Titans botch opportunity to clinch AFC South
The stage was set and the opportunity to win the AFC South for the first time since 2008 was there for the taking. The Titans faced the NFC-leading Green Bay Packers on Sunday Night Football in the frozen – and snowy – tundra with a chance to make a statement win in prime time.
And they promptly curled into the fetal position for 60 minutes, allowing Green Bay to roll over them in a 40-14 route. In case you were wondering if the box score was deceiving, it was because the 26-point blowout never felt that close.
In their second “playoff atmosphere” matchup in the past month, the Titans double-downed on their horrid, lifeless, and pitiful performance against Cleveland three weeks ago and played even worse.
The mighty Titans offense, which came into the game as the league’s highest-scoring group, was brought back down to Earth by a well-coached Packers defense and looked out-classed by Aaron Rodgers’s well-oiled machine.
After expressing his frustrations on missing out on a Pro Bowl nod, Ryan Tannehill was ineffective outside of a 45-yard touchdown run on Art Smith’s single “good call” of the game. Tannehill faced consistent pressure from Green Bay’s front and was lucky to throw only two interceptions.
But it’s a tough pill to swallow when your franchise quarterback produces a passing stat line of 11/24 for 121 yards, a touchdown and two picks in a game like this.
Titans fans are reluctant to criticize Tannehill, but the top echelon of quarterbacks elevate their game under less-than-ideal circumstances. Period. Naysayers can go watch the snow melt in Lambeau while division titles, let alone Super Bowls, pass them by.
In Tannehill’s defense (and the rest of the offense’s too), Art Smith balked again when facing a talented defense. Whether he was afraid of the snow or stud cornerback Jaire Alexander, the Titans were extremely passive on early downs.
In the first half, Derrick Henry was fed the ball on 7 of 10 first down plays, and totaled 16 yards. For an offense predicated on finding balance and establishing play action, Smith’s decision making in this loss has to be questioned.
The Titans’ defense might have played their worst game of the season last night, which is an evergreen insinuation. Green Bay looked comfortable and unbothered in the blizzard, racking up 448 yards and converting 27 first downs.
It was even worse than the blowout scoreline indicates. Davante Adams was the only “number 1” receiver on the field and dominated both Malcolm Butler and the extremely rusty Adoree Jackson to a tune of 11 receptions, 142 yards, and 3 touchdowns.
Mind you, none of this is surprising or “news.” This defense is and will continue to be, historically bad. It’s the reason that making the playoffs is in question, let alone competing for a Super Bowl.
But as I’ve said before, don’t allow yourself to think this team can compete for a Super Bowl. The issues on defense transcend the lack of a defensive coordinator, which the Titans so desperately need.
There is simply no veteran leadership on the defensive side of the ball. Leadership doesn’t just come from the rah-rah pre-game chants led by Jeffery Simmons.
Nor does it solely come from Kevin Byard stepping up to the plate after every loss, acting as a bullet proof vest for the rest of the unit while feeding the press redundant answers about how things “can get fixed.”
Other than Malcolm Butler, I don’t think you can argue a single player has “stepped his game up” on the defensive side of the ball this year. And boy, does this unit need guys to step up.
Surely Jeffrey Simmons is getting significant attention from opposing offenses, but the second-year player has been mostly a nonentity for weeks.
My beef is not with the young Simmons, but rather Rashaan Evans and Kevin Byard. Evans, drafted to become a pillar of this defense as an ILB, is a liability anywhere beyond the goal line.
His stupid penalty on Green Bay’s second drive negated the Titans’ first third-down stop of the game and extended Green Bay’s drive. Shocking nobody, they scored a touchdown following Evans’ error.
That’s not where Evans’ issues end, though. While you’d hope the player — blessed with skill and talent — improved his play following the loss of running mate Jayon Brown, Evans has remained stagnant and possibly regressed.
Kevin Byard was active against the Packers, but his 2020 season is a complete wash. He’s been a liability in coverage, passive in run defense, and did not jump into that “heart and soul” of the defense role that Jurrell Casey vacated.
I assume that the secondary’s true leader was Logan Ryan, who just got extended by the New York Giants.
There’s a silver lining in all of this, and that is that the Titans can still clinch the AFC South if they manage to beat the struggling Houston Texans next week. It’d be a notable achievement for a team that hasn’t won the division since 2008.
But that’s it. The chance to back into a division title and, therefore, the playoffs. Where they’ll inevitably face a playoff team.
And I’ll likely be writing this same article again.