Titans’ fans may be thinking “what must happen for this team to do some real damage in the playoffs?”. Now we all know that the Titans finished last season as the #1 seed in the AFC. Despite the favorable position, they failed to win a playoff game as Ryan Tannehill threw three interceptions, and for the second straight season, the Titans lost a home playoff game.
Last January Titans fans left Nissan Stadium with a bad taste in their mouth, wondering why this team’s regular season success wasn’t translating. We all know that the playoffs are a different animal than the regular season.
This season definitely didn’t start the way many had hoped with the Titans dropping their first two games, but they are now 2-2 and things are looking up. Let’s get into what the Titans can do to get more wins when it matters and make a run at the team’s first Lombardi Trophy.
Elite QB Play is a Must
Looking back at the last five Super Bowl champions, there is a common theme. That theme is good-to-great QB play. The last five Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks are Matthew Stafford, Tom Brady, Patrick Mahomes, Tom Brady, and Nick Foles.
The only non-elite QB to win the Lombardi trophy in the last five years was Foles. With that said, he went on a three-game run where he was elite. In the three games during the 2017 playoffs, Foles had six touchdowns and just one interception. He capped that off by outdueling the G.O.A.T. Tom Brady in the Super Bowl.
In 2017, the Eagles had an incredible pass rush and a great offensive line as well. When you don’t have Patrick Mahomes or Tom Brady, you need the surrounding parts to be not just good but great.
The Titans will need those positions around Ryan Tannehill to be great. You could argue they were pretty good last year with A.J. Brown, Derrick Henry, and a vaunted pass rush. In the playoff loss, AJ Brown was great with 5 receptions for 142 yards and a touchdown. Henry was limited in his first game back from a broken foot, but Henry still had a touchdown. Meanwhile, the Titans’ pass rush tied a playoff record with 9 sacks.
That kind of performance from Tannehill’s supporting cast should have been more than enough to win a playoff game. That’s why the loss to the Bengals is almost solely placed on Ryan Tannehill, who had three interceptions. When everything around you is great but you still can’t succeed, that’s on nobody but you.
Winning the Turnover Battle
Looking at recent history, Super Bowl champions didn’t always have an elite defense. But at a minimum, they had an opportunistic defense. One that comes to mind recently is the 2019 Kansas City Chiefs.
The Chiefs had a historically bad defense in 2018, but in 2019 they made plays when it mattered. Sure, they had some talent like Chris Jones and Tyrann Mathieu, but nobody was mistaking them for the 2000s Ravens. The Chiefs’ defense put together a good three-game stretch, so nobody remembers their lackluster defense from the regular season.
This Titans’ defense is better than that Chiefs’ defense. They have more playmakers to create turnovers as well. The Titans aren’t a team that beats itself very often under Mike Vrabel. That hasn’t always been the case in the playoffs though.
Winning the turnover battle will allow the Titans to play their type of game; staying consistent on offense, extending drives, having success in the red zone, and dictating the pace of play. When that recipe is clicking, the Titans lean on their talent to play their game. If the offense stays out of the defense’s way, they will be a tough out in January.
The last time the Titans made a playoff run was in 2019. We saw the greatness of a Mike Vrabel defense in that playoff run. They shut down the Patriots’ offense in Tom Brady’s final game as a Patriot. They followed that up with a great game plan against the unanimous MVP Lamar Jackson. The Titans were able to create multiple turnovers vs the Ravens.
These are three main factors to watch moving forward when discussing if the Titans can be a serious super bowl contender. Regardless of what side you’re on, Titans fans need to remember where the Titans were as an organization prior to Jon Robinson and Mike Vrabel’s arrival. Not many teams are in the discussion. Sit back, see what happens, and enjoy the ride.
Getting as Healthy as You Can
In 2021 the Titans set an NFL record using 91 players on the active roster throughout the season. The Titans aren’t off to a great start in that department this season either. It started with their top pass rusher Harold Landry tearing his ACL in practice the week before the season opener. That was followed by Taylor Lewan tearing his ACL in week two in Buffalo.
It’s not always the number of injuries, but rather who is getting injured. This season and last the Titans have had a bunch of injuries and some of their best players suffered significant injuries. Last season, Derrick Henry, A.J. Brown, and Julio Jones missed several games. That made things difficult, but Mike Vrabel did a fantastic job keeping things on track.
While health usually isn’t something you can control, it’s something that can be managed better. That can mean telling a player such as Bud Dupree to take another week to recover rather than coming back early and aggravating an injury.
Last week Bud Dupree returned from a one-week absence with a hip injury and reinjured his hip. With Harold Landry out for the season, Dupree is someone the Titans need to be available as the season goes on. Without Dupree, the Titans’ defense will lack a pass rush. Not many teams can lose their top two pass rushers and the Titans certainly aren’t one of them.