A few thoughts – and three questions – as we continue to sort through the carnage of the Tennessee Titans’ sad 38-13 loss to the Arizona Cardinals:
1. Who deserves responsibility for Sunday’s loss?
“We know we can do it, but that doesn’t mean we’re going to do it. … No one takes anything for granted. Nobody’s fair, ‘Oh, we’re going to walk over there in week 1 and roll over the Cardinals.’ This is not how this game works. When you start to feel comfortable, this is when you start to get high. And the Cardinals are very capable of doing it. “
Left tackle Taylor Lewan said this on August 4, just days after training camp began.
The Titans got run over on Sunday because they just weren’t ready to play.
If it was a high school or college, I would generally blame the coaches for it.
In the NFL, that blame falls more on the players.
“Your best players have to play well on Sunday for you to win,” coach Mike Vrabel said on Monday. “That’s the way this game is organized. It hasn’t happened to us.”
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It’s not that the practice was excellent on Sunday. It clearly was not.
It’s just that highly paid veterans and star executives like Lewan or Julio Jones or Derrick Henry or Ryan Tannehill have been in the NFL for a long time. They know how to prepare to play. Even if they haven’t trained enough in the preseason. Above all if they didn’t train enough in the preseason.
They also know – as evidenced by Lewan’s statement – precisely what can happen in the NFL if you’re not ready to play. No excuse for not meeting this standard.
I don’t know if the Titans players were too confident or complacent or just too “comfortable”.
But whatever it was, they got wiped out by the cardinals.
Having said that …
2. What is your biggest concern for the Titans going forward?
Todd Downing as offensive coordinator.
The surest way to destroy this season for the Titans would be an offense that continues to underperform like Sunday. Anyone who has followed the Titans in 2020 understands that this was a playoff team purely because of their offense. Even at its best, a gradually improving defense still won’t be strong enough to carry a bad offense in 2021.
If this attack isn’t good, those titans won’t be good. Sunday’s game left no doubt about this fact.
Vrabel was playing with fire when he promoted Downing to replace Arthur Smith, as he trusted someone who had failed miserably in a similar situation. The Oakland Raiders in 2017 weren’t as talented as the Titans are now, but they were meant to be good offensively. Shortly after Downing took the keys, that offense – and those Raiders – crashed.
That’s not to say Downing is certain to flop in Tennessee, but a start like Sunday was a disturbing introduction.
It was as bad as the Titans offense since Marcus Mariota was his quarterback. They only had one possession on Sunday with more than two first tries. In terms of gameplay, they totaled under-21 net yards on their first three possessions.
These things happened before Jones or AJ Brown was target:
Henry, Chester Rogers, Jeremy McNichols and safety Amani Hooker (false punt) caught passes.
Tannehill has been sacked three times, including a fumble – in an action call on the second and 12 that obviously didn’t fool Chandler Jones – to give the Cardinals their first touchdown.
And the Titans fell behind 17-0.
It wasn’t all Downing’s fault. Nonetheless, it’s alarming that the Titans looked so outmatched offensively. It didn’t happen when Smith was here.
3. Is it time to panic?
No not yet.
It’s very early and the Titans weren’t the only highly regarded team to have their teeth kicked on Sunday. The Green Bay Packers were horrible. The Indianapolis Colts weren’t much better.
On that note, the AFC South might actually be the easiest division in the NFL this season. The Titans think they have plenty of opportunities, whether they win or lose this week in Seattle.
They must, however, stop the bleeding and show improvement in the Pacific Northwest. The Seahawks at home are capable of dealing even more penalties than the Cardinals at Nissan Stadium.
If the Titans aren’t ready yet this week, it’s going to get a lot uglier than it already is.