Tennessee Titans: Watch for post-bye week performance
By Max Dambach
The Tennessee Titans must refocus and make adjustments during the bye week to find success in the latter half of the season.
What a difference a month makes. Only a couple of weeks ago, the Tennessee Titans were 3-1 with wins against quality opponents like the Houston Texans, Jacksonville Jaguars and Philadelphia Eagles. Now, Tennessee is reeling through their bye week with horrible performances against the Baltimore Ravens and Buffalo Bills and a heartbreaking loss against the L.A. Chargers, who look like a guaranteed Wild Card team that Tennessee would likely see again in the playoffs.
The new coaching staff was bound to experience some growing pains in its first season, but Titans fans were probably not prepared for just how much the team would struggle following two 9-7 seasons. However, if the new coaching staff is going to adapt and overcome the struggles of the first half of the season, this bye week is the time to do so.
If all goes well, fans will see a refocused and re-energized Titans team that can rebound and push for a division title that is still well within reach. “It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish” is an adage so commonly used that it has almost become a cliché, but it really is true in the NFL. Tennessee is still 3-4 and is still in the hunt for a Wild Card spot. If they can overcome some of their early season struggles, they can heat up and become the AFC team that nobody wants to face in January.
So what are the changes that Tennessee must make to contend in 2018 after the bye week? The Titans must make their offense more explosive and consistent.
The defense has done a fantastic job of keeping the Titans in games, which gives them a chance to turn their season around, but the Titans defense can’t completely carry the team into the playoffs. They need the offense to score consistently to have a chance at winning. First-year play caller Matt LaFleur has experienced success at every other stop along his NFL career, but the offense has been downright awful under his watch. They rank 30th in both points and yards per game.
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The Titans have had some adversities to overcome on offense with injuries to Jack Conklin, Taylor Lewan, Delanie Walker and Marcus Mariota. Rishard Matthews also left the team early on, but a roster with talents like Mariota, Corey Davis, Dion Lewis and Derrick Henry should not be struggling to move the ball this much. Mariota clearly misses his top two receiving targets from 2016 and 2017, but his receivers, outside of Tajae Sharpe and Davis, have not inspired much confidence.
Davis has not dominated like a top five pick at WR should be expected to, but he, like Sharpe, has proven capable of getting open and catching the football while displaying his full potential against the Eagles with a monster 160+ yard performance. Meanwhile, other members of the offense have failed to meet expectations this season, such as Taywan Taylor, Henry and the interior offensive line. Taylor’s inconsistency has pushed him down the depth chart below Sharpe, while Henry has not turned into the workhorse back most expected to see this season behind an interior offensive line that has not been able to consistently open holes for Lewis or Henry or keep the pocket clean.
Titan Sized’s Will Lomas has a couple of ideas to rectify Tennessee’s offensive woes, from trading Derrick Henry for a receiver or pick to trading for a veteran receiver to trading for Gabe Jackson from the rebuilding Oakland Raiders. All of these options might be on the table for GM Jon Robinson, but based on his inaction so far, it seems quite possible he decides to stand pat. If that is the case, Robinson is trusting his coaching staff to make adjustments and get more out of these underperforming players.
Taylor, Henry, Ben Jones, Josh Kline, and Quinton Spain have all shown the capability of being important contributors in an offense. LaFleur and Mike Vrabel must be willing and able to make adjustments and get the most out of these players if Tennessee wants to compete in 2018 with defense and special teams units that are already playoff-caliber. Let’s hope that the Titans exit their bye week a new team with offensive futility in the rearview mirror and playoff contention on the road ahead.