The end of a season is never easy. It’s particularly painful when the Ravens are the executioner.
The Titans raced out to a 10-0 lead in the first quarter, but managed just three points the rest of the way as the Titans and Ravens continued their tradition of road teams winning in their playoff matchups. We will have plenty of time to do an autopsy on the season and look ahead to what the Titans can do to improve in the offseason, but for now, let’s jump into winners and losers from Ravens 20, Titans 13.
Loser: Mike Vrabel
I think Mike Vrabel is a good football coach. I also think he absolutely choked when it came to game management today. In particular, his decision to punt the ball away on 4th and 2 at the Ravens 40 yard line with just over 10 minutes remaining was among the most cowardly calls I can remember over the last couple years.
By analytics estimates, that decision alone dropped the Titans win percentage from 33% to 24%, making it one of the most harmful coaching decisions of the season.
And that’s before you factor in the terrible 25 yard punt by Brett Kern that failed to pin the Ravens deep. I completely understand the idea that the offense had been sputtering and the defense was playing well up to that point, but that’s even more reason to go for it in my eyes. Getting the ball into Ravens territory had been a struggle all game and giving up a chance to push for what could have been a go ahead score felt wrong to me on every level at the time.
We cannot be sure if that call cost the Titans the game. For all we know, they would have been stuffed on 4th and 2, but I sure would have liked to find out rather than give Baltimore the football in exchange for just 25 yards of field position.
Loser: Arthur Smith
The Titans offensive coordinator had the Tennessee offense cooking all season, but they sure picked a bad time to falter. The Ravens defense absolutely overwhelmed Smith’s offense in this game, holding them to 209 total yards and 13 points, both season lows.
With Baltimore selling out to stop the run, Smith never seemed willing to trust the passing attack to open things up, despite early success through the air. Whether it was the early lead or just a fear of making a big mistake, this felt like a way-too-safe gameplan from start to finish.
We can also talk about the sequence leading to the stupid punt from Vrabel. After Henry’s best run of the game, the Titans had the ball 2nd and 2. However, Smith dialed up back to back passes and both fell incomplete, leading to the punt. I don’t hate the idea of passing on 2nd and short, that’s a good spot to be aggressive, but I cannot understand how the Titans didn’t approach 3rd and 2 with the idea that they were going to run the ball twice.
This may be Smith’s last game as offensive coordinator in Tennessee, and if it is, it’s a shame that he’s going out with a dud.
Winner: Harold Landry
Okay, we have to sprinkle some winners in here as well and Landry is a great place to start. He led the Titans with 10 tackles in this game and sacked Lamar Jackson twice, leading a resurgent Titans pass rush to their best performance of the season.
Landry was outstanding in this game and continues to be a bright spot on the Titans defense. It’s time for Jon Robinson to get him a proper sidekick.
Loser: Derrick Henry and the offensive line
Look, Henry had a great season and this isn’t all his fault, but anytime you get held to 40 yards on 18 carries, you have to take the L.
The Ravens came in set on shutting down Henry and they absolutely did just that. I felt like there were some opportunities to bend some of the outside zone runs back to the backside that he missed, but there wasn’t a ton of room to work with either way. It was a disappointing performance for Henry and the Titans offensive line in this game.
Winner: Desmond King
The Titans needed King to play well in this game and he did just that. He made several key plays in the run game, making tackles or helping fill gaps to spill things outside.
Heading into free agency, it’ll be interesting to see what happens with King this offseason.
Loser: Kalif Raymond
Was it probably pass interference by Marcus Peters on the game clinching interception? Yes. Should Kalif Raymond have been able to play through the contact? Also yes. Instead, Raymond crumpled to the ground and allowed Peters to make an easy grab to end the Titans season.
After a lot of buzz about Raymond potentially stepping up into a bigger role this year, he actually seemed to regress in 2020, completely disappearing from the offense in the second half of the season. His final catch was in Week 8 against the Bengals.
Adam Humphries’ absence loomed large, especially when Corey Davis left the game in the second half. It became clear that the Titans were effectively playing with just one wide receiver. With Davis and Raymond both set to be free agents and Humphries’ future in the air, wide receiver will be a position to watch for the Titans this offseason. They have to keep or replace Davis as WR2 and find upgrades for the depth spots over what Raymond gave them this year.
Winner: Malcolm Butler
Butler intercepted Jackson in the first quarter, making a nice play on a terrible pass from the Ravens QB. He continued to play well after that point too, providing his usual physical brand of play.
His contract makes him an interesting figure this offseason. Due $14 million with just $4 million in dead cap space, he would represent a savings of $10 million against the cap for the Titans if they were to release him heading into his age 31 season. However, he’s very clearly been their best corner this year and is showing few signs of slowing down coming off his best season in Tennessee. Butler gave the Titans a lot to think about with his play this season and today only furthered that effort.
Loser: Adoree’ Jackson
I think it’s pretty clear that Jackson was nowhere near 100% at any point this season. Coming off his best season as a pro in 2019, expectations were high for the former first round pick, but a knee injury suffered just days before Week 1 cost him the first 13 regular season games. This week, he was limited on Wednesday and missed Thursday’s practice before getting in a full day on Friday. That’s not the practice schedule of a fully healthy player.
Jackson was flat out bad in this game, routinely roasted by Marquise Brown and consistently struggling to tackle. He just didn’t look like a guy who was ready to play.
Jackson will get an offseason to clean up whatever injury issues he’s dealing with now, but he’ll enter 2021 with a lot to prove with free agency lingering in 2022 and coming off a completely lost season.
Winner: A.J. Brown
Brown finished with 6 catches for 83 yards and a touchdown despite playing with a banged up ankle. Early on, he absolutely cooked Marlon Humphrey. Brown is an absolute stud. Hopefully he’s able to stay healthier next year. I’m pretty convinced that we saw no more than three games of a close to 100% Brown this season.
Winner: Jeffery Simmons
Simmons didn’t finish with one of the Titans five (5!!!) sacks, but he was consistently disruptive in the middle of the defense and I thought did a nice job of controlling the line of scrimmage. The vast majority of the Ravens 236 rushing yards came on either scrambles or outside runs away from Simmons.
Loser: Corey Davis
Brutal finish to the season for Davis after he spent most of the year being the 1B to Brown’s 1A. His last three games saw him turn 15 targets into just five catches for 39 yards. It’s been an emotional year for Davis, who lost his brother and gained a daughter in the past couple months, but obviously this wasn’t how he wanted to enter free agency.
Despite the poor finish, I still believe the Titans should prioritize retaining Davis and work to add to this offense rather than simply replacing his production. Whether he wants to stay, and at what cost, will be one of the biggest early storylines for the offseason.
Loser: Jon Robinson
Robinson’s disastrous offseason came home to roost today after nipping at the Titans all season. The high profile whiffs on Jadeveon Clowney, Vic Beasley, and Isaiah Wilson stood out before, but smaller issues were highlighted today.
Kristian Fulton and Darrynton Evans — your second and third round picks — played a combined 8 snaps today and barely contributed as rookies. The decision not to add depth to the receiving corps showed up as Davis was sidelined and the Titans were left with Nick Westbrook-Ikhine and Kalif Raymond playing opposite A.J. Brown.
Fulton and Evans still have a shot to become good players obviously, and the draft is far more about years two through four than it is about year one, but getting virtually nothing out of an entire draft class and free agent class absolutely held back a very good Titans team in 2020. Robinson has done a great job building this roster overall, and his 2019 draft class looks better every day, but he needs some big hits in 2021 after completely failing on new additions this year.