Gridiron Grades: Titans embarrass themselves in New York

‘Gridiron Grades’ with Justin Melo is a recurring piece that will assign a letter grade to each position group following every Titans game.


The Titans entered Sunday’s Week 4 game against the Jets with some momentum in their back pocket. They felt good about their back-to-back wins over the Seahawks and Colts, but wasted it away in what wound up being an absolute nightmare in East Rutherford.

The Titans fell 27-24 in overtime, giving (really) the Jets their first win of the season. The Jets’ offense, which hardly looked like an NFL unit in Week’s 2 and 3, managed 289 passing yards and scored MORE points in this game (27) than they had in their three previous games combined (20). I mean, wow.

Mike Vrabel will be livid with his team after this one. The entire team, coaching staff included, has to take a long, hard look at themselves in the mirror right now.

Let’s get into this hot mess.

Quarterback: C

Ryan Tannehill wasn’t good in this one. He also received absolutely zero help from his offensive line and receivers (much more on that later). Tannehill was under constant stress and duress. He was sacked an astounding seven times, and truthfully, some of it was on him. There were times Tannehill could have gotten the ball out quicker and more efficiently, but he was often panicked and indecisive in the pocket. It’s a result of playing behind a bad offensive line.

Tannehill finished the game 30-of-49 with 298 passing yards and a touchdown pass. Tannehill didn’t turn the ball over. Ironically, this was the first time he’s played a turnover-free contest this season. The highlight of Tannehill’s day was the game tying drive in the fourth quarter. The Titans went 52 yards on a 12-play drive that took just 1:53 and tied the game 24-24 with three seconds left in regulation.

All in all, it was not a good day for Tannehill at the office, but I’m not sure there’s many NFL quarterbacks that could have done any better, given the horrid level of play from the receivers and offensive line.

Running backs: A-minus

This was Tennessee’s best performing position group. Derrick Henry didn’t get much of a breather after touching the ball 31 times a week ago. Henry ran for 157 yards and a touchdown on 33 carries. The King carried a bad Titans offense on a day where they sorely missed the likes of A.J. Brown and Julio Jones. Henry averaged 4.8 yards per carry and his longest run of the day went for just 22 yards, which insinuates that Henry was consistently picking up chunks of yardage. Henry also caught two balls for 20 yards, one of which was a nice 17-yard grab on the last play of the first quarter. Tannehill was in trouble and made a good decision by taking his checkdown, and Henry did the rest. Henry’s lone touchdown of the game came early in the fourth quarter, and at the time, put the Titans back in front.

Jeremy McNichols was the only other traditional running back to suit up for the Titans on Sunday and he had the best day of his career in a Tennessee uniform. McNichols carried the ball just once for 11 yards, but led the team in receptions (8) and receiving yards (74). The Titans couldn’t block anyone in pass protection, so they often used McNichols in the screen game. It paid off at times. Early in the game, McNichols miraculously picked up 21 yards on a third-and-21.

McNichols would continue to make impressive plays in the passing game down the stretch. Late in the fourth quarter, he moved the chains on third-and-5. He picked up another chunk of yards via a screen pass with 1:25 left in the fourth quarter. The Titans would tie it just a few plays later.

McNichols will continue to operate as the team’s third-down running back.

Wide receivers: D-plus

It was not a good day for the Titans’ receivers. The fearsome duo of Jones and Brown sat out with injuries, thrusting Josh Reynolds and Nick Westbrook into starting roles on the outside. It was Reynolds’ first time playing meaningful snaps in a Titans uniform. Truthfully, he was half decent. He caught six balls for 59 yards. He nearly made an amazing diving touchdown catch, but couldn’t complete the catch process as he went to the ground. Just minutes later, Reynolds moved the chains on third down. Reynolds made two key catches late in the fourth quarter on the Titans’ game-tying drive, moving the ball inside the 15, ultimately helping the Titans set up the tying TD to Batson. I imagine we’ll see more Reynolds going forward.

Other than that, there were sprinkles of good receiver play, but it was few and far between. Westbrook made a nice grab on a quick play action hitter midway through the fourth quarter. Westbrook ultimately finished with just 29 yards on three grabs.

Chester Rogers caught five balls for 63 yards. His largest contribution was drawing a pass interference on fourth-and-10 with 1:44 left to keep Tennessee’s final drive alive. Rogers then made a 20-yard grab on a crucial third-and-21 in overtime. The referees incorrectly ruled him down, and Henry would pick up the first down on fourth-and-1.

Batson’s two-yard TD grab was his lone catch of the game.

Due to injuries and a lack of depth, the Titans barely fielded an NFL-worthy receiver unit on Sunday. They struggled to separate and at times forced Tannehill to hold onto the ball longer than the pass protection allowed for. The Titans need to get Brown and Jones back ASAP.

Tight ends: D

This group battled in the run game but had a quiet game overall. It was disappointing to see Anthony Firkser finish with just 23 yards on three grabs. You figured he was going to be a bigger part of the passing game, but he wasn’t. Firsker missed an opportunity to make a big play in the dying seconds, but a Tannehill pass went off of his fingertips and incomplete at the five-yard line.

Tommy Hudson made a nice sideline catch late in the first quarter. He took a shot to the back and did well to hold onto the ball. The defender that hit him actually hurt himself on the play. Hudson would later leave the game on a cart in the third quarter. We’ll keep an eye on his status going forward.

Similarly to Firsker, it was a bit of a surprise to see MyCole Pruitt hardly involved in the passing game given all the bodies they were down. Pruitt officially caught just one ball for a 140-yard gain. He also caught a two-point conversion to give the Titans a 17-10 lead.

Geoff Swaim was held catchless and got whooped a few times in pass pro. I continue to wonder what he offers this football team.

Offensive line: D-minus

This would be an “F” if not for Henry’s 157-yard performance. I was very close to going with an “F” in spite of that, but this group consistently opened up running lanes for their superstar back. Henry especially had success running behind the right side of the line, where David Quessenberry and Nate Davis did some good work in that regard.

Pass protection, though? It was as bad as it gets. As mentioned above, Tannehill was sacked an astounding seven times. He’s now been sacked 17 times this season. No quarterback has been sacked more times than Tannehill has through four weeks. Need I say more?

This was just atrocious. The likes of John Franklin-Myers, Quinnen Williams, C.J. Mosley and Quincy Williams had their way with Tennessee’s starting five. Mosley and Quincy Williams had 10 tackles and a sack apiece. Former third-overall pick Quinnen Williams dominated inside, totaling six tackles and two sacks. Franklin-Myers also had a sack.

Truthfully, there isn’t one individual to pick on here. Quessenberry was atrocious at right tackle after starting the season in fine form. He was beaten like a drum on a snap-by-snap basis. Taylor Lewan wasn’t much better, as his uneven and inconsistent play continues to be a worrisome trend. Nate Davis was actively bad, and has been well-below average all season long.

Lewan took several penalties. He had a false start on a third-and-16 early in the first quarter. On the next play, a third-and-21, Tannehill was sacked for the first of several third-down sacks. Lewan later took one of his famous “illegal hands to the face” penalties late in the second quarter. Quessenberry could have easily been flagged for a hold on the same play. Quessenberry was also beaten for New York’s seventh and final sack of the day in overtime.

There were some injury issues here as well. Ben Jones was hurt in the first quarter. He was replaced by Aaron Brewer, who would quickly airmail a snap several feet over Tannehill’s head on a crucial third-down in the red zone. The Titans had to settle for a field goal because of Brewer’s snapping error. Jones would return, and Brewer would later replace Rodger Saffold at left guard, who went down and was being evaluated for a concussion. Speaking of Saffold, he incredibly “caught” a screen pass intended for Henry, which led to an illegal touching penalty. It was that kind of day. Incredible.

Lewan also left the game at one point, and was replaced by Ty Sambrailo at left tackle.

A lot of these sacks were communication/assignment based. The Titans need to figure it out ASAP. If they don’t, Tannehill won’t make it through the season.

Defensive line: B-plus

This group played a good game and it will unfortunately get lost in the final result. Denico Autry was excellent. Autry played snaps both as a defensive lineman, and chipped in on the edge as a stand-up pass rusher. The Titans were down several bodies (Bud Dupree, Derick Roberson and Rashad Weaver) at outside linebacker, and Autry’s impressive flexibility helped them here. Late in the first quarter, Autry buried the Jets’ running back on third-and-long. He recorded another excellent tackle for loss early in the third period, forcing the Jets into a third-and-long. Autry made his best play of the day in overtime. On a third-and-goal from the one-yard line, with a chance to win the game right then and there, Atury tackled Zach Wilson for a four-yard loss, forcing the Jets to attempt a field goal. It kept the Titans alive. Autry is a really good football player.

With Autry seeing time on the edge, the Titans went heavier than usual at defensive tackle, making Woodrow Hamilton, Amani Bledsoe and Naquan Jones all active for this game. Bledsoe started on the D-line, and made a nice tackle on the very first play of the game. It was interesting to see Bledsoe be the preferred choice of this group. He played 31 snaps, compared to just nine and seven snaps for Jones and Hamilton respectively.

Tart made an excellent tackle for loss on a second down late in the second quarter that forced the Jets into a third-and-6. Tart continues to do the dirty work up the middle. Jeffery Simmons was relatively quiet.

The Jets ran the ball 26 times with little success, totaling just 66 yards on the ground. The rest of the defense let this unit down.

Inside linebackers: C-minus

I don’t have much for you here. Jayon Brown was active after missing two games in a row but was available on just a part-time basis, playing just 19 snaps. David Long played 59 snaps, accounting for 98.3% of Tennessee’s defensive play total. Rashaan Evans played 42 snaps. Evans made an excellent tackle for loss early in the first quarter, but as he often does, disappeared for large stretches of the game.

This group struggled in pass coverage (it was a rare, bad game for Long in that respect) and didn’t make a single impact play.

Outside linebackers: C-plus

Harold Landry was once again excellent. With Dupree missing his second game in a row, Landry had to carry this group. Landry made several eye-popping plays. He blew up a swing pass to Michael Carter midway through the first quarter. He stifled Carter again, this time with an incredible tackle for loss in New York’s backfield midway through the second frame. On a third-and-6 from roughly the 50-yard line, Landry looped inside and recorded this sack.

It was surprising to see Ola Adeniyi play just 18 snaps given his impressive performance last week and Dupree’s injury. Adeniyi failed to make an impact with his limited snap count, but I am surprised he didn’t get more opportunities. The newly signed Sharif Finch played just five snaps. The Titans preferred to use Autry on the outside.

This group needs more from players at the position not named Landry.

Defensive backs: D-minus

It started well, but was mostly downhill from there.

Starting with Kristian Fulton, it was nice to see him record his first interception of the season. Former Titans receiver Corey Davis was targeted on the play, but slipped on his route and Fulton was there to make him pay. Truthfully, even if Davis didn’t slip, it was a bad and dangerous throw by New York’s rookie quarterback.

Fulton was later moved to the slot following Chris Jackson’s injury. Breon Borders took up Fulton’s vacant spot outside and offered nothing. It was a puzzling move by the Titans’ coaching staff, given how well Fulton has played outside this year. Fulton struggled in the slot. He was first beaten by Jamison Crowder for the game-tying touchdown (17-17) in the fourth quarter. In overtime, Fulton was once again defeated by Crowder, who set up first-and-goal. Fulton was not good in the slot and he shouldn’t play there again.

Jackrabbit Jenkins was terrible. He gave up a 50-yard passing playto Keelan Cole late in the third quarter. It was a great play by Wilson to buy time and find his man deep, but Jenkins has to do better. In overtime, Cole got behind JEnkins once again for a big play, this time for a gain of 29.

I have no idea what Dane Cruikshank was doing on a deep pass interference call. Corey Davis was the target, and Cruikshank seemed to panic while committing the penalty. It was extremely uncalled for. It was a head-scratcher that gifted the Jets 40-plus yards. Speaking of Corey Davis, the ex-Titan finished with 111 yards and a touchdown on four catches. He also played for the winning team. Many Titans fans scoffed at the thought of a Corey Davis revenge game. Who’s laughing now?

All in all, Wilson finished 21-of-34 for 297 passing yards, two touchdowns and an interception. He routinely made big plays off-script. In the second half, the Jets went downfield with great success. The Titans’ secondary continues to give up big plays on a weekly basis.

Miscommunication and mental breakdowns are a very concerning (and consistent) theme with this group.

Special teams: C-minus

Of course this mess ended in a missed field goal. Randy Bullock has been really good up to this point. He was, initially at least, very good on Sunday. With the Titans shooting themselves in the foot time and time again in the red zone early, Bullock went 3-for-3 from 44, 46 and 36 yards out. With 19 seconds left in overtime, Bullock missed a 49-yard attempt that would have tied the game. He couldn’t have won it for the Titans, but he could have prevented them from losing. He missed terribly. A play or two before the miss, the Titans took a bad delay of game penalty. You wonder if Bullock would have made it from 44. The Titans did him no favors by pushing his final attempt five yards back.

Brett Kern missed this game and the Titans continue to fail to find adequate replacements when he can’t play, an issue dating back to last season. Johnny Townsend was the issue this time. Townsend incredibly got off a *cheks notes* 12-yard punt following a Titans three-and-out. Just incredible.

The Titans will try to restore pride when they take on Urban Meyer, Trevor Lawrence and their 0-4 Jaguars next Sunday.

Author: Justin MeloSenior Writer, Interviewer and Podcaster for Broadway Sports covering the Tennessee Titans and NFL draft. For more than five years, Justin Melo has professionally covered all things NFL draft and Titans for The Draft Network, SB Nation and USA Today. Best known for his Interview Series with NFL draft prospects, Justin has interviewed more than 500 NFL players. Co-host of the Music City Audible podcast alongside Justin Graver (@titansfilmroom).

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