The Titans got a big divisional win in Week 3, taking down the Colts in Nissan Stadium 25-16.
It wasn’t pretty, but Tennessee took care of business against a stout Indianapolis roster despite a bevy of key injuries for both teams. The Titans improve to 2-1 atop the AFC South, while the Colts fall to 0-3 for the first time since 2011.
As always, the noise on Overreaction Monday can be deafening. As you see and hear the hot takes flying, it can be hard to sort through what is and isn’t justified. That’s why every week, I cut through the panic and jubilation to tell you what is really going on with the Tennessee Titans.
So without further ado, let’s jump into the reactions:
The Titans’ passing game doesn’t need A.J. Brown or Julio Jones to succeed.
OVERREACTION- A.J. Brown left the game Sunday very early on with a hamstring injury and didn’t return. Julio Jones was pulled from the game in the second half for reasons we don’t quite know yet. Perhaps he was hurt, perhaps he was benched; coach Vrabel wouldn’t say after the game.
Without either of their top receiving weapons, the Titans still managed to move the ball through the air. WR Nick Westbrook-Ikhine led the team with four receptions for 53 yards and a touchdown. RB Derrick Henry and TE Geoff Swaim both had three receptions, and RB Jeremy McNichols and WR Chester Rogers both had a catch for a touchdown in the game. On the game-securing drive in the fourth quarter, Ryan Tannehill was flanked by Westbrook-Ikhine, WR Cam Batson, and rookie WR Racey McMath.
While it’s encouraging to see the passing game not totally fold when depth wide receivers are called upon, it’s a complete overreaction to think this offense remains dynamic without their star wide-outs. It wasn’t until relatively late in the game that Julio was sidelined. His presence remained a threat the majority of the game, opening things up for other receivers. By the time he left, the threat of 4th quarter Derrick Henry had arrived.
If it weren’t for Julio carrying the burden of attention for the majority of the day, and Derrick taking that attention over late, this passing game would’ve looked far less impressive. The Titans need both Brown and Jones to stay healthy and available for their offense to be highly effective.
Kristian Fulton is the real deal.
NOT AN OVERREACTION- the second-year defensive back impressed for the third straight game this weekend, adding to the start of his apparent breakout season.
Fulton is the only Titans player that has played well in all three outings this year. And he’s not just playing good football; he’s playing fantastic football.
Against the Colts on Sunday, Fulton’s assignment was a mixed bag primarily consisting of WR Michael Pittman Jr. and WR Zach Pascal. He allowed just a single catch on six targets, for five yards and zero touchdowns. His stat-line so far this season is just as impressive: 5 catches allowed on 18 targets (27.8%) for 88 yards. That includes being held responsible for the busted coverage touchdown against Seattle last week, which was a communication error that may or may not have been his fault. Without that play, he is 4 for 17 allowing just 20 yards.
These are true CB1 numbers, and among the best in the league. Fulton was banged up during the game Sunday and eventually left early. As long as he’s alright, the Titans have a real stud on their hands, and that’s something they can seriously benefit from in this secondary.
Ryan Tannehill has a turnover problem.
OVERREACTION- The Titans quarterback threw two interceptions and lost a fumble against the Colts, which ultimately kept the Colts in the game much longer than they otherwise would have been.
Through three games, Tannehill has three interceptions and three lost fumbles, by far his worst three-game stretch as a Titan in the turnover department. But it’s an overreaction to be too alarmed about the role he’s played in giving the ball away so far.
All three of Tannehill’s fumbles have been strip-sacks. The patchwork offensive line the Titans have started the season with has allowed him to be sacked 10 times already. That puts him on pace to be sacked 56 times this season. In 2020, he was sacked just 24 times. He will receive better protection as the offensive line gets their act together, and he’ll be able to better protect the football in the pocket.
Tannehill’s interceptions have also not been entirely his fault. The first interception of the game in Week 3 was definitely on him, throwing the ball into what coach Vrabel called “a pep rally”. It was one of the poorest decisions we’ve seen him make in a Titans uniform. His second interception of the day, along with his first of the season in the opener against the Cardinals, hit his receiver square in the chest and popped straight up in the air. Tip-drill interceptions like that are mostly, if not entirely, the fault of the receiver.
Ultimately, Ryan Tannehill needs to better protect the ball. But his turnovers require nuance to understand in context, and a bad three-game stretch doesn’t mean a previously very protective QB suddenly has a big turnover problem.
The number of turnovers is a serious problem.
NOT AN OVERREACTION- While Ryan Tannehill doesn’t personally have a big turnover problem, that doesn’t mean the number of turnovers this Titans team is committing so far isn’t a big deal.
Against the Colts, Tennessee had a -3 turnover differential. Over the past five seasons, teams with a -3 turnover differential in a game were 19-202-1. Now, luckily for the Titans, they’re 20-202-1. Managing to win a game as sloppy as that requires being significantly better than your opponent (and/or a healthy dose of good luck).
It is absolutely unsustainable for this team to continue winning without protecting the football better. Receivers have to stop letting the ball bounce off their hands, and the offensive line has to protect the quarterback much better when he’s looking to pass. Otherwise, the odds will catch up to this team in the form of losses.
The Titans only beat the Colts because of injuries.
OVERREACTION- This is an excuse folks will use to defend the Colts and dismiss the Titans, and on the surface, it seems to be a fair point. After all, Carson Wentz was playing on two sprained ankles! The Colts also lost their pro-bowl offensive lineman Quenton Nelson during the game. WR T.Y. Hilton has been on IR so far this season. Coming in, the Colts injury list was pretty lengthy, with both starters and depth players being banged up.
But the Titans weren’t exactly in great shape either.
Star WR A.J. Brown left the game very early on and didn’t return. WR Julio Jones also didn’t finish the game. Starting TE Anthony Firkser was inactive for a second straight week.
On the defensive side of the ball, star pass rusher Bud Dupree never saw the field, despite being active. Starting ILB and defensive play-caller Jayon Brown played less than a dozen snaps. Starting S Amani Hooker didn’t play. Rookie pass rusher Rashad Weaver and CB Kristian Fulton both left the game midway through.
Both of these teams played beat up on Sunday, and they further beat one another to pieces during the course of the afternoon. The Titans won because they are the better football team right now.
The Titans’ defense is improving significantly from what it was last season.
NOT AN OVERREACTION- The going narrative in the media generally remains that the Titans have an abysmal defense, both in the secondary and the pass rush. So far this season, that’s a tellingly lazy and outdated take.
This Titans defense has been far from perfect, but they’ve shown us things they never did last year, and they continue to improve with each outing. Through three games, they rank 15th overall in the league, just above the median. coming in at 12th in run defense and 18th in passing defense despite the Week 1 bloodbath, they’ve improved dramatically over last year already.
The 2020 Titans defense finished 24th overall, with the worst third-down percentage in the league and nearly the fewest sacks in NFL history, a measly 19. So far in 2021, Tennessee has the 13th best 3rd down percentage and seven sacks in three games.
With improved personnel and improving coordination, this defensive unit is going to continue to get better this year.
What were your thoughts on the Titans’ win over the Colts? let us know in the comments, or on Twitter @eastonfreeze and @BroadwayTN