It started raining once the Titans crossed midfield. Four Derrick Henry carries and a clutch 14-yard DeAndre Hopkins completion later, Nick Folk lined up for the 41-yard field goal attempt. He put it down the middle.
That’s how the Titans won in overtime on Sunday, getting a massive victory over an AFC opponent to avoid falling to 0-2. It was their first win in 304 days, breaking an 8-game losing streak that dated back to November 17th, 2022. It was a Thursday Night Football game in Green Bay, possibly the highlight performance of their season. Since then, Titans fans and players haven’t had much to celebrate. Finally, that changed on Sunday.
But a whole lot happened before Nick Folk’s game-winning kick in the rain. A lot of good things, and plenty of bad ones too. Let’s dive into the best and the worst of the Titans first win of the season in Week 2 Winners and Losers:
Winner: Ryan Tannehill
Ryan Tannehill told the media last week that “Sunday can’t come fast enough”.
That was far from surprising coming from him, considering how poorly he played in the Titans season opener. Ryan was a man ready to prove that performance to be an outlier, not the new norm.
His game on Sunday was much more in line with what we’ve grown accustomed to seeing from Tannehill since he became a Titan: good, efficient football. 20/24 on the day was good for an 83% completion rate, managing 246 yards and a TD through the air as well as a 12-yard read-option touchdown on his feet.
He did all of this despite being sacked five times and hit six more. What stood out most was his effectiveness on play action.
He went 7-of-9 on PA for 168 yards, bringing his average to 11.8 yards per attempt on such plays since 2022. That’s 1.6 yards more than any other QB in the league during that span.
Both of Tannehill’s deep connections on Sunday came on play action looks, where he dialed in his accuracy from Week 1 and managed to hit both Treylon Burks and Chris Moore perfectly in stride for massive gains.
Tannehill is a very good quarterback when the Titans emphasize play action on offense. It’s as simple as that. When you give him play-action looks, good things typically happen. Hopefully Tim Kelly keeps that in mind the rest of the year.
Loser: Pass Protection
Ryan Tannehill managed a bounce-back performance despite his offensive line for much of the day.
Tennessee’s line allowed 5 sacks for 46 yards and 6 QB hits on Sunday, getting “The s**t knocked out of” Ryan Tannehill more than once, as Mike Vrabel told it after the game. Things were particularly rocky early on when rookie UDFA Xavier Newman-Johnson was in at left guard. The Newman-Johnson/Dillard combo on the left side allowed drive-killing sacks on each of the Titans’ first two drives.
Tannehill himself wasn’t completely blameless, holding onto the ball too long a couple of times. But in general, his pass protection simply was not good enough. The line settled down once Dillon Radunz took over at LG and the game wore on, but the improvement wasn’t enough to feel particularly comfortable whenever Tennessee tried to drop back and pass the ball.
This line is still very new and lacks experience with one another. We came into the season knowing this. But until they find their rhythm as a group, things will remain very shaky on offense.
Winner: Pivotal Plays From Impact Players
Perhaps what defined this game most was the big plays made by big players in big moments. They aren’t called “impact players” for nothing; you typically need them to make impact plays in order the win the game. And time after time in Week 2, the Titans saw one of their best players step up when they needed it most.
The first impact play certainly felt like the most needed one all day long. Three drives into the game, Tennessee had just 8 total yards of offense and were down 11-0. “We were leaking oil,” said Mike Vrabel after the game. “We needed that play from him”. The play was a 70-yard bomb on 1st down, and the player was Treylon Burks. This connection was the first life the Titans had on offense all day long, and it was as much a sigh of relief for Titans fans in Nissan Stadium as it was a moment of great excitement. This was the sparkplug that got Tennessee on the board and back into the game, courtesy of one of their stars.
Their other star receiver, DeAndre Hopkins, had a relatively quiet day if you just look at the box score. 4 receptions on 5 targets for 40 yards? That’s well below the Hopkins standard statistically. However it was the way in which he was utilized, the significance of the moments in which he contributed, that shined so brightly. Twice the Titans faced pivotal 3rd downs, and the man with the surest hands on the team came down with the ball for the 1st. Both plays extended drives that resulted in touchdowns. Then in overtime, Hopkins comes up big one final time to get the Titans firmly into FG range as the rain begins to pour. Those were three plays that arguably would have swung the game.
Ryan Tannehill obviously came up big as well, hitting Treylon Burks and Chris Moore deep downfield for explosive offensive plays, capping each drive off with a TD. He ran through contact for the 12-yard read-option touchdown and hit Nick Westbrook-Ikine in the endzone on 3rd down with less than three minutes in the game to take the lead.
How about on Defense? A pair of huge sacks come to mind. How about Jeffery Simmons maintaining the Titans’ newfound momentum with a sack of Justin Herbert on 3rd & 6? The Titans had just taken the lead for the first time in the game, and Simmons didn’t allow the Chargers to answer. An even bigger sack came at the end of regulation and was the first impact play in a long time from Harold Landry, who was playing in his 2nd game back after tearing his ACL last summer. With 20 seconds left in the 4th, The Chargers had one last chance to win in regulation. On 3rd & 3 from the Titans 7-yard line, Herbert dropped back to make the deciding pass. But Landry broke through at the perfect time, taking him to the ground and forcing LA to tie the game and head to overtime.
Loser: The Secondary
this Titans secondary continues to be a problem.
Since 2010, teams with 275+ passing yards and no turnovers are 382-96-2. That is a win percentage of roughly 80%. The Chargers became one of the 96 losers on Sunday, amassing 281 of their 342 total yards through the air.
QB Justin Herbert went 27-for-41 against a Tennessee secondary missing two very important pieces in S Amani Hooker and CB Kristian Fulton. The impact of their absence cannot be dismissed, but this team has allowed too many chunk plays with and without them through two weeks.
Particularly in between the 20’s, opposing offenses regularly have their way with the Titans through the air. It is fair to point out that in general, this is their approach: a “bend, don’t break” defense that keeps you in front of them and becomes impenetrable in the red zone. But is it too much to ask for a secondary to present at least a little bit of resistance sometime other than just when their backs are against the wall?
This soft approach was particularly evident in the 1st quarter when the Chargers began the game almost exclusively targeting the lefthand flat and short area of the field when given isolation. 6 of Herbert’s 7 attempts in the first frame were classified as “short left”, and you could not blame him for continuing to go to that well. It was a free 7+ yards nearly every time he tried it. This is the kind of thing the secondary has to find ways to adjust for and not allow so regularly.
Winner: Redzone Efficiency
One of the most out-of-character elements of Week 1 for Tennessee was their horrible inefficiency in the red zone. They went 0-for-3 in New Orleans, settling for a field goal each time they found themselves inside their opponent’s 20-yard line.
If you’re familiar with how the Mike Vrabel/Ryan Tannehill/Derrick Henry version of the Tennessee Titans has historically operated, this came as a surprise. They’ve always been amongst the most efficient teams in the league in opponent territory. In 2022, they were 6th in the league at 64.29%. They were 9th in the NFL the season prior at 62.5%.
It makes sense that this team typically manages more touchdowns than field goals in short-yardage. They have Derrick Henry, after all, a human wrecking ball capable of three yards simply falling forward on most plays. They also pride themselves on their big-bodied receivers capable of winning with little space to play with. So why did they get off to such a lousy start in 2023?
A lot goes into that answer. Pre-snap penalties, poor offensive line play, bad decisions from the QB, and a large dose of luck. But in Week 2, Mike Vrabel’s squad turned the red zone ship around.
Ryan Tannehill and Co. went 3-of-4 inside the enemy 20-yard line on Sunday, managing three big touchdowns in three different ways: a 1-yard Derrick Henry rushing TD up the middle, a 12-yard Ryan Tannehill read-option rushing TD, and a 4-yard passing TD to Nick Westbrook-Ikhine.
This is the efficient style of play Mike Vrabel and the Titans pride themselves on, and it’s the style of play that we’re all used to seeing from them. I’d expect today’s efficiency to prove to be the norm and Week 1 to become a strange outlier when we look back at the end of the season.
Loser: Penalty Discipline
The Titans shot themselves in the foot multiple times in their first win, committing stupid penalties in some key moments. Mike Vrabel-led squads are typically a disciplined bunch, however that hasn’t been the case so far in 2023.
Seven penalties cost Tennessee a total of 45 yards against LA: three offensive, three defensive, and one on special teams. Some highlights include false starts from OL Dillon Radunz as well as TEs Trevon Wesco and Josh Whyle, a horsecollar tackle from LB Azeez Al-Shaair that turned a 10-yard gain into 24, and a pair of defensive penalties on 3rd down that didn’t manage to keep Justin Herbert from connecting with Keenan Allen for a touchdown anyways.
This sloppiness is particularly harmful to the Titans’ offensive efforts. This team is built to win offensively by playing as efficiently as possible. Long, grinding drives that slice and dice a defense to the point of wearing down, with the occasional shot-play that busts a drive wide open. These are the fundamental tenents of this Tennessee offensive attack. But efficient football is made impossible by stupid mental errors that result in pre-snap penalties.
If Mike Vrabel can’t find a way to get his team to tighten up in this regard, it is sure to cost them in big ways down the road.
Winner: Nick Folk & Dillon Radunz
This is an awkward pairing, but I felt remiss excluding these two players from receiving a “Winner” shoutout in Week 2.
Let’s start with Nick Folk, the only consistent “Winner” every week so far this season. Folk was 2-for-2 on field goals on Sunday including the game-winner in the rain, as well as nailing all three of his extra point attempts. That brings his season total up to 7/7 on FGs, and he’s personally responsible for 24 of the Titans’ 42 points.
Tennessee traded a 2024 7th-round pick to New England for Folk, hoping he’d be the answer to their years-long kicking issues. Through just 2 weeks, it feels safe to say he’s been worth it and then some.
The other player deserving of a shoutout is offensive lineman Dillon Radunz, who made his return to play on Sunday. It was December 18th, 2022 when Radunz tore his ACL against, ironically enough, the Los Angeles Chargers on the road. If you’d told anybody in December that he’d be back playing meaningful snaps in Week 2 of the 2023 season, they almost certainly would not have believed you. I doubt even Dillon himself expected to return to playing so quickly. And yet, just 8 months and 2 days later, that’s exactly what he did.
Rookie UDFA Xavier Newman-Johnson got the surprise start at LG to start the game. He was filling in for rookie first-round pick Peter Skoronski, who had an emergency appendectomy last week. After two drives, however, Mike Vrabel had seen enough. Newman-Johnson got pulled and Radunz took his place.
After Radunz entered the game, the Titans offensive line play improved noticeably. It was far from perfection to be sure, but they seemed to really settle down once he was in the lineup.
Whether Radunz will have a role in the starting lineup going forward is yet to be seen. Skoronski could return next week, or he could need a couple of additional weeks of rest before being ready to come back. I think it’s fair to assume Radunz will be the LG until that happens, but after that? Perhaps he will become the swing tackle for this Titans team. It’s also not unfeasible to wonder if he’ll get some looks at left or right tackle, especially if Tennessee continues to have issues at those positions.
Whatever the case, it is clear how much this team values having him back as an option in the trenches. Something tells me we’ll be seeing a healthy serving of Dillon Radunz in some capacity going forward.