Completely avoidable turnovers? Check.
Drop easily catchable passes? Check.
Horrendous non-sensical game plan? Check.
Special teams disasters? Check.
Ridiculous number of penalties? Check
All of those things happening at the worst possible moments? Check.
If this was just a one off situation, I’d chalk this up to a Murphy’s Law game and move on, but too much of it has become a refrain for the 2019 season. These are recurring issues for a team that simply can’t get out of its own way. Let’s take a look at the winners and losers from Panthers 30, Titans 20.
Harold Landry: Winner
Landry stuffed the box score in this game, picking up his team-leading 6th sack of the year while also adding 8 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, another QB hit, and his first career interception. He’s still not completely taking over games, but he’s good for one or two big time plays a game at this point and that’s pretty good for a second year pass rusher.
Dion Lewis: Loser
Obvious. Lewis actually showed a little juice at moments in this game and it’s not his fault that the coaches chose to use him over the clearly more effective Derrick Henry, but you simply can’t put the ball on the ground.
The Titans were down 3-0 and were into Panthers territory when he allowed the ball to be yanked out of his arms. That play was a part of a string of series that resulted in Tennessee’s offense having just 15 total plays on the field through the first 29 minutes of game action. Hard to get much of anything going from the bench.
Derrick Henry: Winner
Henry got just 2 carries in the first half, in large part due to the lack of total offensive snaps for the Titans early in the game. Once the team went to him in the second half, he responded with 11 carries for 59 yards and a touchdown while adding 3 catches for 36 yards and another touchdown through the air.
Henry continues to have a very good individual season despite an offensive line that hasn’t given him much room to run and a playcaller that seems to be in over his head.
Jonnu Smith: Loser
Smith was great the last couple weeks — and this doesn’t change that — but he fell off this week, tallying just 3 catches for 18 yards on the day. He also had a horrendous drop as part of that forgettable first half for the offense. Not a great day for the young tight end.
Adoree’ Jackson: Winner
The Titans defense had their worst game of the year, but Jackson was a bright spot. He was rarely beat in coverage and made a couple spectacular pass breakups. This team will need him more than ever with Malcolm Butler expected to be out for a while with a broken wrist.
Arthur Smith: Loser
Where to even start here? Coming into this game the Panthers ranked dead last in run defense DVOA according to Football Outsiders, 32 of 32. After beating their head against the brick wall that was the Bucs top-ranked run defense a week ago, you would think that Smith and the Titans offense would be chomping at the bit to get a chance to load up Derrick Henry for a 25-carry game.
Nope, not Art. Art continued his strategy of taking the opponent’s weakness and not testing it at all in the first half, running Henry just twice before the break. Yes, there were some strange circumstances that contributed to Henry’s lack of carries, but I simply don’t know how they didn’t come into this game with the mindset of being intentional about getting Henry going.
Ryan Tannehill: Winner (mostly)
Tannehill had two really bad plays. The sack that he took at the end of the hurry up drive at the end of the first half was the first. There are two things that just can’t happen in that scenario: a turnover or a sack. He took the sack, pushing what would have been a 49-yard field goal to a 56-yard field goal. Succop’s kick landed in the end zone, costing the Titans a chance at 3 points that could have been critical late in the game.
The other was his second pick of the game. Safety Tre Boston jumped a route by Kalif Raymond to take it away and all but erase any chance the Titans had for a miraculous comeback. Trent Green mentioned on the broadcast that he thought Tannehill was expecting Raymond to make his cut parallel to the line of scrimmage instead of angling upfield towards the post. I’ll wait til the All-22 to see if I agree, but I lean towards this one being on Tannehill.
Outside of those two mistakes, Tannehill had a really nice game. His final stat line of 27 of 39 (69.2%) for 331 yards (8.5 YPA), 1 touchdown, and 2 interceptions certainly includes some garbage time, but the game was at least within reach for all but the final drive of the game. Tannehill also took a couple shots downfield that drew pass interference calls against the Panthers — though one was offset by a penalty on Nate Davis — which aren’t factored into that stat line.
Frankly, the Titans had little trouble moving the ball when they weren’t shooting themselves in the foot with turnovers and penalties and drops. They had 431 yards of offense, their highest total of the entire 2019 season.
Ryan Succop: Loser
The Titans activated Succop off injured reserve yesterday and that’s looking like that might have been a mistake. The veteran kicker went 0 for 3 on field goal attempts, missing from 43, 56, and 44. The 56-yard attempt landed in the end zone, well short of the cross bar, showing that his leg strength isn’t quite all the way back yet.
The two first half misses were particularly vexing as a 17-6 halftime score line, while still disappointing, would have made for a very different feel to the game when the Titans offense woke up in the second half.
Succop missed just four field goal attempts total in 2018. He’s already missed three through one game in 2019. Not good.
A.J. Brown: Loser
I love A.J. Brown and he did plenty of good things in this game, but having a ball hit you in the hands and then tip up into a defender’s arms is a cardinal sin for a receiver. He also added a false start to his tab in this game.
On the positive side of things, he did lead the Titans in receiving with 4 catches for 81 yards, including a beautiful adjustment on an over-the-shoulder deep ball from Tannehill. He will have better days ahead.
Taylor Lewan: Loser
Lewan, like Brown, wasn’t all bad — much of the Titans rushing room in the second half came behind him and Rodger Saffold on that left side — but the backbreaking back to back penalties and a couple busts in pass protection land him on the loser list today.
After the game, Lewan talked about the offense lacking energy early in the game. That’s great and all, but it’s Week 9 and this was a critical game with a chance to move above .500 for the first time since Week 2. How much more motivation do you need to get up for an NFL game?
Mike Vrabel: Loser
That brings us to Vrabel. Let me preface this by saying that Vrabel didn’t tell Dion Lewis to fumble the ball or A.J. Brown to drop a pass or Taylor Lewan to get back to back penalties. A lot of what went wrong today comes down to players making plays or not making plays.
How many spectacular, drive extending catches did Curtis Samuel and D.J. Moore make in this game? Did Ron Rivera do a better job of telling them to jump up and make those catches? No, those guys just went up and made the play. It’s also true that Mike Vrabel can’t make open receivers not drop the ball. Sure, he can make sure proper technique is being taught and that guys are getting enough reps during practice and on the JUGS machine, but at the end of the day that player has to make the catch when the ball is thrown his way.
That being said, the Titans are fundamentally broken on offense right now, particularly early in games. During his post-game press conference Vrabel talked about needing to do a better job of “anticipating how opposing defenses are going to play us” as opposed to strictly going off what teams have put on tape against other teams. That’s as close to a direct criticism of his offensive playcaller as he’s going to get.
Not having a good feel for the looks that opposing teams are going to give you is a pretty direct indictment on Smith. Whether that means that they are going to do anything about that remains to be seen, but regardless of whether Smith remains the head of the offense moving forward, it’s clear that he needs some help and direction.
There weren’t any ghastly situational decisions from Vrabel in this game, but the buck stops with him with this football team and it’s just not good enough right now. The lack of discipline with penalties, the poor game plans, the fact that they are still getting multiple false starts and/or premature snaps in every game since Buffalo... it all goes back to Vrabel to figure out how to fix it and he’s running out of time.