Who's to blame for Tennessee Titans' Week 1 defeat? Is it time to panic? | Estes
Some thoughts – and three questions – while continuing to sort through the carnage of the Tennessee Titans’ dismal 38-13 opening defeat to the Arizona Cardinals:
1. Who deserves the blame for Sunday’s loss?
“We know we can do it, but that doesn't mean we're going to do it. ... No one is taking anything for granted. No one is just, 'Oh, we're going to walk out there Week 1 and roll over the Cardinals.' That's not how this game works. When you start getting comfortable, that's when you start getting bashed in. And the Cardinals are very capable of doing that.”
Left tackle Taylor Lewan said that back on Aug. 4, only days into training camp.
The Titans did get bashed Sunday because they simply were not ready to play.
If this were high school or college, I'd usually blame coaches for that.
In the NFL, that blame goes more to the players.
“Your best players, they have to play good on Sunday for you to win,” coach Mike Vrabel said Monday. “That’s how this game is set up. That didn’t happen for us.”
It's not that the coaching was great on Sunday. It wasn't, clearly.
It's just that highly paid star veterans and leaders like Lewan or Julio Jones or Derrick Henry or Ryan Tannehill have been in the NFL a long time. They know how to get themselves ready to play. Even if they didn’t practice enough in the preseason. Especially if they didn’t practice enough in the preseason.
They also know – as evidenced by Lewan’s statement – precisely what can happen in the NFL if you aren’t ready to play. No excuses for failing to meet that standard.
I don’t know if the Titans’ players were overconfident or complacent or just too “comfortable.”
But whatever it was, they got it knocked out of them by the Cardinals.
Having said that ...
2. What’s your biggest concern for the Titans moving forward?
Todd Downing as offensive coordinator.
The surest way to wreck this Titans season would be an offense that keeps underperforming as it did Sunday. Anyone who followed the Titans in 2020 understands that was a playoff team solely because of its offense. Even at its best, a gradually improving defense still won’t be strong enough to carry a bad offense in 2021.
If this offense isn’t any good, these Titans won’t be any good. Sunday’s game left zero doubt about that fact.
Vrabel was playing with fire when he promoted Downing to replace Arthur Smith, because he was trusting someone who’d failed miserably in a similar situation. The Oakland Raiders in 2017 weren’t as talented as the Titans are now, but they were supposed to be good offensively. Soon after Downing took the keys, that offense – and those Raiders – crashed.
Doesn't mean Downing is certain to flop in Tennessee, but a debut like Sunday was an ominous introduction.
This was as bad as the Titans’ offense has looked since Marcus Mariota was its quarterback. They had only one possession Sunday with more than two first downs. In terms of game script, they totaled minus-21 net yards on their first three possessions.
These things happened before Jones or A.J. Brown was even targeted:
- Henry, Chester Rogers, Jeremy McNichols and safety Amani Hooker (fake punt) caught passes.
- Tannehill was sacked three times, including a fumble – on a play-action call on second-and-12 that obviously didn’t fool Chandler Jones – to gift the Cardinals their first touchdown.
- And the Titans fell behind 17-0.
It wasn’t all Downing’s fault. Nonetheless, it’s alarming that the Titans looked so overmatched offensively. That didn’t happen when Smith was here.
3. Is it time to panic?
No, not yet.
On that note, the AFC South might actually be the easiest division in the NFL this season. The Titans figure to have plenty of opportunities, whether they win or lose this week in Seattle.
They do, however, need to stop the bleeding and show improvement in the Pacific Northwest. The Seahawks at home are capable of inflicting even more punishment than the Cardinals did in Nissan Stadium.
If the Titans aren’t ready again this week, it’ll get a lot uglier than it already is.
Reach Gentry Estes at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @Gentry_Estes.