It's Week 2 and Tennessee Titans coordinators Todd Downing, Shane Bowen are already on the clock | Estes
When Todd Downing stepped onto the practice field Thursday, he started running. Then sprinting, faster and faster, until he reached quarterback Logan Woodside and offered a playful shove.
Hey, why not? The Tennessee Titans could use more of these lighthearted moments, defiantly ignorant of the weight piling on everyone’s shoulders.
None heavier than for Downing.
Expectations can be cruel and dangerous for an NFL coach. It wouldn’t, for example, be that difficult for the Titans’ defense to improve this season. If it does — even slightly, going from poor to merely respectable — coordinator Shane Bowen would be applauded.
Not the same with Downing's offense. Everyone knows how magnificent it was under Arthur Smith. Then it added a surefire Hall of Fame receiver in Julio Jones.
The offense is supposed to be even better now.
And it’s not. It’s worse.
“Not a whole lot of positives that you're walking into the meeting room saying, 'Hey, we've got to get more of this,’” said Downing this week. “… It was well shy of our standard in just about every area.”
The Titans do not have the luxury of being so bad on offense with a defense that was exposed by Arizona and didn’t look to have improved from last season.
That nasty combo sent the concern meter for the 2021 Titans soaring past yellow and orange and into bright red, maxed out after only one game. It’s early, yes, but what happened Sunday isn’t going to cut it.
On both sides of the football.
It’s only Week 2 and Downing and Bowen — each a questionable offseason promotion by Mike Vrabel — are already on the clock as these Titans are about to keep sinking or start swimming, and it's unclear which to expect after a dismal debut.
Nothing says they can’t turn it around, but the scariest part for the Titans is that there are no examples of Downing or Bowen doing that. Neither has been successful as a coordinator (or whatever Bowen was last season when Vrabel didn't call him one).
Both are on a second chance, the kind that coaches in the NFL can't expect to receive. And each of them got one from Vrabel at a pivotal moment for the franchise.
This summer’s trade for Jones was indicative of the Titans sensing an open window and going all-out for a championship while Ryan Tannehill is young enough, Derrick Henry remains in his prime and A.J. Brown is not yet on an expensive second deal.
There’s a lot riding on this season — and on Vrabel, too, if these coordinator promotions don’t work out.
Like any NFL head coach, Vrabel has picked up some dings and scratches in three seasons, but this could be the first large dent in the exterior of what has generally been a smooth, polished ride for him in Tennessee.
Think it wouldn't go that way? Look at Downing’s previous coordinator role. Jon Gruden is coaching the Raiders in part because Jack Del Rio wanted to keep Downing on his staff in 2017 so much that he promoted him to offensive coordinator. The Raiders worsened on offense and went from 12-4 to 6-10, and Del Rio was fired.
Remember what I said about expectations being dangerous?
Vrabel's promotions in the offseason wouldn't be easy to defend. Each was the result of a stubborn reluctance to go outside the organization.
Downing, in a sense, was simply a move to renew Smith’s success. That at least made some sense.
But the Titans' defensive failings in 2020 screamed for a fresh perspective that Vrabel wasn't willing to entertain. Rather than hiring a coordinator from outside the organization, he doubled down on his approach and made Bowen the permanent coordinator.
Throughout the offseason, the Titans spoke about improved communication on the defensive side of the football, about challenging offenses. Neither was all that apparent against the Cardinals.
“For the most part, I felt like we were close, “ said Bowen, who wasn’t nearly as critical this week of the defense as Downing was of the offense.
“You couldn't script a worse first quarter than we had,” said Downing, who presumably did script the Titans’ opening plays. “Even on some bread-and-butter plays. The sack-fumble to the 1-yard line was a bread-and-butter keeper that we've run dozens of times around here.”
Downing wasn’t going to call out the offensive line by name, but he chalked up problems to “being in second-and-long and third-and-long the entire game.” He said the offense had a lack of “urgency” and that “it took us a little too long to kind of wake up.”
“I look forward to the next opportunity to right some wrongs,” he said.
Downing will get that opportunity in Seattle. This entire season, given what happened in 2017 in Oakland, always set up as an opportunity for him to right some wrongs.
Same for Bowen, given what happened to the Titans’ defense last season.
Each of the Titans' coordinators still has a chance to prove something to a growing list of doubters and a fanbase that understandably expected a lot more than what happened against the Cardinals.
It still can happen.
But it's past time to get started.
Reach Gentry Estes at email@example.com and on Twitter @Gentry_Estes.