After Titans loss to Browns, is it time to play the blame game?
Throwing blame on two Titans.
The other shoe dropped. The boiling point has been reached. Following an absolutely pathetic 38-7 first-half performance against the Cleveland Browns, the Tennessee Titans somehow managed to rally in the second half to end the game 41-35.
After this, it is abundantly clear who these 8-4 Tennessee Titans are. They are a great offensive football team with a bad, broken, and (I’ll call it) beyond repair defense.
Nothing more, nothing less. Not a Super Bowl threat. Likely not a division champ. Maybe not even a playoff team.
When you allow the Browns and quarterback Baker Mayfield to absolutely throttle you to the tune of 38 points and 4 passing touchdowns in 30 minutes, it’s easy to ask “how the heck did we get here?”
The starting point is Jon Robinson. After building a defense that was close, but needing improvement in pass rush, he threw $9.5 million at Vic Beasley this offseason. He would’ve been better off lighting that money on fire, buying extra face masks for the team, or putting it toward a former Titan (see Logan Ryan, Jack Conklin).
Beasley’s time in Titan blue was abysmal and a bad-fit from the beginning. He was late to report to camp, lazy on the field and cut after appearing in 5 games.
While the Beasley signing was out-of-character for Robinson, I commend the gall to sign Jadeveon Clowney. Brought in on a one-year, $15 million deal, Clowney’s playmaking ability was supposed to offset the sudden loss of Jurrell Casey, who Robinson shipped to Denver for a 7th round pick in order to open up cap space.
Clowney was not as bad as Beasley, but not much more impactful in the 8 games he played with the team. He’s now on IR following knee surgery and very unlikely to play again this season.
Robinson took two big swings at the pass rush position and missed on both. Consider trading Casey for peanuts and that’s strike three. Hastily trading the frustrated Kamalei Correa for a 6th Rounder a few weeks into the season is just additional salt in the wound.
Bad Jon Robinson is as horrid as Good Jon Robinson is genius. And this defense is paying the price for his ill-advised and expensive decisions. The team has posted a laughable 14 sacks in 12 games, with Mayfield going essentially untouched for the duration of yesterday’s game.
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Piling on Robinson is warranted, but less-talented defenses than this Titans unit have proved to be much more serviceable. I’ve touched on Mike Vrabel’s stubbornness before, but the shameful job he’s done with his defense will keep this team from achieving its preseason goals.
His allegiance to the overwhelmed and overrated Shane Bowen is rearing its ugly head. Not only has Bowen struggled to develop any OLB other than Harold Landry, which is the position coach’s main objective, he’s neither qualified nor worthy to be in the defensive play-calling position he currently holds.
The decision to not replace Dean Pees, part ways with ILB coach Tyrone McKenzie, and elevate his “prodigy” in Bowen has caused a ripple effect that’s crippled this defense. Not only is the group constantly unorganized and out of position, but individual players have taken massive steps back this season. Rashaan Evans has plateaued while Kevin Byard has fallen off a cliff.
Nepotism kills. And, similar to Robinson’s errors, the team is paying the price for Vrabel’s. Their 3rd down nightmare has persisted throughout the season. Cleveland converted 10-of-16 over the course of this beatdown.
I give the Titans defense credit for “getting back out there” following their first-half embarrassment, but the personnel simply is not where it needs to be for anyone to have confidence that the group can proverbially “turn it around” in the season’s final month.
Whether it was due to injury or one of the many objectively wrong decisions Robinson and/or Vrabel has made, the Titans are required to ask a lot from certain players that cannot consistently give them what they need. Cornerback Breon Borders has played well in spot duty, certainly better than anyone else who attempted to replace Adoree’ Jackson this year.
But Borders’ play came back down to earth yesterday, precisely when Donovan Peoples-Jones left him burned with a double-move that led to the easiest 75-yard touchdown you’ll ever see.
Derick Roberson is another feel-good story that would feel a lot better in a back-up role. He split time with Tuzar Skipper in the edge spot opposite of Landry, with neither making the unrealistic impact that this defense demands of them.
By playing journeymen and UDFAs like Borders, Roberson, and Skipper in key positions for significant snaps, you’re basically asking a band-aid to clog a hole in a sinking ship. The fact that the band-aid held its own for the past couple of weeks is a testament to the players. The implosion they faced yesterday is an indictment on their coaches and general manager.
The next four weeks — with games against Jacksonville, Detroit, Green Bay, and Houston — are damage control for a team that cannot afford another serious setback in a tight AFC playoff race.
Regardless of how the final month goes, I just cannot help but shake the feeling that, due to the decision-making of Robinson and Vrabel, the damage might already be done.