There are no style points awarded in the NFL and that’s a good thing for the Titans today. It was an ugly 27-23 win over the Bucs at Nissan Stadium, but Tennessee is now 4-4 and remain just a game and a half behind the division-leading Colts (who escaped the Broncos at home on a 51-yard field goal today).
There is a lot to react to from this game, so let’s jump into winners and losers.
Jonnu Smith: Winner
Smith led the Titans with 6 catches for 78 yards and a touchdown in this game, including a couple really impressive catches and runs after the catch. Smith rivals Derrick Henry and A.J. Brown as the toughest guys to tackle on the Titans roster.
With Delanie Walker being seen in a walking boot on the sideline today, it appears that there is a chance that Smith’s time as TE1 will continue in the near term. He’s done very well with his opportunities this season and has become a guy that the Titans simply must find a way to get the ball to every game.
LeShaun Sims: Loser
Sims was absolutely outclassed by Mike Evans today. That’s not necessarily surprising... a backup corner who hasn’t played much the last two years getting dominated by one of the best receivers in the NFL is to be expected to some degree, but the majority of Evans’ 11-catch, 198-yard day came against Sims.
The Titans missed Adoree’ Jackson dearly in this game. That’s not to say that Jackson would have shut Evans down — nobody was going to do that today — but he would have at least given more resistance than what we saw in this game. Get well soon, Adoree’.
Kalif Raymond: Winner
Raymond got promoted to the 53-man roster late in the week and was a surprise inclusion on the active roster over Darius Jennings today. He only got one real shot in the kick return game, but he made the most of it, picking up 45 yards and setting up the offense with great field position.
The Titans Offensive Line: Losers
They technically only gave up three sacks in the game, but it felt like more than that. Ryan Tannehill was frequently pressured and the Titans run game really struggled to get anything on track. The line was banged up with Rodger Saffold leaving early in the game with a concussion and both Taylor Lewan and Ben Jones leaving at times with injuries (both would ultimately finish the game). The only two guys who didn’t leave the game at any point were the two who were dealing with injury issues during the week: Nate Davis and Jack Conklin. Even with the injuries and the fact that the Bucs defensive line is really good, this is a unit that needs to play better.
Davis particularly stuck out to me as an issue. Rookie offensive lineman often struggle early, but the Titans need his growing pains to become fewer and further between as soon as possible.
Harold Landry: Winner
Landry picked up his 5th sack of the season on a beautiful speed rush where he turned the corner, stripped Jameis Winston, and hustled to recover the fumble himself. It was a big play in the game, even if the Titans offense and coaching staff failed to make it turn it into points (more on that later).
He isn’t quite taking over games just yet, but he’s making enough plays to make a difference for this team. Landry is on pace to hit double digit sacks and become the first Titans defender to hit that mark since Brian Orakpo in 2016.
Arthur Smith: Loser
Everyone in the free world knew coming into this game that the Titans were going to struggle to run the ball against a stout Tampa front and yet Arthur Smith came out with a typical run heavy approach, asking Derrick Henry to slam himself into Vita Vea and Ndamukong Suh time after time. This line of playcalling was even more baffling once Saffold left the game. Say what you want about the free agent acquisition, but he’s the Titans best interior offensive lineman.
It took the Titans falling behind in the second half for Smith to finally open things up and once he did the offense suddenly got moving, eventually cashing in with a 90-yard touchdown drive that featured eleven passes and just one run.
Smith also failed to do anything to get Corey Davis and A.J. Brown involved. The team’s two most talented pass catchers finished with just 4 catches and 20 yards combined. That’s unacceptable at this point.
This isn’t rocket science... attack your opponent’s weaknesses and get the ball in the hands of your playmakers. Smith is making this way harder than it needs to be.
Logan Ryan, Malcolm Butler, Kenny Vaccaro, and Jayon Brown
Studs. All of ‘em. Butler and Ryan got key interceptions and generally played well in coverage with Ryan adding his usual excellence as a blitzer from the slot.
Vaccaro was great in coverage, hit Winston twice, and provided good run support.
Brown was everywhere in pass coverage, breaking up multiple passes and making plays all over the field.
Despite Evans’ brilliance, Winston ended up completing less than 50% of his passes and this group was a big part of the reason why.
Ryan Tannehill: Meh
This was a strange game for Tannehill. He was given a couple short fields to work with early and deserves credit for converting those into touchdowns. The Titans are now 6 for 6 in the red zone with all the scores being touchdowns over the last two weeks with Tannehill behind center. He also led the team on a clutch 90-yard touchdown drive in the fourth quarter that would end up being the game winner.
On the other hand, he finished with a paltry 5.8 yards per attempt and was late with a couple throws that cost the team potential touchdowns (one on the corner route to Corey Davis stands out). He also fumbled again on one of the sacks and was bailed out by Jamil Douglas jumping on the ball. Tannehill wasn’t as sharp as he was against LA, but he ultimately got the job done when it counted.
Mike Vrabel: Loser
Another game, another highly questionable fourth down decision from Vrabel. This one may have been the worst yet. Up 27-23 facing 4th and 2 at the Bucs 28 with 3:45 remaining in the game, Vrabel chose to run a fake field goal with Brett Kern taking off with the ball. Kern got crushed short of the line to gain and the Titans were fortunate that officials mistakenly ruled him down by contact when the ball was clearly out. The Bucs recovered and returned it for what would have been the go ahead touchdown if the refs hadn’t blown the whistle too soon.
It’s a baffling decision on multiple levels.
First, your kicker was perfect on the day to that point and you’ve got a chance to put meaningful points on the board with what would have been a 45-yard attempt. 30-23 is very different than 27-23.
Second, if you are going to go for it, asking your punter to run for it isn’t the way to go. Not only are you asking a non-ball carrier to carry the ball in a huge spot, but you’re putting one of your best players in harm’s way to do it.
Vrabel’s continued fourth quarter gaffes are among the more infuriating things about this team right now. An NFL team with a bad offense does not need help losing.
Jurrell Casey and Rashaan Evans: Winners
Vrabel’s bad decision ended up being erased by the one consistent unit on this team: the defense. Jurrell Casey and Kenny Vaccaro combined to blow up the Bucs 4th and 1 run in the backfield and effectively end the threat.
Meanwhile, Evans was all over the field tallying a team best 12 tackles during the game.
Cody Parkey: Winner
Parkey was perfect on the day, hitting all three of his extra points and adding two field goals, including one from 51 yards. Given the Titans kicking woes this year, that’s a major win, even if he’s likely to be replaced by Ryan Succop this week.