By JASON MARTIN (@JMartZone – December 15, 2019)
For Titans fans… sigh. I’m sorry. I talked on Friday’s show about being wrong and being able to admit it. I wish I hadn’t been right about this season being over long ago, but it was just asking for a truckload to keep on winning at this clip. While there’s still a glimmer of hope, it feels like a “what might have been” situation. Here are my Big 6 Takeaways from Sunday’s loss to the Texans at Nissan Stadium.
It wasn’t the best time for the defense to live up to the numbers in pass coverage and struggle against the run. Entering the game, Tennessee was in the bottom five in the league according to DVOA and overall pass defense. Once Malcolm Butler went down for the year, it began to leak more and more oil, but you take Adoree away and add in a crop of receivers like Houston has, and it was a recipe for major problems.
Even with Kenny Vaccaro’s exceptional INT and another tip drill pick in the end zone, Watson made too many big throws to guys that were far too open. DeAndre Hopkins is ridiculous, even a little less than 100%, Will Fuller can torch you, but then throw Kenny Stills in there as the guy being single covered…it shouldn’t come as a surprise how it played out. The defense didn’t get enough pressure on Watson, but even with sort of average overall yardage totals, every time a play had to be made, one of those receivers caught a ball for a first down.
Pass D has been a challenge as of late, but here’s the REAL takeaway:
He had better numbers than Derrick Henry, who did look pretty good early, but looked a little worse for the wear later in the game. He wasn’t healthy, he hadn’t practiced all week, so the fear wasn’t really that he wouldn’t play, but how effective he would be if he did. His numbers were fine, even though his touchdown streak ended at 5, one shy of Earl Campbell’s franchise record.
But the Titans defense got gashed more often than not by Carlos Hyde, who hit the century mark (a rarity for him in his pro career) and the offensive line that was utterly crushed by Von Miller and the Broncos last week really only gave up one awful play, when Clark was abused by Correa off the edge. Hyde was the one that felt like he took the air out of the Titans sails several times, strangling them to death with maybe not a thousand paper cuts, but at least 50 of them.
26 carries for 104 yards and a TD isn’t a stat line you can give up to that guy considering the prolific passing potential that offense has going for it.
AJ BROWN IS SPECIAL
How much do we really need to say here? He had one drop by the sidelines that was knocked out of his grasp due to a big time tackle before he really ever had it secured, but other than that, the yards after catch monster showed up again. He added yet another 50+ yard catch and run to his rookie season, this one going for 60 down the right sideline on Tannehill’s first throw of the game.
He’s great. He and Tannehill have outstanding chemistry and they’re becoming a tandem that increasingly feels lethal-ish, at least for the time being. I’ve said it all season and now it’s impossible to ignore. He’s the best receiver on the team and he has a real shot to go down as one of the best receivers in franchise history. He’s already on the short list, just with this one season, of being one of the best of the decade. He snagged 8 for 114 and a TD and Tannehill targeted him 13 times.
That’s who Ryan is looking at as his safety blanket, a rookie second round draft pick. And that’s a compliment to Brown, not a dig on Tannehill or the other receivers. 11 is a flat out baller.
That’s the Titans FG stat for 2019, not even 50%, by far the worst number in the NFL. As you’re well aware, the final score of the game was Texans 24, Titans 21. The one Ryan Succop attempt was low and it was blocked, and that three points obviously was huge. He’s successfully converted precisely ONE kick since returning from injury, out of six attempts.
He’s been good throughout much of his career, but these are the kinds of things you can’t have in the NFL if you hope to play extra games after the 16 you’re allotted to start each season with. The return game hasn’t been anything remarkable, but the special teams unit as a whole still performs, with Kern among the best in the biz at what he does. But, missing field goals at that clip… my goodness, something has got to be done.
It might cost you a season one day. Actually, I think it already has in 2019.
I’m mentioning him because how could you not? 14 tackles in this one, including some absolutely bone jarring shots. He was everywhere, almost like he was familiar with Nashville and wanted to show out in the Music City for some reason. He was a terror on the field all game long and set the defensive tone for the Texans, making a stop here and there, including a few that saved first downs or led directly to punts. The Titans were 4/10 on third downs for the day, but the Texans were just 10% better at 5/10. It wasn’t a joke of a game for either side, but felt like whichever team ultimately lost it would feel they shouldn’t have.
Cunningham gets his name in the Big 6 Takeaways lights here… deservedly so. Not much to say, other than he was fabulous in this football game.
I said after the loss to Buffalo, THAT is the one that might come back to haunt this team, and following it up with the no-show in Denver, I declared the season dead as it related to the postseason. If the Texans beat Tampa Bay in Week 16, they can lose to Tennessee and still be in, as they hold the tiebreaker. The Titans had to win this one, and they were unable to do it.
Now, the Titans have to look to the Wildcard and hope the Steelers fall apart while they overcome what has to be a deflated feeling following this one and beat Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints… and then get a second crack at Houston that they’ll need to win as well.
It’s asking too much. This team may not be “inconsistent” in the way we’ve thought about them in years past. They’re better than that and they deserve our respect, but this performance was one they couldn’t have, because they already gave up their margin for error with the earlier losses. The Titans are going to come up just short, once again, and be looking to try and fix it next year.
The next two weeks are going to be interesting, just to see how close they come…or if somehow, the football deities have a miracle under Mike Vrabel’s tree.
One other quick thing. I called the fake punt before it happened, because I have eyes and a brain. I’m not puffing out my chest. It was one of the most obvious fakes I’ve ever seen, and I would imagine many of you reading this saw it coming as well. The Texans certainly did.
Tennessee ran more plays, had one more first down, one fewer turnover, more total yards, but they also took the L into that locker room. It was unfortunate. They played hard. They fought to the end. Deshaun Watson (and by proxy, Bill O’Brien) tried to give them 40 extra seconds with that throw through the end zone late in the game. It just wasn’t meant to be.
As a result, the Titans no longer control their own postseason destiny. That’s what you don’t want…but that’s where this football team and its fans find themselves on December 15. Maybe Santa has something up his sleeve though. Crazy things can happen. But that’s what it would be at this point, nearly crazy.