Offensive coordinator Todd Downing hasn’t exactly been dealt the fairest of hands this season.
He’s had to maneuver through a thick AFC playoff race without his star running back, his top two receivers have been in and out of the lineup due to a number of nagging injuries, his offensive line hasn’t been able to protect Ryan Tannehill, and Tannehill himself has somehow found a way to put the football in harm’s way more than he ever did last season.
The situation has been so bad, that along the way, it felt like Downing deserved a bit of a reprieve from mass amounts of criticism that came to light. Not because anyone felt bad, but because almost any other coordinator would struggle to make ends meet if they had to work within the same exact scenario.
However, despite the obvious set of disadvantageous circumstances that have stood directly in the way of Downing this season, Downing himself has dug himself into a few holes because of the decisions he’s made as a play caller.
From his head scratching early down play calls, to his use of personnel on key down and distance situations, Downing has shot himself in the foot too often and the offense as a whole has paid for it dearly at times.
Take last night’s game against the San Francisco 49ers for example.
Downing’s unit failed to muster a single point in the first half. He refused to move away from the egregious second and long run calls that put the offense in very bad spots on third down. He failed to get his top two receivers involved — well, at least one of them — until the early portions of the second half. He also refused to push the football down the field, a point of emphasis the Titans haven’t been able to nail down so far this season.
And although Downing saved face by forcing the football to young star receiver A.J. Brown in the second half, one could only think back to the dysfunction and pure chaos that was within the offense before Brown’s explosion occurred.
These in game flaws usually associate themselves with a young coordinator that’s barely gotten their feet wet in the gauntlet known as the NFL. It makes sense right? You’re young, still trying to establish yourself, and you lack the experience to learn from these mistakes in a quick and efficient manner.
It’s like a rookie that’s taken a temp or intern job at a corporation or a big time business.
Downing however isn’t some rookie play caller that has just stepped onto the scene. He’s an experienced NFL staff journeyman that’s been on the block since 2005, including a stint as an offensive coordinator in 2017. The fact that these flaws still exist, and are still resulting in consequences this late into the season, should generate some form of concern.
No, not a big amount of concern that should cause you to run for the hills and ring the city bell. But enough to the point where you have to hold your breath a bit each time the Titans set out to go score points on offense.
For a team with big aspirations — and the roster to achieve them — that amount of pessimism and negativity can’t be tied to an all important unit that could make or break your chances at doing big things this season.
Let’s not forget, the Titans are still one of the leading forces in the AFC. They’re on the verge of securing their second straight division title, and are still in the running for the top seed in the conference’s playoff field. This team has plans to do big things, but they won’t be able to turn those plans into reality unless everything is clicking at a decent rate.
And that includes Downing’s management of the offense during important situations throughout the remainder of the team’s games.
The Titans have two contests remaining in the regular season. Downing can either recognize his flaws, and find a way to mask them in time for the team’s playoff run, or fail to minimize them and put this team’s postseason sprint in serious jeopardy.
Either way, Downing has some work to do. Luckily for him though, the task doesn’t seem all too daunting. The only thing he’ll need to do is some self reflection, and the ability to act upon what he’s learned.