Gridiron Grades: Titans falter vs. Texans

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

Well, that was awful. The Tennessee Titans experienced a major letdown on Sunday, losing to the lowly Houston Texans by a final score of 22-13. The Texans entered the contest on an eight game losing streak. They hadn’t won since they beat the Jacksonville Jaguars way back in Week 1. None of that mattered on Sunday. The Titans played their sloppiest game of the season, turning it over five times. It doesn’t matter who you play in the National Football League, you’re going to get beat when you lose the turnover battle by five.

Let’s recap this mess.

Quarterbacks: D-minus

Ryan Tannehill played his worst game as a Tennessee Titan. The Titans’ signal-caller was unbelievably off the mark. Say what you will about the injuries at receiver, but Tannehill was largely inaccurate, careless with the football and downright sloppy. His first interception of the game was a backbreaker. The Titans were on Houston’s 18-yard line when Tannehill didn’t appear to see linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill, who intercepted it and took it 81 yards the other way.

Tannehill finished 35-of-52 for 323 yards, one touchdown pass and an astounding four interceptions. There’s a lot of garbage in there and little to no substance. It was Tannehill’s first four-interception game of his career. He began pressing in the second half and made bad decisions.

It was going without saying that Tannehill will need to be better than this going forward.

Running backs: C

The Titans rotated and utilized all three running backs with varying degrees of success. On Tennessee’s first possession, Adrian Peterson lost the handle and recovered his own fumble, forcing a third-and-13 and eventual punt. Peterson’s next carry on the next possession went for 16 yards, his longest run as a Titan. Peterson had a solid drive, adding another 12-yard run just a few plays later. The drive unfortunately ended in the Tannehill-to-Grugier-Hill interception. Peterson finished the game with 40 yards on nine carries.

Practice squad elevation Dontrell Hilliard was surprisingly involved from the get-go, and more than just as a third-down option. Hilliard ran seven times for 35 yards, and had some juice running the ball. Hilliard also caught eight receptions for 47 yards, as Tannehill dumped it down a ton. D’Onta Foreman accumulated 25 yards on seven carries, and had a nice 15-yard gain on a screen.

Get well soon, Derrick Henry.

Wide receivers: C-minus

A.J. Brown exited to the locker room early in the first quarter after injuring his hand on an off-the-mark Tannehill throw. Brown would return to make a pair of nice catches on Tennessee’s second drive, but would re-injure himself on a big collision in the second half. Brown finished with 48 yards on five grabs. His chest injury didn’t appear serious, but we’ll wait to hear official word on his official designation going forward. Marcus Johnson, who entered the game as the WR2 in Julio Jones’ absence, injured his hamstring on a deep ball attempt near the end of the first quarter. Johnson was quickly ruled OUT. It’s not the first time he’s suffered a hamstring injury this season.

With essentially no healthy bodies, Nick Westbrook and Dez Fitzpatrick did a nice job stepping up. Westbrook made several notable catches in the second half, including a 46-yard grab early in the fourth quarter. Tannehill unfortunately threw an interception on the very next play. Westbrook led the team with 101 receiving yards on seven grabs. Fitzpatrick caught his first career touchdown on a lovely 18-yard throw-and-route.

Fitzpatrick made two additional grabs, and totaled 35 yards. The Titans desperately need A.J. Brown to be healthy for next weekend’s game against the New England Patriots.

Tight ends: D

Anthony Firkser caught five balls for 26 yards. He was targeted a season-high seven times. Tennessee racked up yards in the second half, as Houston was content to let them nickel-and-dime. Firkser found himself on the receiving end of plenty of those opportunities. Firkser even found the end zone in a rather unconventional fashion. After Hilliard fumbled the ball on Houston’s two-yard line, the ball rolled into the end zone and Firkser fell on it for a score.

MyCole Pruitt and Tommy Hudson were held off the stat sheet.

Offensive line: C-minus

Tannehill was only sacked twice but was routinely under pressure, and was forced to get rid of the ball earlier than he’d like to on plenty occasions. They had some success with the ground game, but it was meddling at best. It’s safe to say Houston’s defensive line won the line of scrimmage battle, and that’s awfully disappointing given the quality of the opponent. To add insult to injury, Houston was without their best pass rusher, Jonathan Greenard. Rodger Saffold was called for a crucial false start on a fourth-and-2 that the Titans intended to go for. His penalty forced a punt.

Defensive line: D

They did not do enough to disrupt Tyrod Taylor, who found plenty of success using his legs to extend plays and drives. Taylor rushed for two touchdowns in the red zone. It was rather surprising given the success of the front four as of late. Naquan Jones suffered an injury midway through the first quarter, but returned. Teair Tart suffered an injury late. It would be a shame if he had to miss time. Jeffery Simmons had a quieter game after going on a crazy run as of late. Denico Autry was forced to play outside due to personnel shortages. This group just didn’t do enough.

Linebackers: C-plus

Harold Landry, Dylan Cole and Jayon Brown combined to stuff a first-and-goal run for a loss on the first play following Tannehill’s first interception which Houston returned inside Tennessee’s 10-yard line. On the next play, Landry killed a quick throw to David Johnson in the flat. It was a great defensive stand that held Houston to just three points despite being placed in a less-than-ideal situation. Cole, who played more defensive snaps than we envisioned, was called for a crucial face mask penalty early in the second quarter. Ola Adeniyi was questionable with a hamstring injury. Jayon Brown played a quality game against the run.

This group needs David Long Jr., Rashaan Evans and Bud Dupree to get healthy.

Secondary: B

Elijah Molden was the best Titan by a long shot. Let’s recap a few of his big plays. He had great coverage on fellow rookie Brevin Jordan near the sideline on a third-and-seven. It helped hold Houston to a field goal. Midway through the third quarter, Molden made another third-down stop on Jordan on a play that looked nearly identical to the first one. It forced a punt. In the fourth quarter, Molden laid a huge hit on a Houston receiver that forced a fourth-and-inches. Texans head coach David Culley cowardly opted to punt. Molden directly helped the Titans defense get off the field on three third downs.

We don’t have much else to say about the rest of this group, which is typically a good thing for this group. Jackrabbit Jenkins missed the game with an injury. Chris Jackson received the start outside, but suffered his own injury midway through the third quarter. It led to more snaps for Chris Jones. Kristian Fulton was hardly targeted, which is smart considering how well he’s played this season. Kevin Byard and Amani Hooker played quality games, despite failing to make any impact plays. Taylor was held to just 107 passing yards.

Special teams: D-minus

This was all bad. Marcus Johnson bobbled the second kickoff of the day before exiting with an injury. Chester Rogers made the largest gaff of them all when he allowed a punt to bounce off of his foot as he attempted to block Houston’s gunner from getting in a position to down the fotoball short of the end zone. Rogers was trying to preserve the touchback, but it was an unbelievable mistake that gifted Houston the ball at Tennessee’s five-yard line. Taylor would rush for a TD on third-and-goal, extending their lead to 19-0. The game felt out of reach at that point. Randy Bullock missed an extra point in terrible weather conditions.

Coaching: C

Vrabel decided to go for it on fourth-and-inches down 12-0 with 3:04 left in the second quarter. Peterson was stuffed and the ball was turned over on downs. It was a good decision by Vrabel, and a fine play call by offensive coordinator Todd Downing, the Titans simply didn’t execute. With nine seconds left in the second quarter, the Titans found themselves in field goal range with no timeouts while trailing 12-0. Vrabel wanted to take an end zone shot before attempting the FG. Pass protection didn’t hold up, Tanenhill rolls outside and throws it away. The refs called intentional grounding, which carried the 10-second runoff rule. The half was over and Tennessee didn’t get to attempt the field goal. The call was controversial, but the missed opportunity to kick a field goal ended up costing the Titans at the end.

Vrabel rolled the dice on several fourth downs, and the team went 2-for-4. It was the right call given that the Titans were chasing the game.

The Titans will take on the surging New England Patriots in Week 12 before getting a much needed bye in Week 13.

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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