Well, this tweet aged well:
The Titans clearly heard my cry for balanced content, and oh boy did they deliver in a big way.
Tennessee did what they seem to do best: lose inexplicably to inferior opponents. After a fantastic start to the game, things went downhill and never stopped until we reached the triple zeroes. With a chance to squeak out a win in the final seconds, kicker Randy Bullock pulled a 47-yard kick wide left of the uprights, sealing the Titans’ fate.
A lot transpired before that decisive kick, however, some good and some bad. So let’s dive into the Winners and Losers from the Titans’ embarrassing home opener loss.
Winner: The Pass Rush
The Titans’ pass rush ate on Sunday, picking up right where they left off in 2021. Totaling 5 sacks and 8 QB Hits as a team, the front four was as disruptive as ever.
Perhaps the most promising individual performance came from second-year OLB Rashad Weaver, who got to work trying to fill the large shoes of Harold Landry as a starter. Weaver was regularly in the backfield, getting 2 sacks of his own, including 2 tackles for loss and 2 QB hits. If he can keep this kind of production up and be just 75% of what Harold Landry is, Tennessee’s front four will be just fine this year.
That’s assuming, of course, that Bud Dupree takes the reigns as the dominant OLB on the team. Against the Giants, he had a solid outing with 1 sack, 1 TFL, and 1 QB hit.
Jeffrey Simmons, to nobody’s surprise, spent all day terrorizing Daniel Jones with 2 sacks, 2 TFL, and 2 QB hits as well.
Loser: Run Defense
If you had to point to one thing that cost the Titans the game, it was their horrendous run defense. It was so bad against the Giants, that I was compelled to do some statistical digging, and this is what I found:
Not only was Tennessee’s effort stopping the run a pathetic one, but it was entirely out of character. This group (and I do mean THIS exact group) has made it their calling card to terrorize your QB and be a brick wall in the run game. It’s been a strength of theirs historically.
I asked Mike Vrabel why he thinks his squad had such a tough day in this department, and here was his response:
On Sunday, The Giants led by a rejuvenated Saquan Barkley ran circles around Tennessee. In the second half, they were getting pretty much whatever they wanted.
The Titans will have to do some real soul searching and find themselves in the run defense again, and they’ll have to do it soon. In a division with Jonathan Taylor, James Robinson, Travis Etienne, and Dameon Pierce, having a tissue-paper run D is not an option.
Winner: Kyle Philips and Treylon Burks
The most encouraging element of the Titans’ offense was their rookie WR tandem.
Kyle Philips and Treylon Burks were Ryan Tannehill’s favorite targets in the game, with 9 and 5 respectively. Philips caught two-thirds of the balls thrown his way, compiling the most receiving yards on the team with 66. Burks caught 3 of his targets for 55 yards.
For this Tennessee team to move on without A.J. Brown and diversify their list of viable receiving threats, they need these two to live up to their billing. In their regular season debut, they did just that.
Loser: Offensive Penalties
The Titans’ offense spent much of the second half of Sunday’s game going forward just to bring it on back.
7 penalties for 50 yards was the final total amassed by Tennessee, the vast majority of which came courtesy of the offense in the back half of the game. Multiple holding calls on the offensive line, as well as delay of game, forced the Titans into 1st and extra-long three different times on the same drive.
On the final drive of the game, in which the Titans attempted to march down the field to get a game-winning field goal up, veteran LT Taylor Lewan jumped offsides on the first play. This backed the team up 5 yards, which I’m sure kicker Randy Bullock would’ve appreciated shaved off of the distance he had to attempt the game-winner from.
Now, for the most part, Tennessee managed to overcome their repeated shots into their own feet. But that’s a luxury of playing a team like the Giants; you can sometimes get away with a lack of discipline. Against more talented teams (like, I don’t know, the majority of the AFC) you cannot afford to be so undisciplined. If the Titans want to be a contender in their conference, they have to run a much tighter ship.
Winner: Red Zone Dontrell Hilliard
Dontrell Hilliard revealed himself as a new favorite red zone target for the Titans on Sunday.
Although he only managed a pedestrian 8 yards on 2 carries rushing, he shined in a receiving role when Tennessee neared the endzone.
Hilliard brought in 3 big catches for 61 yards and both of the Titans’ touchdowns against the Giants, giving him the second most receiving yards on the team. He wasn’t just taking a dump off or the hot read screen to the house either: he was running routes down the field and getting open against the Giants’ secondary.
These kinds of red zone receiving opportunities for Hilliard were something we saw a lot of from Vrabel’s team in training camp. Hilliard was a very common target for the QBs in the numerous red zone drills they ran every day. To see that immediately translate to the field, and in a very big way, is promising for the Titans’ hopes of returning to their red zone efficiencies of 2019 and 2020.
The Tennessee Titans absolutely stink as frontrunners. It’s seemingly their least favorite activity, at least according to the way they act, and it’s certainly among the things they’re worst at.
Much is made about how the Titans love to lose games they should win and win games they should lose, but it’s really deeper than that. They insist on playing tight games against opponents worse than them. They love coming from behind and winning by the skin of their teeth. If they’re gonna blow you out, you’re going to have to be a team that’s supposed to be better than them… or be the Jaguars.
In games like on Sunday afternoon, you can see them very clearly falling asleep at the wheel. When they get off to a great start and take a relatively comfortable lead, they try to coast. And when this team coasts, at least on offense, they always fall flat.
In order to be a great team, you have to be able to handle yourself in these situations. The Titans haven’t figured that out yet. And until they do, they’re going to continue to lose to inferior opponents.
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