The Titans did just enough to get a win on Sunday, once again resting on the laurels of their strong first half.
Let’s first address where this leaves things in the AFC South. Thanks to an Eagles victory in the rain, Tennessee is tied atop the division with the Jaguars at .500 apiece.
Turnovers were the name of the game in the end. For all their flaws, the Titans protected the ball well and made the Colts pay when they didn’t. Winning the turnover battle 3-0 and scoring 14 points off them gave the Titans the edge.
Before we break down Mike Vrabel’s squad, I must first do the most pretentious thing in writing and quote myself. This is what the Titans are halfway through accomplishing in regards to the Colts division hopes, from my article last Friday:
The Titans and Colts play this Sunday in Week 4 and then again in Week 7 on October 23rd. Tennessee has the chance to kill Indianapolis’ division hopes before Halloween, as they did last season sweeping the series in the final weekend of October. A Titans sweep in 2022 would send the Colts to, at best, 1-3-1 in the division and a 3-3-1 record overall, and their division championship hopes would be scuttled before the midpoint of the year.Easton Freeze, “On the Jaguars and Colts: What We Learned in Week 3, and What We Stand to Learn in Week 4”
Needless to say, the Colts have some flashing red indicators on their dashboard after this one. The Titans will get the chance to put them out of their misery in three weeks when they visit Nashville.
But enough about divisional implications, let’s dive into this Titans team in Week 4:
Winner: The Run Game
Remember when everybody thought Derrick Henry might be washed through two games? I’m old enough to remember that.
I’m also old enough to remember how I cautioned folks to have patience with Henry before declaring his time of death. For those of you who didn’t listen, I hope you’ve learned your lesson.
Looking more “back” than ever, Henry managed 114 yards on 22 carries and 1 touchdown, good for a season-high 5.2 YPC. In the passing game, he managed 3 receptions for 33 yards (despite two very ugly drops… “Henry’s Hands” was an honorary mention for today’s loser category).
Henry’s day was made even more impressive when you consider who he was up against; the third-ranked run defense in the league.
We are yet to see the stats and advanced metrics on the performance of the offensive line, but the eye test told you that this was their best day of run blocking as well. Henry was being met in the backfield less than previously this season and had a number of snaps with solid blocking 5-10 yards down the field.
It goes without saying that when Derrick Henry is eating, the Tennesee Titans are eating. He remains their identity. As long as he and this run game trend in a positive direction, so will the team.
Loser: Second Half Everything
Where to begin on this one…
We saw the same exact movie in Indianapolis that we’d seen in every game thus far. The Titans began the game humming on all cylinders, producing four scoring drives on their first four possessions. Up 24-10 at the half, nearly everything was going right (except for that horrible mismanagement of the final drive).
They didn’t score another point all afternoon. And I wish I could say it wasn’t predictable, but there wasn’t an honest soul who was surprised by how they looked in the second half.
The issues are very clear: crumbling execution, backbreaking penalties, a general lackadaisical demeanor, and a complete and utter inability to adjust midgame. And although the source of their problems is clear, the reason is not. Has it become a mental hurdle? Is it a leadership disconnect? It’s bizarre, and it’s the thing keeping this team from being a real contender.
Out of the gate in the third quarter, it was clear where this game was going:
And things never got much better. The half-to-half offensive comparison is just staggering:
Whatever is holding this team back from adjusting at the half, continuing their first-half success, and closing out the game will be the primary topic of discussion surrounding the Titans until we see them change.
Winner: Run Defense
Speaking of season-long issues that needed fixing: the Titans’ run defense.
through three weeks, Tennessee was the 27th-ranked run defending team in the league. In Week 4, they held Jonathan Taylor to 42 yards on 20 carries, good for a dismal 2.1 YPC.
The defensive front and linebackers played their best game of the season in this regard. They held the edge very well (with and without Dupree…), maintained their gap integrity, and got penetration for a number of tackles for loss.
It was a return to form for a group that had built their identity on pass rush and run defense just a year ago. Despite their unlikely cast of characters on the field for much of the game due to dreadful depth issues, the players they had available got the job done.
Loser: The Secondary
Things weren’t all rosy for the Titans’ defense.
I mentioned an unlikely cast of characters playing up front for Tennessee, and things were no different in the secondary. In another weekly edition of “who in the world is that?”, Shane Bowen’s squad rolled out Andrew Adams at safety to help fill in for the concussed Amani Hooker.
Things were rough all day for the Titans’ pass defense and tackling beyond the line of scrimmage. Tennessee allowed 365 yards through the air at an 8.2-yard clip, good for 17 passing first downs.
Indy’s receiving core is among the only in the league with less talent than Tennessee’s, and yet they were made to look impressive for the first time all season. The tight ends ate Tennessee’s lunch in particular.
Kristian Fulton is still a very poor tackler, Roger McCreary continued to quietly struggle at times, Caleb Farley finally got a decent number of snaps but wasn’t anything special, and Terrance Mitchell is still Terrance Mitchell.
Guys like Amani Hooker and Elijah Molden were sorely missed, and I’m not sure things will improve much (in the immediate) unless they return.
Winner: Teair Tart, Denico Autry, Robert Woods, and Chig Okonkwo
Is it cheating to lump four players of different positions into one “Winner” category? probably.
Do I care? Absolutely not. I make the rules around here.
Starting on the offensive side of the ball, Robert Woods had yet another solid performance that he adds to his positive trajectory on his new team. While the raw numbers were slightly less impressive than last week, Woods made plays in big spots.
He scored the first touchdown on the day for the Titans and their first touchdown of the year for the wide receiver core. With 4 catches for 30 yards at a 7.5-yard clip, Woods was the outlet for Tannehill that this passing game needs.
Another impressive performance came from rookie Chig Okonkwo, who had been a Ryan Tannehill favorite all through training camp before disappearing for the regular season. Head Coach Mike Vrabel said in his press conference after the game that the coaching staff had challenged Okonkwo to carve out a role for himself in the offense, and he did just that.
Chig was the Titans’ lead receiver on Sunday, amassing 38 yards on 3 receptions for 1 TD in his coming-out performance.
On the defensive side of the ball, Denico Autry had yet another monster performance. It’s frankly beyond me how the Raiders or Colts ever let this man leave their buildings.
Autry had a certified “revenge game” performance, accounting for 2 sacks, 1 TFL and 3 QB hits. He terrorized Matt Ryan and the Colts’ offensive line all day, just as he did in Week 2 and Week 3.
Finally, the best for last: Teair Tart.
Tart had a monster start to his game with two tipped passes, one of which he tracked through the air and intercepted. He joked after the game that he’s going to be in contact with the Madden rating adjusters to bump up his agility grade.
Tart and Autry both ate on the defensive front, accompanied and helped by the talent and gravity of Jeffrey Simmons. This group leaves you frustrated, knowing they’re so close to that elite level if only players like Bud Dupree could stay healthy and help them on the outside. Speaking of Dupree…
Loser: Bud Dupree and Treylon Burks
It’s harsh to categorize players as “losers” due almost entirely to their injury status, but it’s the cold hard reality in the cases of Bud Dupree and Treylon Burks.
Dupree is officially entering “Hot Tub Club” territory, as he continues to struggle to stay on the field. In his second season with the team, he’s been inactive just as much as he’s been active on game day. And on days that he does play, he’s liable to leave early.
This was the case in Indianapolis. Dupree left the game with a re-injured hip, the ailment that had kept him sidelined in Week 3. After his departure, Tennessee’s rush was noticeably worse; which is the case nearly every time he’s not in the lineup. The Bud vs. no Bud comparison has been illustrated for us a number of times at this point, and the verdict is clear: they need him healthy and out there.
Burks left the game after injuring his foot in the final seconds of the first half. The focus of a pivotal sequence that led to the Titans running out of time to get a field goal attempt, Burks stayed in the game for an extra play despite clearly being in no shape to do so.
He was ruled OUT before they returned from the break, and this was the report on him from the locker room during postgame media availability:
If Burks is seriously injured, an already shaky start will be made much worse for the rookie. Injuries are an unavoidable element of the game, but for a guy who hasn’t even sniffed the expectations he had coming in, it’s a negative force-multiplier for the pressure on his shoulders.
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