The Tennessee Titans preached all offseason that their goal was to go from ‘good to great’. Now that the Titans are a few days away from playing in their first AFC Championship game in over 17 years, I think its safe to say they have reached that goal and more.
Following the 2017 season, the Tennessee Titans faced a difficult decision. Do they stick with the head coach with a limited ceiling who just helped them win their first playoff game in over a decade? Or do they shoot for the stars and try to land a younger head coach with the potential of taking this team to the next level?
Of course, with that risk also comes the possibility of setting the franchise back a couple years if you make the wrong decision.
General manager Jon Robinson and the teams’ front office personnel had confidence in themselves and eventually opted to trust their ability to hit a home run — and did they ever.
That decision has officially paid off now that the team is as explosive and well-rounded as they’ve arguably ever been and are just two wins away from being Super Bowl champions.
Back in 2018 when the Titans hired head coach Mike Vrabel, they hoped they were getting a bright football mind who was capable of being a leader among men. The former New England Patriots star linebacker turned head coach embodies that type of persona and his players feed off his intense and tough-minded personality.
The fact that Vrabel is a former player — and a successful one at that — helped his credibility from the moment he walked through the door. He’s someone who has actually walked in these players’ shoes before and not just someone who only has a bright football mind. The players know he’s been everything in the NFL from a role player grinding for playing time, to a captain on a dynasty, and everything in between.
That experience allows Vrabel to see everything through both a players and a coach’s perspective, which often helps in his preparation for the week. He understands what things are worth taking time on and what things aren’t.
The Titans head coach also holds his players to the level of accountability he held both himself and his old teammates to during his playing days. This Titans team is often one of the most disciplined teams on game days and they rarely shoot themselves in the foot because of it. That’s something that has been developed on the practice field away from all the cameras and thousands of screaming fans.
It’s a common sight at Titans practices to see Vrabel strapped in some pads while he is being pushed around in the middle of the field somewhere in order to get a better feel for his players’ strengths and deficiencies from a technique standpoint.
This allows him to correct those errors in order to help the team become fundamentally stable, which is something this Titans team clearly is at the moment.
Once the 2018 season ended, coach Vrabel constantly began to preach that this team must do what’s necessary to go from the good team they’ve been in years past to the great team they aimed to be.
Although this Titans team may have finished with a similar 9-7 record, it was obvious to anyone who actually watched the on-field product that this team had made tremendous improvements in all three phases.
Despite a shaky 2-4 start that brought a ton of skepticism from this fan base towards Vrabel’s ability to lead the team, Tennessee eventually found a way to get the train rolling.
The team got a spark when the coaching staff and front office made the tough decision to bench the former No. 2 overall pick Marcus Mariota and roll with the former Miami Dolphins castoff Ryan Tannehill.
This naturally brought backlash from some within the fan base, as they had understandably developed an emotional attachment to Mariota. However, it was obvious to mostly everyone that it was time for a fresh start.
This fresh start allowed the offense to excel with Tannehill under center, as it went from averaging an abysmal 11 points per game (Weeks 2-6) to a staggering 30.4 the rest of the way.
Tannehill’s ability to attack a defense with his arm has allowed his superstar running back, Derrick Henry, to dominate. Opposing defenses now need to respect the passing attack rather than just being worried about a one-dimensional rushing offense as the Titans often were in years past.
Offensive coordinator Arthur Smith has also made tremendous strides from the start of the year to now.
At the beginning of the season it seemed like Smith was trying to get acclimated to his new position in order to see what worked and what didn’t, which often caused very inconsistent performances.
Smith has done a complete 180 over the last two months, and this offense has gone from one that often looked lost to a lethal offense looking to attack and step on your throat for 60 minutes.
This approach and mentality, coupled with the talent inside that Titans locker room, allowed this team to have a great end to their season by winning seven of their final 10 games, which ultimately earned Tennessee its second playoff berth in three years.
Regardless if the team would have finished 16-0 or 9-7, this team’s ability to go from “good to great” was ultimately going to come down to what they do in the postseason.
Once they clinched their playoff berth in the final week of the season they were officially allowed the opportunity to recreate the narrative of their 2019 campaign. The Titans understood if they played the way they knew they were capable of doing once the calendar flipped to January that no one in the country would be talking about those seven losses anymore.
As the Titans stand here awaiting their opportunity to play in the AFC Championship Game, I believe it’s safe to say no one cares about those seven regular season losses anymore. The only thing being discussed now is the possibility of a Super Bowl parade coming to Nashville, Tennessee in the coming weeks if they’re able to win two more games.
This Titans team still has work to do before they capture their first championship. But the fact that they are in the NFL’s final four solidifies the notion that they have officially made coach Vrabel’s off-season vision of going from a good team to a great team into a reality.