By JASON MARTIN (@JMartZone – December 22, 2019)
The Titans did actually lose on Sunday, in a game that prior to the season everyone likely expected them to lose, and even this week a lot of us did. It was a loss, but how big a loss? Because of the way everything has played out, it may mean absolutely nothing, though the Tennessee Titans do have to go to Houston next week and win. The question, though, is WHO they’ll match up against, with Houston able to rest its starters having clinched the division with the win over Tampa Bay on Saturday.
Here are my Big 6 Takeaways from the loss to Drew Brees and crew.
I wrote about it last week, but I’ll continue to until it changes, which probably means next season some time. There’s a lack of depth with injuries and overall a pretty subpar group of backups, but the Titans pass defense is an atrocity right now. We’re well aware how great Drew Brees is at playing quarterback, so seeing him go 27/38 with three TDs isn’t exactly a surprise, but it’s remarkable how bad a great wide receiver can make this unit look.
Think about what Mike Evans did for Tampa Bay earlier this year when the Titans were a little healthier, then what DeAndre Hopkins and today Michael Thomas did against them. Worse, because of it, teams are starting to find a little running room against the Titans, with Carlos Hyde last week and then today, Alvin Kamara averaged 7.3 yards per carry and scored twice after not reaching the endzone since Week 3 of the season.
This group, should they match up with Kansas City, may get obliterated on the road. There’s not much that can change, because they are who they are and they aren’t what they’re not. But it’s bad.
The best thing that could have happened to the Titans, at least as of now (prior to next week’s game), is Derrick Henry being questionable and holding him out of this one. Him being healthy next week against the Texans is what matters, so letting Dion Lewis go out there and do what he could was the smart play. Thank goodness Vrabel didn’t attempt to run him out there, thank goodness they looked at it intelligently and kept him on that bench.
A rested Henry next week, assuming the hamstring can recover completely and there are no setbacks, might be enough to beat Houston, especially if it’s a bunch of second teamers out there trying to corral him. He has clearly been hurting the past few weeks, so it’s a good thing he got an early Christmas break to let his body heal a little.
Greg Joseph made his debut, showed he doesn’t have the leg to kick the ball off through the end zone, at least not consistently, and he was 4/4 on extra points. We didn’t see a field goal try, so that’s a story we can’t write yet. It’s been a disaster this year for the Titans and something that could spell an early postseason exit in a close game. You almost wish he’d gotten a few at home today before going on the road next week, because we simply don’t know what happens in that game, regardless of who’s on the field. Strange things happen in this league.
We’ll hope he has a good week in practice, walks into Houston confidently, and steps up if and when called upon.
BOGER AND HIS CREW
Continue to stink. Missing the dangerous hit on Raymond was bad enough, but it was only one of a few blown calls late in the game that all favored New Orleans. Michael Thomas either had an invisible helmet or he took it off on the field on the goalline grab, but there was no laundry out there. We know Jerome Boger’s name, which is all you need to know about how questionable his guys are at doing their job. Choking on the whistle on that Raymond play is inexcusable considering the NFL’s emphasis on protecting its assets.
Maybe if he was a QB. Actually, Michael Thomas gets that call. We all know he would have. Stars and names get calls, but that was ugly and frightening, with Kalif going down and his limbs flopping and then going motionless.
Ryan Tannehill was sacked cinco times on Sunday, a few where he had cero chance of staying upright. The offensive line has been a mixed bag this season, but had been trending better this month. This was a pretty rough day for that group, including for Taylor Lewan, who looked outclassed way more often than you’d expect. It wasn’t a discipline thing, as it was the Saints that got dinged with 11 total infractions to Tennessee’s six, but it was a technique and skill thing.
When you add the pass defense to a sketchy OL performance and the special teams uncertainties, it feels like the Titans are racking up question marks that usually mean a beatdown loss in the playoffs. But, the Titans aren’t a “usually” kind of team, and they’ve shown a lot of heart. Maybe this was an aberration for the OL and they’ll get back to business next week. Tennessee needs them to be better than pretty good, especially if the defense is hemorrhaging yards and points.
Still, five sacks? Got to watch it, remember Tannehill has dealt with injuries throughout his career.
STEELERS HAVE NO QB
And this is what it all comes down to. I predicted on Friday’s show that the Jets would beat them for that very reason, and even with Baltimore assuredly playing NOBODY next week as they have the top seed locked up, Pittsburgh could probably struggle to score against Maryland’s college squad right now, and their defense was abysmal. It shows how much a quarterback means, and it means the Titans control their own destiny.
We’ll see whether Bill O’Brien “plays to win” as he said on Saturday, using Watson and Hopkins and Fuller, but unless the Chiefs were to lose out, there’s nothing whatsoever to gain and everything to lose. If Kansas City were to lose to Chicago tonight, they’d still have to lose to the Chargers next week in order for a Texans win to matter in the least.
Thus, if AJ McCarron isn’t the quarterback for the Texans next week, it would be the ultimate boneheaded move. The Titans can eek into the playoffs against the Texans backups. That’s about all you could want right now if you’re a Titans fan, short of still having a chance to win the division and play one more home game. But you can’t, so you’ll take this.