Titans fans certainly want to put Week 1 behind them. I imagine the Titans themselves share that same sentiment.
Tennessee opened the season with nothing shy of utter implosion, seemingly sleepwalking to a 38-13 thumping at home against the Cardinals. For Arizonas part, both sides of the ball looked fantastic. QB Kyler Murray led the offensive charge with five total touchdowns, and LB Chandler Jones led the defensive effort with five sacks.
The Titans, on the other hand, couldn’t get anything going on either side of the ball all day. As the team and their fans look to shake off the nighmarish start to the season, let’s break down what is and isn’t an overreaction on this Overreaction Monday.
Todd Downing’s play calling is a dramatic step down from Arthur Smith’s.
OVERREACTION- Could this end up being the case? Yes, it’s a real possibility. Arthur Smith is one of the best offensive minds in the NFL, and he was rewarded with a head coaching position for his abilities. But giving up on Todd Downing after Sunday’s performance, or making any real judgements of him based on it, is reactionary and foolish.
Downing was put in an impossible situation very early in the game; play Titans football down big. In the Ryan Tannehill Era, the Titans have struggled without fail whenever their opponent jumps out to a big lead. In 2020, Week 13 hosting the Browns and Week 16 at the Packers are perfect examples of this. The Titans’ style of play benefits dramatically when they are the one’s jumping out to an early lead. Establishing the run, capitalizing on play action, dominating time of possession (TOP). When Tennessee finds themselves in a big hole early, that goes out the window.
The biggest reason I don’t think it’s fair to judge Downing on this game, however, is the fact that you can’t play-call yourself out of getting murdered in the trenches. When the defense is getting push back on every single snap the way Arizona did yesterday, it’s pretty much always a lost cause. Downing was trying to call plays in a similar fashion to last year, which is clearly a recipe for success, but that success is predicated on the line doing their job.
Making Shane Bowen the official Defensive Coordinator didn’t make the Titans look any more coordinated.
NOT AN OVERREACTION- There was at least one bright spot on defense for the Titans, which we’ll get to in a moment. And though the defense certainly wasn’t the stain on the team that the offense was, it still stunk. There are no participation awards when you allow 38 points, no matter the circumstances.
part of the plan for improvement on this side of the ball in the offseason was making Shane Bowen the official defensive coordinator. Yesterday’s debut for Bowen’s squad did him no favors in the court of public opinion. Already a pariah in the fan base’s “good graces” category, Bowen’s title and enhanced role this season were supposed to lend to the organization and communication on defense. Tennessee’s defense looked neither organized nor on the same page on Sunday.
Taylor Lewan is regressing.
OVERREACTION- Again, perhaps this is the case. Or perhaps the more likely scenario is Lewan is coming off a devastating injury, is incredibly rusty, and was on an Island against a top three edge rusher in the league all day.
Lewan certainly needed a reality check. He said so himself on Twitter shortly after the loss. His success off the field in the media and with his popular podcast may be more of a distraction than he thought they were. Even great players can look horrendous when they aren’t all-in on football in the NFL. It’s a humbling league for everybody.
The biggest factor in Lewan’s exposure, though, was the fire he was put under in his first game back. He hadn’t played a game since October 18th, 2020. With rookie T Dillon Radunz not ready to play, David Quessenberry started at right tackle. That led to Lewan being left to fend for himself on the edge as the line was regularly giving help on the right side. And his opponent was Chandler Jones, a pass rusher poised to be in the Defensive Player of the Year conversation. Talk about a trial by fire.
Ultimately, Lewan played horribly but had some reasonable explanations. His excuses have officially expired, however; He’s had a game to shake off the rust, he won’t be facing any Chandler Jones’s in Seattle this week, and he’s received his wakeup call. Time to step up, or this won’t be labeled an overreaction for much longer.
The Titans’ offensive line is a serious area of concern.
NOT AN OVERREACTION- This is the easiest, least debatable call on this list. The primary takeaway from Sunday’s game was that the Titans got killed in the trenches on both sides of the ball, but especially the offensive line. It was abysmal all day. Ryan Tannehill was sacked six times, tieing the franchise record in a single game. Their play was poor enough to keep the entire offense from really functioning at all.
The first quarter, which consisted of four Titans drives, produced negative one yard of offense. According to PFF, half the line played alright and half was horrendous. Saffold, Jones and Quessenberry graded out between 65 and 70, while Lewan earned a 39.7, Davis a 32.3, and Lamm a 29.3. Every lineman except David Quessenberry was responsible for at least one sack. Lewan went above-and-beyond with two. Lewan and Davis allowed five QB pressures apeice.
The only reason for hope is that this group is all the same linemen as last year, minus Dennis Kelly but plus Taylor Lewan. Their record tells us this isn’t anywhere close to their average play. But until they show us they can get their act together, it’s a very valid concern.
None of the additions on defense did anything.
OVERREACTION- This is only an overreaction because of one man: Kristian Fulton. Fulton was the sole bright spot on the defense (or the team, for that matter) all day. He lined up against A.J. Green most of the day, the much ballyhooed veteran receiver acquired from the Bengals by Arizona in the offseason. Green seemed to still have a lot left in the tank leading up to the opening game, and if that is truly the case, Fulton shut down a good receiver all game.
Fulton was targeted five times covering Green, allowing just one catch for four yards. He had two pass break-ups, one of which was a fiercely contested pass to the endzone. Fulton also had three solo tackles on the day. The Titans need a lot of people to play well in order for this defense to improve, but Fulton is a big one. If he maintains solid CB2-level performance, this secondary will be in a much better place than last season.
Ryan Tannehill and Julio Jones clearly don’t have any chemistry yet.
NOT AN OVERREACTION- This shouldn’t come as a surprise. The offseason fell in a way that was extremely detrimental to this pairing and their development together. Jones sustained a small injury early in camp that kept him out until the last weeks of the preseason, and by the time he returned Tannehill had gone on the covid list.
The QB-WR duo had only four days to prepare together leading up to this game. In media availability before the weekend, Jones said he felt it was enough time to be ready. Clearly they could have benefited from a lot more.
Jones was targeted six times and caught three balls for 29 yards. Two of his misses were drops. Though they were well contested, he’s Julio Jones. Even Julio Jones would tell you Julio Jones doesn’t drop those passes. The other incompletion was an overthrow that Jones made a leaping, diving effort to bring in.
it’s clear Tannehill and Jones are dangerous, but it’s also clear they aren’t yet dangerous together. For his acquisition to be worth it, they need to get on the same page and fast.
What were your thoughts on the Titans’ first game? let us know in the comments, or on Twitter @eastonfreeze and @BroadwayTN