The Titans won their third straight in Week 5, and they did it in their favorite way possible: JUST barely.
The game came down to the final seconds and was ultimately decided by a David Long Jr. interception on the 1-yard line. Washington had entered Sunday’s matchup with at least one turnover in each game this season.
Carson Wentz was due for one at some point, and it came when the Titans needed it most.
There were a lot of winners and losers in this game. Before we get to the six most significant, let’s show love to those who just missed the cut.
Winner- Ryan Tannehill wrist passes
Loser- Using the Offensive Line for all three loser spots (I showed restraint and wrote about it just once)
Winner- Teair Tart’s coverage skills
Winner: Surviving and Advancing
I’ll begin with a touch of editorializing this week. The Titans went to Washington and accomplished their primary objectives:
- Get a non-conference win on the road
- Get their banged-up players two weeks of rest for the price of one
So having secured the victory, the question is this: what can we take away from this performance?
I’d argue not very much.
Whether it was a wise decision or not, this coaching staff was playing the long game against the Commanders. With the first month of the season in the rearview mirror, Vrabel and staff were staring down the barrel of their second quarter of the schedule: at Washington, BYE, Indianapolis, at Kansas City.
Having endured more of the same from last year in the injury department, they saw an opportunity. an NFC matchup on the road is the least valuable game on their schedule. on the other end of their Week 6 bye, however, they have two very important AFC matchups on the horizon. This was their opportunity to get their most banged-up players two weeks of rest for the price of one.
So that’s what they did. Starters such as Bud Dupree, Nate Davis, Zach Cunningham, Amani Hooker, and Ola Adeniyi were all deemed OUT for this game. Do I know that some of them might have been able to push through and play in Week 5? No. Perhaps none of them could have gone under any circumstances. I find that highly unlikely. This week’s goal was simply to survive and advance, and that’s precisely what they did.
On a slightly tangential note, I thought what Todd Downing did on the play-calling front was solid. He actually called some downfield looks for Tannehill, one of which didn’t connect with NWI, but the second and bigger of the two did. Tennessee has been one of the worst teams stretching the field vertically this season, and that’s an element of their game they need to try more often.
He also did a good job of making chicken salad out of chicken you-know-what for most of the day with a pathetic offensive line situation. Whether it was Tannehill boots or getting the screen game going in creative ways, he was giving the offense a shot.
Oh, and I hope you’re sitting down for this: they scored points in the second half. Seven of them!
Good? No. Progress? Yes.
Loser: Being… a Good Football Team?
Here is where the nuance gets tricky.
Despite all of the reasons to not put too much stock in this performance laid out above, it cannot be denied how bad Tennessee looked for much of the game.
The Titans’ yards per play (YPP) was a pathetic 3.9. For reference, the league average in 2022 is 5.5 YPP. Carson Wentz and the Washington offense had 6.6 YPP on Sunday.
A net YPP of nearly -3 in a win is almost unheard of. A negative net YPP is certainly not a long-term winning strategy. Another thing that isn’t a great winning strategy is poor penalty discipline. Tennessee has had issues with this most of the year, and it’s among their chief drive-killers.
Another recurring issue with this team that’s surprising given their history is boneheaded situational awareness. Albeit only once or twice a game, it continues to crop up and hurt them.
Ryan Tannehill’s bizarre decision not to take a time-out near the goal line on Sunday was just the latest such example. Was it a mistake? Maybe. Whatever the case, it was nearly a costly error.
So what came first, the chicken or the egg? We asked this question a good bit last season as well. Is this team bad, or are injuries forcing them to play too many bad players? We can’t answer that for certain until they get those star contributors back and healthy. Hopefully, Week 7 following the bye will be their opportunity to do just that.
Winner: Derrick Henry
Derrick Henry is so clearly the best player on this Tennessee offense… still.
This should come as a bitter-sweet note for Titans fans. On one hand, the identity of your team, who was just recently feared washed and dead, is very much alive. On the other hand, no other skill players currently healthy on this roster look anywhere near as talented as him.
Henry had a second-straight vintage week, gaining 102 yards on 28 attempts in the run game and 30 yards on 2 receptions in the passing game. Not only was his day a big success according to his stat line, but it passed the eye test with flying colors as well.
Henry had nearly all of his elite traits back and on display against the Commanders: decisiveness, sneaky shiftiness, and the ability to break nearly every initial tackle. His downhill running style was seemingly back to full form, and it confirmed the notion that his age and past injuries have not caught up with him just yet.
Loser: The Offensive Line
Tennessee’s offensive line isn’t just bad, it’s headed in the wrong direction.
Through their first three games, the Titans had only allowed 4 sacks. In their last two games, Ryan Tannehill has gone down 8 times.
Things seemed to reach a new low in Washington, where Tennessee’s porous unit in the trenches allowed 5 total sacks of their quarterback.
In fairness to the linemen, not all of those sacks are entirely their fault; Tannehill was doing them no favors with how long he sometimes held onto the ball, and at least one of those sacks was a true coverage sack. The point stands, however, that this line was dreadful.
Nicholas Petit-Frere gets beat by defensive ends jumping inside on zone runs at least once a week at this point. His up-and-down rookie season continues apace, and this is an unavoidable element of his development. When he has to face great edge rushers, he’s struggled just as often as he’s triumphed.
What a rookie like NPF needs is a trusted veteran like Nate Davis beside him to help out when things get hairy. Against the Commanders, he had just the opposite to lean on: Dillon Radunz.
Radunz started at guard for the first time in his NFL career, his second start at any position. While we’re still waiting on the advanced metrics and game tape to come out, the eye test would tell you that he was no Nate Davis out there. He could be seen multiple times simply getting handled on his blocking assignments.
On the other side of the line, things were hardly better. Aaron Brewer’s hot-and-cold streak at LG continued, as he simply cannot contend with big defensive tackles that bull rush. His smaller build leaves him susceptible to manhandling, and he was on the receiving end more than once at FedEx Field.
Dennis Daley at left tackle likely takes the cake for worst performance if I had to pinpoint a winner. He got slaughtered on the edge all day long, and he was a big part of the reason that Montez Sweat was in the grill of Ryan Tannehill most of the game.
Now, things will get better when Nate Davis returns. But this line continues to be a serious concern for the Titans, and I don’t think that will ever change this year.
Winner: Tipped and Batted Passes
Once upon a time, Jeffrey Simmons what the sheriff of swat around these parts.
In the past two games, Teair Tart has moseyed on up to the bar to challenge him to a duel.
4 passes defended by Tart in the last 8 quarters is good for a team-best, not to mention the fact that he managed to intercept one of those and nearly came away with another.
Tart has led the way for this defensive front in the disrupted passes category, and his teammates have followed suit: Jeffrey Simmons and Rashad Weaver both had critical batted balls in Washington as well.
Sacks are the marquee statistic for pass rushers, and they’re important. But if you can’t get all the way home to the QB, rendering his pass useless and giving yourself the chance to grab a cheeky turnover may be just as valuable.
Loser: The Secondary
It was once again a rough outing for the Titans’ secondary, who allowed 342 yards through the air to Carson Wentz and company.
Early in the game, you could tell Shane Bowen’s game plan for containing Washington’s weapons was similar to their approach the past three weeks: make a non-star beat them.
Against the Raiders, they shut down Davante Adams and Darren Waller.
Against the Colts, they shut down Jonathan Taylor and Michael Pittman Jr.
Against the Commanders, they seemed intent on shutting down Terry McLaurin.
In the second half, McLaurin eventually started making an impact, but the plan was clear: make them use somebody else. The problem with this approach for this Tennessee secondary is that their opponent does use somebody else, and very effectively.
Their lack of healthy cornerback talent outside of Kristian Fulton (who continues to struggle to stay healthy himself) means quarterbacks have been repeatedly and successfully targeting Terrance Mitchell, Caleb Farley, and even Roger McCreary.
This has resulted in a weekly breakout from somebody on the opposing sideline, and this week’s contestant was WR Dyami Brown. Currently Washington’s fourth receiver down the depth chart, Brown managed 2 catches on 4 targets for a massive 105-yard game.
Curtis Samuel, Washington’s WR3, saw 8 targets for 6 catches and 62 yards as well.
Washington was getting whatever they wanted through the air at times, and whenever the Titans’ pass rush wasn’t impacting the play things got ugly. Roger McCreary has had a nice start to his career, but that’s relative to what we expect from rookie corners. In the grand scheme of things, he’s been quietly struggling the past couple of weeks, and Sunday was no exception.
Caleb Farley continues to be a mess. You can tell watching him play that his head is seriously limiting what his body is capable of. Farley is far too gifted as an athlete and as a cornerback body type to be getting beaten the way he is. On some plays, you can tell he doesn’t yet fully trust his surgically-repaired knee. On others, you can tell his mental processing on the play and his responsibilities are resulting in clunky physical action. His feel for the game is non-existent. He’s clearly capable of far better, but I don’t have the solution for getting that play out of him; his coaches need to figure that out.
Terrance Mitchell is what he is. Is he as bad as his play in the Raiders game? No, but that’s an incredibly low bar. Mitchell is a fine depth cornerback that you rarely want to see the field.
The bottom line is this: this group requires a healthy Kristian Fulton, desperately needs Elijah Molden back, and could really use a healthy pairing of Byard and Hooker. Without them, things will remain ugly.
Easton Freeze is the Director of Published Content at Broadway Sports Media, covering the Titans and the NFLRead more of his articles here, and listen to him on The Hot Read PodcastGet more Titans coverage from Easton on Twitter @eastonfreeze