Mike Vrabel's golden years (2020-2021)
The second section of Mike Vrabel's career is 2020 and 2021 when the Tennessee Titans went from being good to great (remember that mantra?).
In 2020, Mike Vrabel made the...interesting decision to decide not to officially name a defensive coordinator. Throughout the course of the year, it became apparent that it was Shane Bowen making the actual calls, though Mike Vrabel was involved heavily in the game planning and had the right to take the reins if he wanted to during a game.
Coincidentally I'm sure, the Tennessee Titans were one of the worst defenses in NFL history on 3rd down that season. It didn't help that "Mike Vrabel guys" Jadeveon Clowney and Johnathan Joseph were two of the worst starters on the team, or that Vic Beasley decided that he was going to basically collect a paycheck and sit the season out.
Despite all of the defensive turmoil, Arthur Smith got career years out of Ryan Tannehill, Derrick Henry, Corey Davis, and Jonnu Smith by masterfully marrying the running and passing plays so that the play-action passes would be especially dangerous. The constant threat of Derrick Henry allowed A.J. Brown and Corey Davis to have a season that could stand up to almost any WR tandem in franchise history.
The 2020 team seemed destined for a postseason run after the Tennessee Titans won the AFC South for the first time, but an epic collapse in the first round of the playoffs where Derrick Henry averaged a pitiful 2.2 yards per attempt on 18 runs meant that the season was finished early.
Arthur Smith was hired by the Atlanta Falcons shortly after that game, and Mike Vrabel made the decision to promote Todd Downing to the OC job.
Jon Robinson took the swing to trade for Julio Jones in the offseason, which nearly everyone applauded at the time. To that point, Jones had never had a single season where he hadn't averaged 73+ yards per game, so the idea was to use Jones to replace Corey Davis's 70 yards per game in 2020.
It did not work.
Injuries hit the 2021 Tennessee Titans like a plague, but even a healthy offense wouldn't have been much better considering the Mariana Trench-sized dropoff from Arthur Smith to Todd Downing at OC.
Despite the massive decline in offensive production, the Tennessee Titans still managed to win 12 games and become the #1 seed in the AFC. That success relied almost exclusively on Ryan Tannehill (the only good offensive player who managed to stay off of I.R.) and the incredibly aggressive and effective defense.
Now if you remember back to 2020, the Tennessee Titans defense was a trainwreck, so you might be asking what changed. There were really two big changes, one had to deal with the coaching staff and one had to do with the players.
First, Mike Vrabel took a step back and officially named Shane Bowen as the DC, and the Titans also hired Jim Schwartz in a special advisory role.
The Titans also kicked Clowney and Beasley to the curb and brought in Denico Autry and Bud Dupree. The addition of those two enhanced what Jeffery Simmons and Harold Landry could do, and it helped catapult both young defenders into the Pro Bowl.
Unfortunately, the Tennessee Titans got Ryan Tannehill's absolute worst game in the NFL in a playoff loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. Despite basically carrying the team throughout the season, this is the game that turned Tannehill into enemy number one for about half of the Titans fan base and it is something that he never really shook off.
During this second stretch, Mike Vrabel made some really bad decisions. Pushing for guys like Clowney and Joseph, promoting Todd Downing, and getting too involved on defense (he was one of the worst DCs in the NFL during his sole season as the Houston Texans' DC), but at the end of the day, he was getting a lot out of some really good NFL talent.
That coaching and that talent showed up in the win column and he should get credit for it, but again there was plenty of talent on those rosters.