Tennessee Titans rookie quarterback Will Levis is 2-0. Okay, in reality, the Titans are 1-1 through Levis’ two starts. But as disappointing as Thursday’s primetime defeat to the Pittsburgh Steelers was, there’s no denying that Levis has passed his first two professional tests with flying colors.
Levis completed 22-of-39 passing attempts for 262 yards, zero touchdowns, and one interception in the 20-16 loss. Levis was better than the numbers indicate. Franchise-QB-quality throws were routinely on display. An ineffective secondary (that was missing two starting corners), an anemic pass rush that couldn’t impact a banged-up Kenny Pickett, and poor red-zone results (which Levis has to own some of), were mainly to blame.
Now we get ready for Levis’ third career start after Titans head coach Mike Vrabel formally announced the inevitable on Tuesday. Levis is the team’s quarterback moving forward. Ryan Tannehill will settle into a backup role. The Titans are preparing for the now, and more importantly, a brighter future.
Unlike that Steelers game which was contested on a short week, the Titans have ample time to prepare for Sunday’s Week 10 opponent, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The last time Levis had 10-plus days to prepare for the opposition, the No. 33 overall selection in the 2023 NFL Draft threw for a historic four touchdowns in his debut versus the Atlanta Falcons.
Levis will be facing a Bucs secondary that’s still licking its wounds. The Bucs suffered a 39-37 defeat at the hands of Tennessee’s AFC South rival Houston Texans on Sunday. Another rookie quarterback was the architect. C.J. Stroud completed 30-of-42 passing attempts for a NFL single-game rookie passing yardage record 470 yards and five touchdowns. Stroud led a game-winning drive with 46 seconds remaining that culminated in a 15-yard touchdown strike to Tank Dell.
It was a career-best performance for Stroud in completion percentage (71.4%), yards (470), touchdowns (5), and passer rating (147.8). At Sunday’s conclusion, it will be fun to compare Levis’ performance to that of his counterpart Stroud. Together, they made up 50% of the 2023 impressive quarterbacking class alongside Bryce Young and Anthony Richardson.
Expecting Levis to reach those heights is obviously unrealistic, despite what he did versus the Falcons. But Stroud’s handling of the Bucs indicates Levis should experience some resemblance of success. If he doesn’t, the first doubts may begin silently creeping into Levis’ three-game evaluation.
Tampa’s secondary is now allowing a 31st-ranked 279.4 passing yards per contest. Despite that, they’ve been stingier in the points allowed department, where they’ve conceded a No. 16 overall 20.9 points per game. Levis must find ways to convert passing-game success to actual points. Red-zone offense hasn’t been an area of strength for the Titans. Elsewhere, Titans cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting will unfortunately be denied a #RevengeGame opportunity due to an ongoing injury. The Titans will miss him versus a Bucs’ receiving core that includes Mike Evans and Chris Godwin.
OFFENSIVE LINE DECISIONS…
Vrabel and offensive line coach Jason Houghtaling have sizable decisions to make across the offensive line. Nicholas Petit-Frere will undergo shoulder surgery that likely ends his season, per Paul Kuharsky. Petit-Frere had started Tennessee’s previous two games, one at left tackle, one at right tackle.
Petit-Frere was to protect the blindside moving forward after he replaced a struggling Andre Dillard in the lineup against the Baltimore Ravens in London. Petit-Frere slid from left to right for the Steelers game due to a Chris Hubbard injury. Petit-Frere was poor through 12 snaps before exiting, and Dillard wasn’t any better throughout his reclamation opportunity.
Hubbard is expected to reenter the lineup, presumably at right tackle. With Petit-Frere sidelined, the Titans must decide between Dillard and Dillon Radunz at left tackle. Radunz replaced Petit-Frere on the right against Pittsburgh and was easily Tennessee’s best performing tackle.
Radunz has made just one career start at left tackle. He may be needed at right guard if Daniel Brunskill (ankle) is sidelined. After all, the Titans have mostly considered him a swing guard throughout his uneven rookie contract. When receiving an opportunity at tackle, whether via practice or training camp, it’s majority occurred at right tackle. Radunz played left tackle at North Dakota State, and should be Tennessee’s choice to protect Levis’ blindside moving forward, if Brunskill is available.
I’d argue that even if Brunskill is OUT, the Titans would be best-suited to play Radunz at left tackle, and veteran linemen Corey Levin at right guard. Dillard has consistently proven that he’s among the worst starting tackles in football. The Titans have nothing to gain by playing Dillard at this point.