Before the Tennessee Titans lost Derrick Henry for the foreseeable future, the formula for victory was so simple even a child could understand it and embrace it fully.
Play good complementary football, find a way to get a lead, and force exhausted defensive units to slow down Henry’s punishing running style in the second half. This formula has usually worked over the last couple of seasons, and it’s a big reason why the Titans have stepped into the metaphorical spotlight among the vast number of troublesome foes in the AFC.
But with Henry now out of the picture — potentially until at least January — Todd Downing has been forced to find consistency within a unit that failed to find it even with Henry healthy and running the show offensively. While also sticking with an identity that’s — and let’s be honest here — been made mostly possible by the efforts of Henry and not due to the overwhelming job done by the other chess pieces surrounding him (specifically the offensive line).
It’s a tough ask of Downing, a coordinator that was beginning to find his play calling groove with the team after a lackluster first five or so games to start the season. But he’s being paid the handsome bucks to navigate through unforeseen circumstances such as these, so no one really feels the need to voluntarily donate their most treasured sympathy to Downing’s offensive cause.
However, over these last two games, it’s clear that Downing deserves some sort of sympathy or reprieve because the job he’s staring at has turned into a monumental task.
Over these last two games, including today’s nail biting victory over the New Orleans Saints, the Titans’ offense has struggled to put together drives that are worth plastering on the overall scale of Downing’s resume. Even when they’ve somehow found ways to march their way down the field, the issue of finishing drives with touchdowns has bore its ugly rear end.
That includes today’s contest, one in which the Titans scored a touchdown on only two of their five drives that entered the red zone.
The Titans aren’t going to magically find a way to reverse all the problems that are currently plaguing the offense, not the ones that existed before Henry got hurt and certainly not the ones that have emerged due to Henry being hurt. What they can do though is rely on a swarming defensive unit that proved it can take over a football game, particularly last week’s dominating win over the Los Angeles Rams.
Would that over reliance on a dominant defense essentially turn this team into a rich man’s equivalent of some of the more polarizing lackluster offense, suffocating defensive teams the league has seen in recent memory? Maybe. But is that really a bad thing?
Mike Vrabel’s squad is 8-2, is managing one of the more complicated injury situations in all of football, and is still competing for the top overall seed in the AFC. If that type of football keeps your train chugging with no end in sight, then who are you to complain about it?
Granted that you have a bye week coming up, you have the easiest remaining schedule according to the combined win percentages that the remaining teams have, and with that bye week you’ll finally get a chance to rest and recuperate before the start of the true stretch, the idea of relying a bit more on your defense doesn’t sound like a bad proposition.
You’d think that Vrabel, Downing, and the rest of that offense would like to find a way to clean up some of the little things that could be keeping this offense from reaching its high potential. But with all the negative circumstances that exist for this once high flying, high scoring unit, focusing on being a league average offense while putting a lot more on the defense’s shoulders seems like the best available plan for now.
It’ll be fascinating to see how this Titans team navigates through the rest of the season, and if they’ll rely on that defense a little more while they attempt to figure out whatever problems that are plaguing the offense. It’s even fair to say they have the room to cautiously walk through the stretch run and settle on a plan that works best for the rest of the team.
Whatever the case may be, the end results should be interesting.