When it was reported that the Tennessee Titans were planning to start Josh Dobbs against the Dallas Cowboys, questions immediately began to reveal themselves as to why the change was being made in the first place.
Was it to rest Malik Willis before a crucial Week 18 win and in game against the Jacksonville Jaguars?
This set of reasoning made sense on the surface, since the Titans were planning on resting a multitude of players for tonight’s game, including Jeffery Simmons, Denico Autry, and Derrick Henry. Plus, sitting Willis — instead of placing him behind a rather awful offensive line and risking his health — made some sense as well.
In the end though, the reasoning behind Willis’ benching wasn’t something along the lines of targeted rest or looking out for the health and confidence of a young quarterback. But rather, a path of reasoning that ran along the lines of a performance based decision, which sent a bit of a shockwave throughout the NFL world.
Benching your supposed jewel of a young quarterback, just hours before a meaningless game on primetime, with a stadium expected to be overrun by Cowboys fans, therefore turning Nissan Stadium into a pseudo Cowboys home game?
That’s a pretty aggressive move to make, especially with how late we are into the season, and how much significant changes like these can backfire at times. But in a way, the move was necessary, since Willis hadn’t shown much in the way of immediate impact on Sunday against the Houston Texans, which won’t cut it for a team that’s desperately trying to make the playoffs in the midst of a five game skid.
With the move now made, you’re banking on Dobbs showing you something positive against Dallas. Not anything overly exceptional, but signs that he can hold his own giving a lifeless offense some juice, a development that’s greatly needed before next weekend’s big game in Jacksonville.
Did we get that from Dobbs? Well, we got some of that, which is more of a good thing than not.
Dobbs was given a heavy task, which was to give this dead Titans offense a spark offensively. Given Dobbs’ history in the league — journeyman of sorts, has played on five teams in six seasons — there wasn’t much to be expected from him.
Although, it’d be hard to expect any quarterback to find success within this offense, given how much of a consistent mind numbing train wreck it is.
Nonetheless, the job was on the shoulders of Dobbs, and his response to the difficult job would potentially dictate how far the Titans would go with the former Tennessee Volunteers star.
If he played well enough, there would be a chance he’d get the nod for another start next week against the Jaguars. The likelihood of that occurring was low, mostly because of how abhorrent the offensive situation is in Tennessee.
But the slimmest of possibilities remained that Dobbs could pull one more rabbit out of his hat.
Against the Cowboys, Dobbs didn’t exactly showcase skills comparable to David Blaine, or even the notable name of Harry Houdini. No one expected him to do that either. But what Dobbs did do, was somehow bring some form of stability to a passing game that just hadn’t found any with Willis under center.
That isn’t to say Willis stinks, is a bust, or doesn’t deserve to step on the field. That isn’t the tone of messaging is here and it shouldn’t be regardless of how you feel about Willis.
“We’re excited about having Malik, we are,” Vrabel said after the game. “We’re excited about some of the things he’s done.”
“Malik has worked hard.”
What this is saying, is Dobbs did a better job of doing more more with less than Willis has, a tedious task the Titans have asked out of their quarterbacks this season because of how repugnant the overall personnel and philosophical situation is offensively.
Dobbs’ numbers against the Cowboys were good considering the circumstances. He finished 20/39, with 232 yards, a touchdown, a fumble lost, and an interception late in the game.
Are these numbers exceptional? It depends on what you view as exceptional, although the inflated passing yards with only 13 points in the board dampens the idea of this stat line being exceptional by normal standards.
“It was a great opportunity to evaluate Josh,” Vrabel said. “I thought he [Dobbs] did some good things.”
There were more than a few drops as well, which in hindsight, lowered Dobbs’ passing totals and the flow of the Titans’ offense as well. If those drops didn’t occur, maybe more points are scored and we wouldn’t be having this deeply intellectual discussions about passing yards. But the NFL is cruel if you make mistakes, so expanding on useless “what if” scenarios won’t help anyone.
The bottom line is this.
Dobbs did what the Titans asked him to do for the most part, while bringing a certain amount of aggressiveness that the passing attack hasn’t had for quite some time. Not only that, he seemed in control of the offense at times, standing tall in the pocket while delivering a consistent amount of good throws and giving the Titans’ skill position pieces opportunities to make plays.
Not to mention the fact, this was done without any effectiveness in the run game, and against a Cowboys defense that’s about as talented as any defensive unit in football.
In a normal world, the unique timing of this performance would give Dobbs a pretty good chance to start once again next weekend. But we’re not in a normal world, so that conclusion isn’t so much of a given.
However, with the recent play of Willis — and Dobbs as well — you can’t use the usual methods of practice in this special situation. For the Titans, they need as much help as possible to reverse their losing trend and somehow return to the playoffs for the fourth straight season.
Starting Dobbs could help them do just that, along with the return of some key players on both sides of the ball, returns that are expected to occur.
The results of course won’t be definite fantastic development, since these sort of last minute swaps and changes haven’t always worked in the Titans’ favor. But the Titans don’t really have a choice right now, as their opportunity to save whatever is left of their season continues to hang on by a thread.
So what will the Titans do?
The raw feeling is that Dobbs will remain as the starter next week, with Willis waiting in the wings. However, we’ve been given solid evidence to never bank on accurately predicting the unpredictable nature with this Titans team.
So until we’re given an indicator on the potential direction at quarterback, it’s best to stay away sticking to one specific conclusion and running with it.
Because odds are, you’re going to get burned for doing so.
“We’ll just have to see where we’re at with the quarterback position going down to the last week of the season,” Vrabel said.
Featured image via Andrew Nelles-USA TODAY Sports