the fourth quarter. While Houston's QB gave his team the lead with a 1-yard TD run in the final frame, Mahomes struggled to get anything going, completing just one of three pass attempts for -4 yards. He's gotta do more down the stretch with the game on the line.
My colleague Shaun O'Hara hit on his bold prediction last week when saying the Eagles would hold Cook, the league's second-leading rusher heading into Week 6, to less than 75 rush yards. But Cook came up big down the stretch with a 1-yard plunge into the end zone to put the game away midway through the fourth quarter.
Zeke did his part against the Jets with 105 rush yards and a TD on 28 carries, chipping in 47 receiving yards on five catches. His 105 rush yards were the most since Week 3, but the rest of the Cowboys' offense, which has been without All-Pro left tackle Tyron Smith the last two weeks, were stalled by the Jets' physical defense. With so many questions surrounding this Cowboys team right now -- including Amari Cooper's injury -- Zeke must take his game to another level to help get the unit back on track.
Like the rest of his teammates, Kittle showed out in a huge division tilt Sunday. He was targeted eight times against the Rams and had eight receptions for 103 yards -- more receiving yards than the entire Rams team combined. The physicality Kittle has played with all season was exemplified in his 45-yard second-quarter reception, when he mowed down defender after defender. Kittle gets more impressive by the week.
To no one's surprise, Brady defeated Daniel Jones to make him 12-0 in home starts against rookie quarterbacks in his career. Brady contributed a pair of RUSHING touchdowns in the non-conference win and was mediocre through the air with 334 pass yards, zero TDs, one INT and a 88.9 passer rating. With middle-of-the-road performances, Brady's not falling out of the top 10, but he's not climbing into the top five, either.
Thanks to another big defensive performance, the Saints have gotten away with scoring 13 points or less in two victories this season ( Teddy Bridgewater started in both games). In Sunday's 13-6 win over Jacksonville, Kamara had a season low in carries (11) and rush yards (31). He's also failed to score a touchdown in five of six games this season. The Saints RB1 has made big plays, but he's got to start getting in the end zone.
The Texans dominated time of possession against the Chiefs, limiting the offense to just 47 plays (only 16 in the second half). Between the fact that the Chiefs' offensive possessions were limited and Tyreek Hill was back in the lineup, Kelce's production naturally decreased in Sunday's loss. The Chiefs tight end was targeted six times and finished with four receptions for 58 yards (three catches for 42 yards in the first half).
The Texans are finally seeing what Watson is capable of, because he's finally getting good protection. He has not taken a sack in either of the last two games (both wins), and Houston is 3-0 in games when he's not sacked since 2017. Watson hasn't been perfect -- neither have his receivers -- but he made big plays when his team needed them most, which included the go-ahead, 1-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter.
Godwin has been the Bucs' most productive receiver, and that didn't change against the Panthers. He finished with a team-high 10 receptions for 151 receiving yards. Jameis Winston, who was responsible for six turnovers in Sunday's loss across the pond, has been much better when targeting Godwin over Mike Evans. Both receivers have received a total of 55 targets, but Winston has a passer rating of 145.6 when targeting Godwin and 72.1 when targeting Evans. I won't be surprised if Godwin starts getting more targets after the bye week.
Offensive scores were hard to come by Sunday in Jacksonville as the Saints had just one touchdown in the contest -- a connection between Teddy Bridgewater and Jared Cook. Thomas made his presence felt in the second half, hauling in six of his eight receptions over the final two quarters for 67 yards, to help the offense continue drives and keep the lead.
The Eagles played from behind the entire game, forcing Wentz do it all through the air. He had 40 pass attempts for the second time this season and completed 65 percent of his passes -- his highest completion percentage since Week 1. Wentz never seems to get rattled, and that quality will keep the Eagles in good position, no matter the circumstances.
Rodgers wasn't perfect Monday night, but he didn't get much help at times from his surrounding cast. And though the veteran threw his second pick of the season and finished with a 90.0 passer rating, he logged his 15th career fourth-quarter comeback to keep the Packers at the top of the NFC North.
Chubb had himself a day against a stingy Seahawks defense to finish with 20 carries for 122 yards (6.1 rush yards per carry) and a pair of TDs. His mark was the most rushing yards by a player vs. the Seahawks this season. The Browns continue to be close in a lot of games, and Chubb's been a big reason why.
JUST OUTSIDE THE TOP 15
Cooper Kupp, WR, Rams: The 49ers beat up on the Rams all game long and limited Sean McVay's offense as a result. The Rams had 157 yards of total offense, so Kupp's numbers naturally decreased from what he had done earlier this season. The slot corner finished with four receptions for 17 yards (a career low for a game in which he didn't leave with an injury) against the 49ers. Nothing went L.A.'s way in this one.
Matt Ryan, QB, Falcons: The Falcons' offense is ranked in the top three in several passing categories thanks to the high level play of its 2016 league MVP, who has a 102.7 pass rating through six games. He did everything he could to get the Falcons back in Sunday's contest, throwing for a season-high four TDs, but unfortunately, the defense continues to give up an average of 31 points per game (31st in the league).
Julio Jones, WR, Falcons: Ryan's No. 1 receiver had a solid outing against a Patrick Peterson-less Cardinals secondary, finishing with eight receptions for 108 yards. However, he was again held out of the end zone.