The Tennessee Titans threw away a golden opportunity to gain real momentum in the AFC by beating the Kansas City Chiefs.
Despite a defensive masterclass, the offense only managed to score 3 points in the 2nd half and even those points came off of a short field provided by an interception from rookie corner Roger McCreary.
The Tennessee Titans had done what no one expected them to by controlling the Chief’s offense and putting up 17 points. Despite leading by eight points for most of the game, they failed to hang on and lost in overtime 20-17.
The turning point in the game came with 12:53 to go in the fourth quarter. Up 17 to 9 the Titans start with the ball at the 50. Derrick Henry rattles off three runs in a row. The first for 4 yards, the second for 7, and finally the Chiefs hold him to just 1 on the third.
At which point it is 2nd and 9 and in what should have been a no-brainer, hand the ball off to Henry no matter what situation with the ball at the Chiefs’ 38. Instead, they throw twice for a net negative of 4 yards.
This sequence is a microcosm of Titan’s biggest issue: Common sense, identity-driven play calling.
And to be clear, I specifically mean Todd Downing.
The real identity of the Tennessee Titans with Todd Downing calling plays
Even the most optimistic Tennessee Titans fans couldn’t have expected any more from Tennessee’s defense on Sunday . I have zero notes for the defense. They played their tails off and did more than enough against the best offense in the league.
But despite Jeff Simmons, Kevin Byard, and the boys pitching just about a perfect game, it feels like we are returning to the same question we asked last week… and all the other weeks before.
Why does the 2nd half offense feel completely different from the first half, why are we incapable of gaining yards or scoring after halftime?
It is mind-boggling and it is more than a problem at this point. It is an identity.
As much as the Tennessee Titans want to pride themselves on their hard-nosed running offense, they threw the ball several times while they had the lead on the Chiefs well into the fourth quarter. While the Chiefs defense is better than the Texans, it felt like the game plan could have been to hand it off every down again and we would have been fine.
So what is it? Is this a running team that can hand the ball off three times to get a first down or at least put you into field goal range for a chance to go up 20-9 on the road?
Or is this a team that needs to rely on a 3rd round rookie backup to throw you to a win? Because that’s what Todd Downing seems to think is a better option when you are on the edge of field goal range.
I am not picking on Malik either. There were a handful of really good moments for the young quarterback. While Willis only completed 5 of his 16, there were two big drops from receivers. Drops that actually should be remembered for Malik’s picture-perfect throws.
In fact, when he was put in a position to succeed Malik often did so. Like his pass in the redzone that was also on the money to Austin Hooper which set up Derrick Henry’s 2nd touchdown.
Additionally, Malik Willis does have NFL athleticism, he proved that Sunday. By incorporating read-option runs, it opened up the offense in the 2nd quarter which helped the offense create a lead. The threat of another runner created additional gaps for Henry to run through and allowed Willis to carry for 40 yards by the end of the night.
But those plays mysteriously vanished after halftime too.
As far as Malik Willis’ play goes, the narrative that is out there right now is that he is not ready. Which is mostly true, he has a lot to learn, but more than that this offense is not ready for him.
We can put Malik back there and ask him to go throw for throw with Patrick Mahomes while we have Dennis Daley blocking and Cody Hollister receiving for him, which is what we seemed to do at times on Sunday, but that is just not going to work.
Even though Willis looked far better as a passer, there were perfectly placed targets for Nick Westbrook-Ikhine and Chris Conley but neither receiver could haul in the passes. The Tennessee Titans finished the game without a wide receiver making a catch which is more of an indictment of the receivers than it is of Malik.
Ultimately, this is a hard loss. This was a game that the Titans threw away with offensive ineptitude. The discussion within the team has to be about the offensive play calling and what happens to the offensive efficiency after halftime.
It is easy to criticize one play call or another when looking back, but what is unquestionably killing the team is the failure to materialize any offense at all in the 2nd half of games. That undeniably has to fall on the offensive coordinator and it is a massive problem that is handicapping the team’s potential.
On Sunday, the Titans play the Denver Broncos (3-5) at home looking for a bounce-back game.