Hype was high, the energy was electric, and expectations were high coming into today’s season opener for the Tennessee Titans.
Julio Jones was making his debut in an offense that already possessed a number of difference makers. The defense, which was subject to so much deserved criticism last season, added over a handful of players over the offseason in hopes of flipping their lackluster reputation on its head.
Things looked good, times were good in Music City……..until they weren’t.
The Titans lost in embarrassing fashion today by way of a 38-13 beatdown courtesy of the Arizona Cardinals. The offense looked lost, outmatched, and purely out of place. The defense carried their 2020 play into 2021, failing to move past the historic struggles that plagued this unit so deeply despite the team’s 11-5 record last season.
It was a loss that quickly reminded everyone that this team still has issues, issues that’ll need some time to be squashed and eliminated for good.
“It sucks when you lose,” Mike Vrabel said. “It sucks when you get your ass kicked.”
One of those issues pertain to the defensive side of the ball. All the talk around the Titans during camp and even during the preseason was how improved the defense looked, not only at performing the basic duties within the defense, but consistently chugging out promising results.
It was a change in play that was far from the level we constantly saw last season, which included a vast number of boneheaded mistakes, and failures surrounding a couple of key areas that can determine whether you’ll succeed or face disappointment.
That same momentum carried itself into today’s regular season debut for the Titans against a young, yet exciting Arizona Cardinals offense that’s spearheaded by Kyler Murray. Even though Murray possesses a skill set that’s proven difficult to contain for other opposing defenses, there was confidence that this unit was prepared for the challenge that Murray presents as a player.
Obviously thing didn’t go the Titans’ way, but I don’t think anyone expected the beat down the Titans received on the defensive side of things.
“It’s disappointing to lose, especially in the fashion that we did,” Byard said. “Obviously it’s the first game, there was a lot of emotion, we were excited to come out and get a win. But it didn’t work out.”
“We just didn’t play well at all.”
Kyler’s Murray’s 309 total yards and five total touchdowns were a big time reality check, as his performance alone stood as one of the key reasons this unit just couldn’t find its footing from the opening kickoff to the final whistle. His mobility was a factor the defense struggled to handle particularly, as he escaped from the grasps of Titans defenders to extend drives a number of times.
That sort of bonus in a quarterback’s skill set is extremely frustrating for defenses. If you can’t put a lid on the impact it can have, you’re going to have a long day defensively.
“Being the quarterback that he is, trying to corral him and get him inside the pocket is definitely tough,” Byard said
This unit won’t have any extended downtime between matchups against mobile quarterbacks, as they’ll hit the road to take on another quarterback that can extend plays in Russell Wilson.
If they can’t muster up a plan to handle signal callers that can use their legs as legit weapons, then this defense might be in some trouble considering the amount of mobile quarterbacks that remain on the schedule.
This unit has its issues of course, but I believe the one unit that surprised us all in terms of ineptitude and incompetence was Todd Downing’s high flying, physical run first offense.
Offensive football was supposed to be a strength for this football team, especially after the addition of Julio Jones to the wide receiver group. But instead of the scoreboard breaking, chinstrap abusing offense we’ve come to expect, we witnessed a two halves of head scratching play that was littered with mistakes.
Pass protection was an unexpected problem today, with Ryan Tannehill being sacked 6 times and hit a handful of other times. The Titans came into this game with a healthy offensive line with zero question marks aside from right tackle. After the beating Tannehill took today, it isn’t unreasonable to question just how prepared this line is to protect Tannehill from being speared onto his back.
“They got after us,” Tannehill said. “It just wasn’t clean enough all around.”
This line will need some time to get warmed, not only as pass protectors, but as run blockers too.
“They made it tough on us,” Tannehill said. “We weren’t able to establish the run early like we like to do.”
Taylor Lewan, Nate Davis, Ben Jones, and Rodger Saffold all accumulated a low number of snaps together not only in practice, but in the preseason as well.
The lack of time to get into a groove together, it certainly looked like a big factor today in all aspects of their play. The season is still long, so they have plenty of time to get everything settled in. But it’s imperative that they settle in quickly, as their early season schedule presents one of the toughest challenges in the entire league.
That’s why there was so much panic after the game.
If the Titans can’t get their act together soon, they might be staring at a pretty horrid start in comparison to the expectations they’ve placed on their selves for this season. I mentioned it earlier, but next week you have a tough road trip to Seattle against a tough Seahawks offense with a full, rowdy Lumen Field expected.
If you can’t get a win there, you’ll be in a 0-2 hole with an important divisional matchup against the Indianapolis Colts on tap for week three.
After that? The Bills in week six, the Chiefs in week seven, the Colts again in week eight, the Rams in week nine, and the Saints in week ten. That’s an extremely tough stretch from October to November, one that could really tell us which type of team the Titans are and whether they stack up against some of the NFL’s elite.
But since this is still week one, and almost every team has nothing set in stone after week one, I think there’s no need to panic just yet with this team.
I believe the Titans recognize the challenge, the tough road that they have ahead if they can’t get their act together. That’s why a “one game at a time” mindset is important for this team to adapt as they fight through their collective struggles as a team.
Until things seem dire, just relax.
“We’ve been here before,” Byard said.
“We’ll find out what our culture looks like this week,” Vrabel said.