Three Takeaways: Titans lose second division game in a row

HOUSTON, TX - NOVEMBER 26: Head coach Mike Vrabel of the Tennessee Titans jogs off the field after the game against the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium on November 26, 2018 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TX - NOVEMBER 26: Head coach Mike Vrabel of the Tennessee Titans jogs off the field after the game against the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium on November 26, 2018 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images) /

The Tennessee Titans have lost two-consecutive games and have put themselves in a very precarious situation with the season ending soon.

Last night, the Tennessee Titans lost to the Houston Texans 34-17. Despite taking a 10-0 lead early in the game, the Two-Tone Blue was simply outclassed by the AFC South leaders. A fateful failed 4th and 1 conversion was followed by a 97-yard Lamar Miller touchdown run that broke the Titans’ will and they couldn’t recover. There’s a lot to talk about, but let’s narrow it down to three topics.

The Tennessee Titans are not in a good spot

With the loss to the Texans, the Titans are now 5-6 and will have to fight for a playoff spot through the wild card. As the Los Angeles Chargers are 8-3 and locked into the first wild card spot, the Titans need to aim for the second spot. They will be far from alone in battling for that position, as nearly half of the AFC is within reach of that spot.

Working against the Titans are the tiebreakers for the wild card spot. Conference record is the first tiebreaker, and the Titans’ putrid 3-6 conference record is the worst of all of the teams in the mix. The second tiebreaker is head-to-head, and the Titans have already lost to the Baltimore Ravens, Miami Dolphins, Buffalo Bills and Indianapolis Colts (they’ll have a chance to even that head-to-head record in Week 17). Mike Vrabel’s men have put themselves into a position where they need to get on a roll and also rely on outside help, which is not ideal.

The Tennessee Titans have no identity

Going into this season, it was expected that the Titans were going to be much-improved on offense and feature an innovative passing offense. That has not happened, and the Titans haven’t been able to hang their hat on a style of offense that they want to represent themselves. The passing offense has improved, but it still has plenty of flaws (as we saw in the Colts game). The running offense might actually be the worst unit in the league, thanks to an offensive line that can’t open up holes and two running backs who can’t create much on their own.

For much of this season, the defense has been the saving grace for the Titans. It looked like a unit that would keep the Titans in every game, but the dam has broken over the past two weeks. Vrabel and Dean Pees’ defense isn’t getting any pressure, isn’t filling its gaps in run defense and isn’t covering well. With the offense struggling, the defense had been getting its back and lifting up the team. Now with both units not playing well, the Titans have nothing to fall back on and look like a team with no confidence.

GM Jon Robinson needs to take a look in the mirror

Robinson has made a lot of really smart, impactful moves since taking over as GM of the Titans. Trading for DeMarco Murray, signing Rishard Matthews for cheap and infusing a good amount of young talent that helped the team accumulate two-consecutive 9-7 seasons and a playoff win. He has also made a fair share of questionable decisions that are beginning to rear their ugly heads, and a couple of them have something in common. The draft is very hit-or-miss, and Robinson has hit more than he has missed, but the picks he made following the 1st overall pick trade just have not panned out.

Conklin was an All-Pro as a rookie, but plenty of experts agreed that he wasn’t quite as good as the voters believed. In 2017, he was just okay as a blocker, and in 2018 he has been nothing short of bad. While some of that may be due to coming back from an ACL injury, he has been outplayed by backup Dennis Kelly this season and is on the verge of being benched or moved to guard. Dodd isn’t even worth talking at length about. Johnson is just a rotational player who shows up once in a blue moon. Henry has shown severe limitations this season, and that pick didn’t make sense at the time given the Titans had just traded for Murray (a big back who didn’t complement Henry).

Those picks don’t look great in hindsight, but the more concerning aspect of Robinson’s tenure has been his affinity to bring in New England Patriots castoffs. He signed Malcolm Butler and Dion Lewis to huge contracts in the offseason and both players haven’t made close to the impact everyone expected them to. Butler has given up seven touchdowns and Lewis is averaging 3.3 yards per carry. Both players are nearing their age-30 season and were given lengthy contracts in the offseason.

Josh Kline was also brought in from the Patriots after they cut him. He had a decent 2016 season, although he faded down the stretch and a missed block on his part led to Mariota getting injured in Jacksonville. His 2017 season was mediocre and he has actively hurt the team in 2018 with his play, and a missed block of his against the Indianapolis Colts once again led to Mariota getting hurt. Robinson extended Kline during the offseason and the Titans may have to move on from him after this season. Instead of being Patriots South, Robinson needs to start building this team with younger players from different walks of life.