If you watched the Tennessee Titans at any point in 2020, odds are you saw how feeble the defense was. The secondary was a complete mess for the majority of the season, the linebacker group fell flat on its face after an impressive collective 2019 season, and the pass rush was even worse than its 2019 counterpart.
To put it bluntly, it was a disaster defensively for the Titans this (soon to be) past season.
A team obviously can’t have such a disaster if it wants to maintain its position and assert itself as a consistent threat.
It’s easy to explain why.
A team that’s set to contend like the Tennessee Titans can’t waste the championship window Jon Robinson and company have set up.
Management cannot fail to address the many needs that may arise during the window as a contender, whether those needs are roster related or more about the all-important coaching staff.
Unfortunately for the Titans, with the official promotion of Shane Bowen to defensive coordinator, Mike Vrabel might be on the verge of doing just that.
There are a mountain of issues and questions that come with promoting Shane Bowen to defensive coordinator. Of course, when a unit performs as poorly as the Titans’ 2020 defense, there’s going to be plenty of hesitation if the team promotes the same man who led said poor unit.
Common sense, right?
But these concerns tie into more significant problems, problems that will hamper the defense — and this team — moving forward.
There were cries of miscommunication and a lack of scheme simplicity from Titans’ players once the season ended, two problems that can stem from the de factor defensive coordinator not having the necessary experience and leadership skills for this specific position on an NFL coaching staff.
Correcting these communication issues and simplifying the scheme can come with some serious offseason reflection, but there’s still no guarantee the elementary method will help bridge the gap between the egregious failures and the potential success that sits on the other side.
Then there’s the worrying trend of regression from players that made such outstanding contributions to the defense in 2019.
Kevin Byard, Rashaan Evans, and even Jayon Brown were standout defensive pieces under the guidance of former Titans DC Dean Pees. Byard developed into an All-Pro safety, Rashaan Evans was starting to put his game and athletic traits together to form an exciting young linebacker with tremendous upside, and Jayon Brown turned into arguably the best linebacker on the Titans’ defense. Everyone from starters like Kenny Vaccaro down to role players like Kamalei Correa and Derick Roberson performed above their pay grade under Pees’ leadership.
But all of that momentum, all of that success, and all of the excitement fizzled out once Bowen took over the defense.
Byard looked like the worst player on the field at times last year, Evans turned into a hesitant, penalty-riddled linebacker who was more of a liability than a bright spot, and Brown fought through inconsistency before suffering a season-ending injury in Week 11.
It wasn’t just these three players that saw their quality of play rapidly decrease under Bowen either.
Players of that caliber don’t suddenly go from solutions to problems without some sort of issue behind the scenes, whether it’s coaching or some other reason that might come to light.
The fact of the matter is, these players suffered under Bowen and no one else, that’s the truth. You always want to give someone another chance to prove themselves if the sample size is small. But that can be thrown out the window if the results are overwhelmingly poor, and Bowen’s line of work falls right into that category.
Mike Vrabel is gambling with the Titans future by rolling with Bowen as his defensive coordinator. He’s risking further regression from his dependable defensive pieces, more comical failure from the side of the ball he specializes in, and overall team success as a whole.
Let’s not forget, Tennessee still has a record-setting offense set to return the majority of its starters next season.
With the unit likely to inch a little closer to the league average statistically, the defense will be called upon to get stops and give this team a chance to win more often than not.
If the 2021 Shane Bowen experience resembles anything like what we saw in 2020, the Titans won’t just be in for a downtick in wins.
They’ll pencil themselves in as a contender who’s wasted another year of its precious window to win.