Ravens end Titans season after hapless offense falters

Titans offense disappoints in playoff loss to Ravens

While a frustrating exit seemed inevitable heading into the postseason, the Tennessee Titans wasted no time, falling to the Baltimore Ravens 20-13 on Wild Card Weekend.

Baltimore entered the game on an apparent revenge tour and motivated from their Week 11 loss, in which the Titans broke down their pre-game huddle at midfield and caused a stir before kick-off. Defensive end Calais Campbell chirped at the Titans offensive line prior to yesterday’s game, setting this tone for his and his teammates’ eventual dominance of them for the 60 minutes that followed.

And dominate they did. Campbell teamed with the likes of Matt Judon and Derek Wolfe to overwhelm a soft Titans offensive line and an even softer Derrick Henry, holding the NFL’s rushing leader to a terrible 40 yards on 18 carries.

Henry was not aided in the slightest by offensive coordinator Art Smith who, perhaps already anticipating a head coaching job this offseason, decided to run Henry directly into 8-man defensive fronts on the majority of his carries.

As great as Art’s time as been leading this Titans offense, he was once again predictable, passive and unprepared against a fast, physical and talented defense. If his next football team repeatedly falls victim to these tendencies, he might be back in Tennessee earlier than we’d all expect.

While Henry was unable to get going behind a struggling offensive line, he failed in his role as the unquestioned leader of this football team. Football is a team game where one player’s success is dependent on how 10 other men complete their role on any given play.

But Henry is the league’s best running back. “A problem,” according to every defensive player interviewed before any game against the Titans. A physical freak who just completed a 2,000 yard rushing season.

And in a game where 80 hard-fought, bruising yards on the ground could have made the difference between winning and losing, Henry ran soft and passively, looked unengaged for plays at a time, and even got into a verbal altercation with head coach Mike Vrabel on the sidelines.

If Henry was indeed complaining to Vrabel, he would’ve had his choice on what to critique. Vrabel was simply out-coached by the Ravens’ seasoned staff of John Harbaugh, Greg Roman and Wink Martindale. While the Titans’ defense did enough to not lose the game, Vrabel’s in-game decision making is up for debate.

No decision has received more heat than Vrabel’s choice to punt on 4th-and-2 from the Ravens 40 with the Titans trailing by 4. Brett Kern erred in his punt, kicking a weak moonshot that gave the Ravens the ball at their own 15 with 10 minutes remaining.

While Vrabel explained that he wanted to play the field-position game and trust the defense, the decision to punt challenges the aggressive mentality that he claims to preach. The analytics also heavily favored going for it, and the offense certainly would have benefitted from any proverbial “spark” a fourth-down conversion would provide.

The loss feels merciful, saving us fans of what would’ve been an even more embarrassing postseason exit should we had faced a strong passing attack in Buffalo or Kansas City.

Perhaps more than anything, winning in the postseason is much in part to physicality, leadership, and coaching. Three things the Titans possessed during their run last season. Three things that they’ve greatly lacked in 2020.

Now, their offseason must be predicated on fixing those three things. General Manager Jon Robinson will be tasked with identifying and acquiring the right veterans to lead this defense, as Kevin Byard and Rashaan Evans both balked at the opportunity to step into leadership roles this season.

Mike Vrabel will need to swallow his pride and hire a Defensive Coordinator to fix this team’s greatest weakness: a sieve of a unit that, while certainly played tough yesterday against Lamar Jackson, needs to be a more disciplined, physical, and opportunistic group next year and beyond.

The 2020 season was an entertaining one, but if the team uses yesterday’s loss as a learning experience, the 2021 season could be much more rewarding.