A complete collapse against the Steelers leaves the Titans’ chances at the #1 seed very much in doubt. To win the division, they need to win just two of their last three or win one and have the Colts lose one. More than anything, this team needs A.J. Brown and Derrick Henry back.
Julio’s availability: After playing a little more than 20 snaps in the first half, Julio Jones exited the game with a hamstring injury. Stop me if you’ve heard this before. It’s a situation that refuses to get resolved and at this point, I have very little hope that it does. He had one target before he went out, but honestly I was not too bugged by that. The offense was moving the ball well and he was being bracketed by the Steelers. The Titans did not need to force it to him and potentially cause a turnover, something that had plagued them the last few losses. Play clean football and win, right? That’s some foreshadowing for later.
At this point, the Titans need Julio to come back for the playoffs in order for this trade to not be a total disaster. They are saddled with his contract over the next two years, so he’s likely not going anywhere, but it’s impossible to count on him as a contributor when he can’t stay on the field.
Jon Robinson: It’s important to note that it is extremely rare to stay the same at anything. Every day, every offseason, you either get better or worse. Throughout the entire offseason, it was pretty clear to me that the Titans did not do enough on offense to offset what they had lost, much less improve, meaning they would take a step back. The bet that the Titan GM made was that Julio and a completely healthy offense would be good enough with an improved defense.
On paper, maybe that’s true, but in the NFL and a world with injuries, it was pretty poor planning. The top four receivers for the Titans are all out, either by injury or by their own volition (Josh Reynolds). You could perhaps argue that no one could see that many players get injured, but it doesn’t take a psychic to tell you that Julio and Marcus Johnson were probably going to miss time given their histories.
To compound the WR depth problem, the Titans did not add a difference maker at tight end during the offseason, banking on the potential of Anthony Firkser. Disaster has ensued, as the opportunity is clearly too big for Firkser, who has turned into a drop machine. Add in that he’s a horrendous blocker and you do not have a very valuable player on your hands. The other TE that is competing for TE1 snaps, Geoff Swaim is equally adept at dropping passes and will only occasionally block opposing defenders. Big whiff for JRob here.
That leads us to the offensive line, which quite frankly has been offensive. Despite the use of two high round picks the last two years, this unit is a big problem. They run block well, but cannot pass block at all, routinely destroying opportunities for a big play.
The last two drafts for the Titans have been stinkers as well. Kristian Fulton looks to be the only starter level player from the 2020 class, and Elijah Molden is the only guy from 2021 that’s contributing. You need to have guys that come in each year and replace some of what you’ve lost, and the Titans have done a terrible job of that the past two years through the draft.
Overall Jon Robinson has done a very good job as the GM of the Titans. However, his ability to maximize the window that they are in right now has been severely lacking and I’m not sure if he’s going to be able to fix those mistakes before the window closes on this iteration of the Titans.
The blame game: Every single loss follows the same formula on social media. Titans lose, people find someone specific to blame, people pile on. Typically the people blamed are Ryan Tannehill and Todd Downing.
In the aftermath of this most recent loss, the two names brought up the most are the same as always. Downing and Tannehill. Downing because “he’s a bad offensive coordinator” and he “puts this team in difficult situations” or “doesn’t have a feel on the game”. How shortsighted is that? The Titans moved the ball very well against Pittsburgh, and in the first half, an 8 minute drive led to a two score lead. In the second half, the opportunity to move the ball wasn’t there, but more on that later.
Ryan Tannehill played very solid football, nothing flashy, but he got the ball to his receivers, and wasn’t helped out by two drops by his running backs and another by Nick Westbrook-Ikhine on what would have been a huge play. NWI also grossly misplayed a ball in the endzone that could have been six points if not for a bizarre turn and mistimed jump.
Even so, those drops did not cost the Titans the game. Nor did the decision from Todd Downing to throw it on 2nd and 6, late in the 4th quarter. At some point you have to throw the ball, and it’s not his fault that David Quessenberry can’t block T.J. Watt’s backup. Players have to execute, and the supporting cast not only didn’t execute, they literally handed the Steelers the ball game.
Shane Bowen: Talk about a comeback story, Shane Andrew Bowen is now the poster child for redemption arcs. The same fans and media members that blame Todd Downing after games in 2021 blamed this man in 2020. In an amazing turn of events, it appears that having talented players does indeed aid your ability to effectively coach. Bowen’s defense could have held Pittsburgh to single digits with ease if not for the Titans’ offense. To add to that, they probably could have managed a shut out if not for a drive that was manufactured by the crew in black and white stripes.
I apologize for anything I ever said about you, Shane. You’re a fine coach and more people need to say it.
Defense: What a day for this group. They held Pittsburgh to just 12 points off of 4 turnovers, which is even more impressive when you realize every single turnover gave the Steelers the ball in plus territory. Bud Dupree looked great upon his return, notching a sack on Big Ben. The thing that stood out to me most was the ability to swarm the offense. When someone made first contact with a ball carrier, the rest of the defense was there to help shortly after. This group is flying around and if the offense gets their stuff together, I still believe this is the team to beat in the AFC.
Turnovers: They just can’t help themselves from turning it over. The replay of this game could be set to Yakety Sax and no one would bat an eye. Four turnovers doomed the Titans and is the only reason they lost the game. Anthony Firkser fumbled the ball in the first half, leading to the Steelers’ only points in the first.
Racey McMath made one of the most incredible fumbles I’ve seen, after I thought he about got his leg snapped in half. Tannehill got picked on what was just a great play by the defense, and then fumbled on a snap (not sure if it was his fault or Ben Jones’, but it was ugly).
You can’t go -4 in turnovers and expect to win any game, and yet they were right in it, just like they were against New England and Houston. There’s a very real chance that they are 12-2 if not for the turnover pandemic they’ve created.
Take a look at who has been at fault for each turnover, and you’ll see what’s pretty impressive is that it’s been a team effort to achieve such depths.
This is what is killing this team right now, and it’s very uncharacteristic from what we’ve come to expect of Mike Vrabel coached teams.
Take care of the ball, and good things will follow. Let’s hope that starts on Thursday night against San Francisco.