Defense Bends, Offense Dominates

The Titans defense did not break against a struggling Jaguars offense and their embattled head coach Urban Meyer. Yet, despite a defensive touchdown in the first series of the game, DL Teair Tart busting up a 4th and 1 run on Jacksonville’s one yard line and a 37-19 final score, the game was closer than it should have been.

Rookie quarterback Trevor Lawrence threw for 273 yards and rushed for a touchdown while RB James Robinson ran for 149 yards. The Titans defense gave up 454 total yards, forcing the Jags to punt just two times.

For all that, the glass over flowed for the Titans offensively. Derrick Henry found the end zone three times, rushing for 130 yards. More impressively–in light of offensive woes inside the 20 yard line–all of the Titans four touchdowns came in the red zone. Ryan Tannehill kept the chains moving with quick passes and a few short, opportunistic scrambles. He finished the contest 14 of 22 for 197 yards with one touchdown and zero interceptions.

Listen To Gameday Recap:Defense Bends, Offense Dominates

Facing the Jags: Avoiding the Trap

The Titans will be looking for redemption Sunday against a struggling but improving 0-4 Jaguars team. Against division leading Cincinnati, Jacksonville never fell behind until the very last play of the game when Bengals kicker Evan McPherson kicked a 35 yard field goal ending the contest 24-21.

Rookie quarterback Trevor Lawrence, who has thrown more interceptions than touchdowns, settled down against a top 10 Bengals defense, completing 17 of 24 passes for an efficient 204 yards with no interceptions and scored a seven yard rushing touchdown. But a much maligned secondary could not hold back quarterback Joe Burrow’s high-flying passing offense. Ultimately, the Jags front seven were worn down in the fourth quarter.

In order to stay ahead in the win column before entering an intensely difficult stretch in the schedule, the 2-2 Titans offense must strike quickly and consistently, taking advantage of the Jags 30th ranked defense. So far this proves to be a tall order as the Titans offense has struggled in the first quarter, rebounded in the second, faltered in the third and surged again in the fourth quarter.

In today’s press conference, OC Todd Downing said the offense is striving to show improvement and consistency in the following areas:

  • Route Running
  • Competing on deep passes
  • Commitment to the screen game
  • Playing with more urgency in order to inspire better situational football play

Downing refused to elaborate on pass protection difficulties other than to say, “we need to do better.”

Though the Titans defense has made big improvements on third down play, the total defense is not much better, if any, than Jacksonville’s. And while the Titans too have a porous secondary, the Jaguars secondary surprisingly ranks top 10 in touchdowns allowed.

Another area of improvement in the Titans defense is sacks. Last year the team had a mere 19 total sacks. This year the Titans have already recorded 8. Sunday, they will need to not only continue this trend, but improve on it, because Trevor Lawrence has been very well protected having been sacked only 6 times, whereas Ryan Tannehill has been sacked a whopping 17 times. The other side of the coin–Jacksonville’s defense ranks last in the sack department, registering only five of them.

Titans Red Zone Deficiencies

The Titans had a head on collision with Gang Green at MetLife Stadium and came back to Nashville with a very bad headache. That’s understandable considering the Jets have the best red zone defense in the NFL. But this is a lingering headache, one that began with the season opening loss to Arizona and is starting to look more and more like a serious concussion.

The red zone is the field of play inside the 20 yard line. With Ryan Tannehill under center, the Titans have had one of the best red zone offenses in the NFL, scoring a touchdown 75% of the time, until this season where touchdowns inside the 20 have dropped to 50%. So while 9 of the Titans 10 total touchdowns have been scored in the red zone there have been 18 attempts. Of those 18 attempts, Derrick Henry gets 58% of the touches scoring a touchdown 75% of the time. So he (and his blockers) is doing his job–and more.

According to coach Mike Vrabel, there are three key aspects to the passing game, whether inside or outside of the twenty yard line.

  1. It is about getting open, recognizing man and zone, running the correct route.
  2. It is about protection holding up.
  3. And it is about the quarterback getting rid of the football and getting it to someone quickly.

The Titans are failing in all three of them.

During training camp and the preseason, we heard a lot of gushing about the depth in the receiving corps. So far this potential hasn’t flashed. Against the Jets, running back Jeremy McNichols led the team with 8 receptions for 74 yards.

The pass protection has been woeful. Left tackle Taylor Lewan is obviously still suffering from the affects of a torn ACL that sidelined him for most of last season. On the other side is David Quessenberry, a great guy with a great story, having beaten Non Hodgkin’s lymphoma, he played his way back into NFL and onto the Titans practice squad where he languished on and off again until last year when he made the active roster in October and stayed there. That withstanding, Quessenberry is a serviceable right tackle that shouldn’t have been elevated to a starter.

And then there’s Ryan Tannehill, who has reverted to some of the bad habits he had in Miami like holding on to the ball too long and taking too many sacks. Yes Tannehill is patient, waiting for his receivers to get open, but he’s never been more than proficient at making fast reads. He needs to throw the ball away rather than hanging in a collapsing pocket.

Unlike some fans and commentators, I believe that this anemic play will clear up when Julio Jones and A.J. Brown return from hamstring injuries. But if they can’t stay healthy, I look for the Titans to be just another mediocre team…at best.

It’s One Game. Well, Sort’a.

We’ve all heard it, the old NFL matra, “on any given Sunday, any team can beat any other team.

Not only have we heard it, but we believe it. No…I’ll walk that back. We know it.

We know it because we’ve seen it. We’ve experienced it. Some of us have even lost money because of it.

And yet, the old tried and true matra goes right out the window when our beloved Titans–at least this 2021 version of them–fall on the swords of the worst team in the NFL: the lowly Jets.

But are they really the worst team? I suppose so, if you believe that the worst team can have a top 20 defense and, arguably, the best defensive line in the NFL. Not to mention their number one red zone defense.

Yes, their offense is atrocious. No argument here. I’m just saying that the Jets aren’t as bad as the hype–and neither are the Titans.

That said, “Nashville we’ve got some problems.”

  1. Pass protection – Something has to be done here. So far Tannehill’s been sacked a whopping 17 times. At this rate he’s going to end up in the ICU and we’re going to end up with Logan Woodside/Matt Barkley. (Hope Jon Robinson has Cam Newton’s number in his contacts.)
  2. Tannehill holds onto the ball too long – This is starting to look like his tenure with Miami (2012-2018) where he threw for a ton of yards, had too many interceptions, got sacked too many times behind a slip-shod offensive line with meddling tight end play and ultimately suffered a torn ACL that ended his career there. Tannehill is a very good quarterback, but he doesn’t make the fast reads like an elite quarterback does. I would like to see Todd Downing utilize Tannehill’s wheels more with scripted plays as the Titans are a strong run blocking team. How about some read options? (at least until we get Jones and Brown back) Yes, it opens Tannehill up for ferocious line-backer hits, but he’s getting murdered in a shoddy pass protection anyway…at least this way he has more of a fighting chance.
  3. Where are the tight-ends? – Tannehill could really use a reliable security blanket. The Titans traded the talented, but strangely under-utilized Jonnu Smith with hopes that Anthony Frisker would step up. He hasn’t. MyCole Pruitt–activated off the practice squad– has looked better than Frisker and Geoff Swaim. I would like to see Pruitt get more opportunities to move the chains.
  4. Defensive backs getting beat – The Titans had high hopes for Jackrabbit Jenkins, that the nine year veteran would not only hold the fort, but that he would mentor a young secondary. So far he’s been a big disappointment. Frankly, he looks confused as does the whole secondary. Against the Jets, Jenkins was targeted nine times and gave up 6 catches for 110 yards.
  5. Too many injuries – We are all awaiting the return of Julio Jones and A.J. Brown–both out due to hamstring issues. The big two are big play capable, winning one on one matches more often than not, which in turn pressures the defensive line and the line-backers, lessening the pass protection load. In this current state of play, it is absolutely essential that we get Jones and Brown back before a tightening of the schedule beginning with the Buffalo Bills in week 6.