Gridiron Grades: Titans win wild one in Seattle

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

That was more like it.

The Titans entered Sunday’s contest in Seattle with something to prove after being embarrassed in Week 1. Head coach Mike Vrabel spoke a lot about, “finding out who we are” throughout the week, and he’ll be smiling ear-to-ear after the mental fortitude shown by his team in a tough environment to win football games.

The Titans were down 24-9 at halftime and then trailed 30-16 in the fourth quarter. If you thought it was over at that point, nobody would have blamed you. Per CBS, the Seahawks were 52-0 when leading by at least 15 points at home. They’re now 52-1 after the Titans rounded off 17 straight points in the fourth quarter and overtime to win 33-30.

Vrabel will feel really good about how his team approached the second half. They faced a ton of adversity, but didn’t lay down and completed one of their best comeback wins in recent memory.

The offense looked like the unit we expect them to be, even if they have some issues to clean up on that side of the ball. The defense was far from perfect, and miscommunication issues must be addressed in the secondary, but they got key stops when the team needed it most.

This was an extremely exciting victory. Let’s get down to the nitty gritty.

Quarterback: A-minus

Ryan Tannehill was really good in this one. He moved the ball to the tune of 347 yards on 27 completed passes. He came under pressure at times, but hung tough in the pocket and did his part to lead the Titans to a thrilling victory.

Tannehill officially finished the game 27-of-40 with those 347 yards. He didn’t throw a touchdown or an interception, and added 27 rushing yards on four carries.

Tannehill did turn over the ball on a strip-sack midway through the second quarter. At the time, it was his fourth turnover through just six quarters of football. That’s uncharacteristic of Tannehill, and better ball security will be emphasised going forward.

All in all, it was a precise and important performance by Tannehill, who picked his spots to perfection while taking advantage of an outmatched Seahawks secondary. It was just another day at the office for one of the more consistent quarterbacks in the NFL.

It was a good day at the office for Tannehill. He’ll look to keep it rolling in next week’s divisional showdown with the Colts.

Running backs: A-plus

Derrick Henry always follows up a poor performance with one for the record books. You should know this by now. Stop me if you’ve heard this before. Henry went out and dominated yet another football game. More specifically, Henry dominated the second half after starting slow.

Henry finished the game with 182 yards on 35 carries. That’s good for 5.2 yards per carry. It’s the type of performance we’ve come to expect from him. That in itself speaks volumes of his ability. Henry added 55 yards on a career-high six receptions, totaling a ridiculous 237 yards on the day and 5.8 yards per touch of the football.

Henry scored three times on Sunday. His most important score of the day was this gorgeous 60-yard run. It was a key moment in the game, and helped start the comeback that would be completed in overtime.

That’s just downright unfair. Henry now has 10 career games with 150+ rushing yards AND 2+ rushing touchdowns since 1950. It puts him in ELITE company: Three games behind Jim Brown (13), two behind LaDanian Tomlinson (12), tied with Barry Sanders (10) and one ahead of Eric Dickerson and Emmitt Smith (9).

Jeremy McNichols carried the ball once for three yards, and caught three passes for 26 yards. He’ll continue to operate as the team’s third-down running back. He was very solid in that role on Sunday.

Call it the standard 200-plus yard bounce back game from The King.

Wide receivers: B

If we were handing out individual grades here, Julio Jones would score an “A” and the rest of the group would drag that ranking down to the “B” I’ve gone with here. Much was made after Jones began his Titans career on the wrong foot last week, but he made all of his critics look silly with Sunday’s performance. Jones caught six balls for 128 yards and was robbed of this breathtaking touchdown either by a very silly rule that doesn’t make any sense or incompetent officiating (take your pick).

Jones made several big catches. Late in the first quarter, he picked up 17 yards on third-and-5. Just minutes later, he had a 51-yard reception, which was the first play after a big defensive stop. On the very next snap, a play-action pass went to Julio and moved the ball into the red zone. Jones went over 100 yards late in the second quarter with another catch on a play-action throw. Late in the fourth quarter, Jones made a 16-yard grab that turned third-and-18 into fourth-and-2. The Titans didn’t convert that fourth down, but Jones did his part by giving them an excellent chance to do so. It was a big, big day for Jones.

On the other side of the field, A.J. Brown had a quiet and uneven day. Brown finished with just 43 yards on three catches. His day started on the wrong foot with a bad drop midway through the first quarter. It was a play-action pass that saw Henry pick up the blitz by Jamal Adams. Tannehill delivered a gorgeous ball to Brown, who could have scored if he caught it. Brown did throw a key block on Henry’s 60-yard touchdown run. Brown will have bigger days than this.

Chester Rogers caught two balls for 22 yards. One of those catches was a tough grab in traffic up the middle that moved the chains on third-and-10. In overtime, Rogers had a quick hitter go off his hands, and bounce into the air. Rogers was lucky it wasn’t intercepted.

Josh Reynolds made his Titans debut. Reynolds actively hurt the team with an illegal motion penalty in the red zone that wiped out a good Henry run. The Titans would have to settle for three. Vrabel and Co. were not happy with Reynolds. He needs to be better going forward.

All in all, the Titans got a monstrous performance from one of their lead dogs. They’ll try to get both Jones and Brown in top form next weekend.

Tight ends: B

This group had a solid day overall. Anthony Firkser was inactive with an injury and MyCole Pruitt stepped up in his absence with a bigger performance than the box score indicates. Pruitt caught three balls for 43 yards but his infectious energy was immeasurable. Pruitt played the third quarter with a terrific amount of intensity and helped pick up the team’s spirits. After getting into with Seahawks safety Adams on a run blocking play, Pruitt picked up 15 yards through the air on a second-and-12, and tacked on an extra 15 yards when he was the target of a roughing penalty. It’s safe to say Pruitt got under Seattle’s skin. Later in that same quarter, Pruitt picked up another 22 yards on a big catch. It was a huge day for him.

Tommy Hudson was called up from the practice squad and made his first career catch. It was a big one, a 14-yard gain on third-and-3. The offensive line held up nicely in pass pro on the play, giving Tannehill ample time to find Hudson, who was serving as his outlet out of the backfield.

Geoff Swaim is off to a disappointing start as both a run blocker and pass catcher. On Tanehill’s strip-sack, it was Swaim that was beaten by Alton Robinson. Seattle recovered the ball near the goal line and would go on to score a quick touchdown to extend their first-half lead to 17-6. We don’t really blame Swaim on that play, though. It’s bad coaching to allow a defensive end to line up one-v-one against a tight end.

This team needs similar group efforts from their tight ends going forward.

Offensive line: B-plus

All in all, this was a great day considering what they were dealing with.

This group bounced back after last Sunday’s horrid performance against the Cardinals. It started concerningly before the game even started. Left tackle Taylor Lewan tweaked his knee in warmups and was ruled out for the game. Ty Sambrailo, who spent the majority of training camp battling for the right tackle job, stepped into Lewan’s spot on the left and played a good game. Nobody will talk about Sambrailo and his performance on Sunday, but he deserves a major shout out. He found out he was starting about an hour before the game and put in a great performance.

As the bookends, Sambrailo and David Quessenberry combined to play every single snap on offense. 48 of those were pass blocking snaps, and they gave up zero sacks, zero hits and one QB hurry (on Sambrailo). That’s an excellent day at the office for both Sambrailo and Quessenberry.

Lewan isn’t the only injury concern going forward. Starting left guard Rodger Saffold left the game on two occasions and couldn’t return to the game in the end. As he did at times last year, Aaron Brewer took over at left guard and performed admirably, minus a false start he was called for in overtime.

At the end of the day, this unit cleared the way for more than 200 rushing yards and held up mostly well in pass pro. They were also called for just one pre-snap penalty, which is very impressive considering they were playing a road game in front of one of the best home crowds in all of football.

Defensive line: A

This group may have been the silent MVP’s. The Mississippi connection between Jeffery Simmons and Denico Autry popped up on several occasions. Both players were disappointing in the Week 1 loss to Arizona, but that wasn’t the case against Seattle.

This group did an excellent job holding the Seahawks’ run game in check. Chris Carson rushed for just 31 yards on 13 carries, averaging a measly 2.4 yards per carry. Backup running back Alex Collins carried the ball once for 25 yards. In total, the Seahawks were held to just 77 yards on the ground, and that includes 16 yards from their quarterback.

On Seattle’s first offensive possession, Autry chased Wilson out of bounds on third down to force a three-and-out and ensuing punt. Autry recorded his first sack as a Titan midway through the second quarter. A few plays later, Simmons was the first to reach Wilson in the backfield, and would share a sack with Autry.

Both Autry and Simmons were really, really good in this game.

Larrell Murchison recorded his first sack of the season during an awkward backfield exchange in the third quarter.

Inside linebackers: B

Jayon Brown sat this one with an injury. David Long Jr. took his place in the starting lineup next to Rashaan Evans. Both Long and Evans played good games.

We discussed the success of the defense against the run under the defensive linemen header, but these linebackers played a role as well. Evans had an excellent tackle on Carson for no gain in the first quarter. Long had a big stop on third-and-2 midway through the third quarter when the Titans trailed by eight.

This was a good performance for both Evans and Long, who rarely put a wrong foot forward.

Outside linebackers: B-minus

Bud Dupree made a great tackle on Carson on the very first play of the game and he was fired up from there on out. The Titans’ $80 million man didn’t record a sack, but he played a solid five quarters of football. He had a nice fourth quarter hit on Wilson as he was trying to scramble and make magic happen (as he so often does). Dupree played a smart football game. He was disciplined and played great containment on the greatest QB improviser that is Russell Wilson. Dupree is still getting his legs under him, but it looked better than it did a week ago.

For the second week in a row, Harold Landry played a great football game, even if the box score doesn’t indicate it. Ola Adeniyi nearly made the biggest play of the game… scratch that, *should* have been credited with making the biggest play of the game if Wilson didn’t get a reputation call / some home cooking. Adeniyi appeared to have Wilson dead to rights in the end zone for what would have been a game-winning safety, but the referees ruled Wilson’s forward progress at the 1-yard line.. Yeah, right. Adeniyi needs to play more snaps going forward.

Rashad Weaver was active over Derick Roberson but didn’t play a single snap on defense.

Defensive backs: B-minus

This was a wild ride as this group had their ups and downs. It started poorly when Tyler Lockett got behind Bradley McDougald for a 55-yard gain on the first play of Seattle’s second drive.

Let’s talk about Kristian Fulton, though. Don’t look now, but the second-year cornerback is off to an excellent start. Fulton is playing some really good football now. He put the clamps on Metcalf today, who finished with just 53 receiving yards. Fulton lined up with Metcalf on five targets: Metcalf made one catch for eight yards on those targets. Fulton is this team’s CB1 right now. He’s playing with a ton of confidence. It’s great to see.

Jackrabbit Jenkins played a good game. He is the team’s new Malcolm Butler, and he plays with a similar amount of intensity. He had a physical tackle on D.K. Metcalf on the last play of the first quarter that really caught my eye. On the very next play, Jackrabbit recorded an excellent pass breakup on Metcalf that forced a Seattle punt. Jenkins will have his good days and bad days, but you can bet your bottom dollar that he will show up every week ready to fight and compete.

Elijah Molden, who was cooked by Christian Kirk a week ago for a 26-yard TD, was once again left in the dust for a big play, by Lockett this time. To make matters worse, Molden collided with McDougald on the tackle attempt, ruining both of their chances to stop Lockett short of the end zone. Molden has made good plays as well, but he’s also made terrible ones throughout his first two weeks. I’m confident he’s going to develop into a nice player, but it’s been a bit of a rough go so far.

Chris Jackson, who will battle Molden for snaps at the nickel going forward, returned to the lineup after sitting out Week 1 with an injury. Jackson was the recipient of a well deserved DPI on the goal line with 20 seconds left in the second quarter. It was a terrible play by Jackson. It ended in a TD run. Seattle went 75 yards on just seven plays on the drive, scoring in 48 seconds without having to call a timeout. It was easily Tennessee’s worst defensive drive of the day.

Jackson somewhat redeemed himself by making an excellent tackle on Lockett on second-and-2 short of the sticks. Dane Cruikshank looked to make another stop on third-and-1, but the referees made an awful decision to move the chains. Vrabel should have challenged it, but he didn’t.

The breakdowns and miscues in the secondary that lead to yards and points in bunches have to be rectified, but they played a good game overall.

Special teams: B-minus

This was a mixed bag for so many reasons.

Let’s start with the elephant in the room. New kicker Randy Bullock finished the game 4-of-5 with makes from 33, 30, 24 and the game-winner from 36 in overtime. Bullock’s lone miss was from 44 yards out. Vrabel’s decision to attempt the field goal was an odd one. Bullock had made nothing but chip shots up to that point. I’m not sure why Vrabel was confident enough to send him out there from 44 yards out. To make matters worse, it was attempted on a fourth-and-5 from Seattle’s 26 yard line when the Titans were down 24-16. They should have gone for it.

All in all, Bullock made 80% of his kicks and was a perfect 3-of-3 on extra points. He earned the right to kick again next week, but we should probably all still be worried about the Titans’ kicking game.

Brett Kern punted just two times for an average of 47 yards per punt. He looked like his regular stellar self.

Chester Rogers had a poor game as the kick returner. Rogers returned six kicks for a total of 100 yards, or 16.7 yards per return. He made some bad decisions to take the ball out of the end zone. Rogers had a better day as a punt returner, averaging a respectable 10.7 yards per punt return on three attempts.

The Titans have a big one against the 0-2 Indianapolis Colts next Sunday.

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