The Tennessee Titans continued their run towards the top seed in the AFC today, courtesy of a road matchup against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Winners and losers are as followed.
Let’s get right to it.
Winner: Run Game
The Titans had one mission today, run the football and don’t stop until the Steelers found a way to stop them.
For the most part, the Steelers couldn’t find a way to slow down the Titans’ red hot run game. The Titans finished with 201 total yards on the ground and held the ball for over 39 minutes.
D’Onta Foreman led the way with 108 yards while battling a painful ankle injury, while Dontrell Hilliard and Jeremy McNichols contributed to the rushing total as well.
Normally this type of rushing performance would be more than enough to secure a win. But just like all of their losses without Derrick Henry in the lineup, turnovers absolutely killed this team on the offensive side of the ball.
More on that later.
If there’s one positive you can take away from this game though, it’s that the run game is finding it’s stride without Henry in the lineup.
That in a sense can be deemed a win.
Loser: Targets for Julio Jones
One of the early stories in the game was the lack of targets for Julio Jones.
In a game where the Titans were missing AJ Brown, and possessed a number of unproven options at receiver, Julio seemed like the man to receive more than a handful of targets today in the passing game.
But that didn’t happen, instead Julio couldn’t receive a target to save his life. In fact, Julio received his only and only target on a contested throw in the red zone before exiting the game due to injury.
Now the Titans’ lack of skill in pass protection, and the urge to run the ball against the Steelers’ bad run defense played a part in that.
Plus, Todd Downing tried to get him involved as the game went on, but it just didn’t work out.
Despite all of that though, abandoning your one and only proven playmaker can’t happen. Not when you’re trying to stay afloat in the race for the number one seed in the AFC, while also trying to hold off the surging Indianapolis Colts.
Loser: Injuries for Julio Jones
If there’s one thing that Julio has been consistent at this season, its been finding himself on the injury report.
He’s dealt with a nagging hamstring injury throughout the entire season, it even landed him on injured reserve and knocked him out of action for three games.
Julio returned from his injured reserve stint last week, and made it through the first half of today’s game in Pittsburgh. However, he couldn’t finish the contest as a result of the same injury that’s been nipping at his heels the entire season.
The injury is going to have repercussions for the future too. The Titans play the San Francisco 49ers on Thursday night, which doesn’t bode well for any early potential return to play for Julio.
This season has turned into a lost one for Julio, but despite that, the hope has been that he’d be able to contribute toward a potential playoff run.
But with this injury occurring so close to the end of the regular season, doubt has cloud any potential of that scenario playing out.
In reality, two things have plagued this team over the last month and a half. Turnovers and too many stretches of pitiful offensive football.
Both of those things killed the Titans today, but since we’re focusing on one thing at a time, we’ll start with turnovers.
The Titans turned the football over four times today, including three fumbles in the second half that gave the Steelers good starting field position. Those fumbles ended up being the main reason the Steelers walked home with a win, although it could’ve been much better on their end if they cashed those turnovers into actual touchdowns.
This turnover epidemic has become a real problem for Mike Vrabel’s team. You could argue that if they didn’t cough up the rock at an abnormal rate, they wouldn’t have had to address their failures against the Houston Texans and the New England Patriots (although that game ended up being dropped as a result of a lack of talent on the Titans’ offense).
That’s two potential games that could’ve been chalked up as wins in the record books, wins that would actually have them leading the race for the top seed in the AFC right about now. But hypotheticals are simply hypotheticals, so we can’t hold on to those.
We’ve said the Titans need to do this and that if they want to bring their dreams to life. But one of the major things that has killed playoff teams in the past and will kill the Titans moving forward is the lack of ability to hold on to the ball.
If they don’t clean this problem up, then they’re going to run into a lot, and I mean a lot of trouble.
Winner: The defense
Can we say enough about Shane Bowen’s unit? They were dealt disastrous hands, most of which came as a result of incompetence by the Titans’ offense, and still found ways to minimize the damage on the scoreboard.
The Steelers forced four turnovers, all of which gave their offense precious starting field position. Of all those turnovers, the Titans’ defense only gave up 12 points. They couldn’t do much more than what they did, except the act of forcing turnovers, which can be difficult to do against the Steelers since their offense doesn’t take a lot of risks.
Even when they weren’t being put in bad positions, this defense still swarmed around the football and wreaked havoc on the field more times than not. Overall, it was a great defensive performance.
I know the team as a whole loss, but this Titans defense did their job for the most part. Which is something they can hang their hat on moving forward.
Loser: Offensive incompetence
This offense has been a train wreck for weeks, likely because of the lack of playmakers and all the injuries that exist within this unit.
However, even with those factors breathing down this unit’s neck, there’s no reason for this level of ineptitude and incompetence. We’re talking bad pass protection, timely drops that can kill a unit’s momentum, bad turnovers, medium to long down and distance situations feeling like mental losses, I mean there’s just way too many things wrong with this unit right now.
The one thing it has going for itself right now is the run game, but turnovers have come as a result of that as well.
I won’t pin blame on a singular person, because multiple people have contributed to this stunning tragedy of an offense. But this offense is a complete mess right now, and the remedies that exist to fix it won’t be available at the drop of a hat.
This team isn’t asking this offense to do much, just simple acts of clean and efficient football to ultimately give this team a chance to win. They aren’t doing that right now and the end product has been on the disappointing side as a result.
We’ll see if this unit can get its act together, but if we’re basing the chances off of the last couple of games, the odds of that occurring are low.