When Vrabel gets full control of an NFL defense in 2020, in what will be just the second time in his career, it will be like upgrading to a Ferrari from a 1997 Ford Fiesta. While the Titans defensive roster isn’t at the level of a Patriots or 49ers, it’s still leagues above what Vrabel was given to work with Houston during the 2017 season.
At just about every level of the defense, Tennessee will be an upgrade in terms of pure talent compared to the Texans. Houston’s biggest star, JJ Watt, was kept out of most of the season due to injury, and the team looked lost without him. Players like Joel Heath were pressed into action, and unable to make much of an impact. But even the day one starter’s on the team struggled to do much of anything.
With Vrabel on the Titans, he’ll be able to call plays for safeties like Kevin Byard and Kenny Vaccaro over players like Marcus Gilchrist and Andre Hal. He’ll get to direct starters like Adoree Jackson and Malcolm Butler at cornerback, a massive upgrade over Kareem Jackson and Jonathan Joseph (whose now a Titan, but a depth player).
The list goes on. Jeffrey Simmons over D.J. Reader. Rashaan Evans over Bednardrick McKinney. Possibly an older, more experienced 2020 Jadaveon Clowney over a still developing 2017 Jadaveon Clowney. Vrabel is going to have plenty of help on the field to make his job easier.
But it’s still fair to ask, how much of the Texans’ poor performance was due to talent, and how much was due to Vrabel. Houston did upgrade in a few positions the following year, but the team shot up from 32nd in points allowed to 4th the year after Vrabel’s departure.
It’s possible Vrabel was dealt a bad hand, but was doing more harm than good as a defensive coordinator. The two aren’t mutually exclusive. But whatever the reason, Vrabel and the Titans are lucky, they’ll have some extra help on the sidelines.