Tennessee Titans wide receiver woes mirror the 2020 pass rush

Tennessee Titans Mandatory Credit: Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports
Tennessee Titans Mandatory Credit: Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports /

Things are looking much better for the Tennessee Titans after a 20-17 nail-biter of a win against the San Francisco 49ers last Thursday night.

What looked like another dud of a game for a team with a broken offense went the other way in a hurry. The team rallied from behind at the start of the second half, largely due to AJ Brown, who made a massive statement in his return from injured reserve.

With Brown’s tremendous play and the looming return of Derrick Henry, things are now looking up for this Titans team. Even though there is plenty of room for optimism, the offense may still be the weaker side of the ball when the playoffs start.

They should definitely be better with their two biggest stars back, but besides Brown, is there anything to get excited about in the passing game?

Yes, Julio Jones managed to stay healthy throughout Thursday’s contest, but even when he plays it is hard to say what he is going to give the team on any given week. Ultimately, the fact that they had to trade for him back in June 2021 was due to inexplicably making no prior moves when the wide receiver position had serious holes. It was entirely the fault of the front office, and a similar thing happened in the 2020 offseason.

Tennessee Titans repeat 2020 failure

Thinking back to the 2020 season, what was the most glaring weakness on the Titans? It was the defense, and in particular, the pass rush.

The same thing was an issue in 2019, and for whatever reason, the front office decided to do nothing besides adding Vic Beasley and Jadeveon Clowney.

Beasley was a high ceiling, low floor gamble, but Clowney was expected to be the difference-maker in a front that included Harold Landry and Jeffery Simmons. To be fair, Clowney has had a good year in 2021 posting 5 sacks and 9 TFLs in just 12 games. Ultimately the problem was less about the evaluation of the player, and more about everyone in the building agreeing that a big name was the solution to the problem only to see them fall flat.

Thankfully, the Titans invested heavily in the pass rush in the 2021 season by adding Denico Autry and Bud Dupree, and undrafted free agent acquisition NaQuan Jones has also paid dividends.

The pass rush has gone from a big weakness to a strength of this team, but unfortunately, the complacency that plagued them in the 2020 season is doing so in another way.

When Corey Davis left in free agency last March, his void desperately needed to be filled. What did the Titans do about it? Signing Josh Reynolds, a mid-tier secondary receiver at best throughout his career, and drafting Dez Fitzpatrick in the fourth round of the 2021 draft.

It must be noted that the Reynolds signing looked like a steal at the time and he has had a career year in Detroit since he moved on from the Titans. Somehow the Tennessee Titans’ coaching staff couldn’t see that when it was in front of him, and he was granted his release from the team in early November.

Fitzpatrick’s potential in his rookie year was already limited due to a lackluster athletic profile, but he has been a giant flop of a selection and has barely cracked the field even in the midst of the many injuries that the Titans have suffered.

Even if those players had worked out, there is little chance that they would have been enough for the team anyway. Again, the Titans put too many eggs in the basket of a big-name player who might be the solution to a problem.

For as much hype as there was surrounding the Jones trade at the time, the truth is that the Tennessee Titans needed to make this move more than the Atlanta Flacons did. While Julio Jones was always going to earn his second-round evaluation based on what he did in the playoffs, it is hard to be optimistic about that right now.

The front office seemed to get the message that their efforts to bolster the pass rush in 2020 were not good enough. Hopefully, the injuries and inconsistencies at wide receiver will lead to the Tennessee Titans finding the receiver versions of Bud Dupree and Denico Autry this offseason.

Anything can happen and maybe Brown, Henry, and Ryan Tannehill will be good enough to power this offense throughout the playoffs. Even if that happens, it will not be sustainable moving forward, and if the Titans do not realize that, they could be in for a disappointing 2022 season.