Three takeaways from the Titans' first loss of the season
To have played that poorly for over half of the game and dug a deep, deep hole, the Titans loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers was a timely wakeup call for the AFC South leaders.
Though some fans were quick to point fingers at the missed field goal by Stephen Gostkowski in the dying seconds Sunday, a 27-24 loss to the now only undefeated team in the league is not acceptable, but much easier to swallow considering the way Mike Vrabel's team played.
The defense couldn't get off the field, the Steeler wide receivers were dominant, and Arthur Smith called his worst game offensively since Marcus Mariota was the starter. Here are three takeaways from the defeat.
The defense, especially the secondary, are the Achilles heel
There's bad defense and then there is what the Titans are experiencing in 2020. Through the first five games, Ryan Tannehill and Derrick Henry have covered for the woeful performances we have seen thus far.
To be perfectly honest, with Adoree Jackson injured, this Titans' secondary is terrible.
Malcolm Butler is not the "lockdown" number one corner he is thought to or supposed to be. Jonathan Joseph has been extremely underwhelming both in coverage and against the run. Rookie Kristian Fulton is still adapting to his new role and dealt with COVID-19 just a few weeks ago.
To avoid writing over 1,000 words, I will just say that Ty Smith is not up to NFL quality and has no business being on the field. Neither as a nickel nor dime corner.
The grades from Pro Football Focus, prove just that. The Tennessee Titans rank near the bottom of the league in pass defense and coverage.
Arthur Smith called a terrible game
The offense was not up to its paces on Sunday and it all comes down to the play caller. Losing tackle Taylor Lewan to an ACL injury is a huge blow for this team, but it wasn't Lewan's replacement Ty Sambrillo who was picked on in this game. Denis Kelley was soundly and repeatedly outdone by T.J. Watt and Smith failed to properly adapt to what the looks the Steelers were giving.
I'm sure many of you were screaming like me while watching the game because the Titans kept running the ball on first down, between the tackles, with little to no success.
After meticulously going through each Titans drive, I discovered the hosts ran the ball 14 times on first down for a total of 56 yards. Let's take a moment to put that in perspective:
- Derrick Henry had 20 carries for 75 yards and a touchdown. That means that 65 percent of Henry's carries came on first down.
- That is an average of four yards a carry. Henry averaged 3.8 for the game.
- Jeremy McNichols had one carry in the game on first down for two yards.
- The best run of the day came in the fourth quarter and went for 17 yards. Minus this run, the Titans had 13 rushing attempts for 39 yards. That's three yards per carry.
- The Titans ran for a first down five times. They finished with 15 total.
Not only was Smith running the ball repeatedly and making conservative calls, there was no creativity! Whatsoever!
The Titans ran the ball from under center, between the tackles like they were playing the Houston Texans again. They were not.
A.J. Brown is a generational talent
I don't think the Titans will play a better defense all season than Pittsburgh's. I must tip my cap to the incredible job Keith Butler has done. I will also add that the trade for safety Minkah Fitzpatrick was a guaranteed win and has already lived up to the hype.
That being said, A.J. Brown was having his way with the secondary all day. I don't know if you will ever see an NFL wide receiver total 153 yards on just six catches like Brown did - that's 25.5 yards per catch - and be so dominant.
It took the former Ole Miss wide receiver several games in his rookie year to get going and even though an injury has hampered him this year, he has 23 catches for 332 yards and three touchdowns. That in just four games!
He is the bonafide number one wide receiver for Tannehill and that's why he has been targeted 32 times in the four games he has been able to play.
With Corey Davis and Adam Humphries both back healthy, opposing defenses are going to have an extremely tough time matching up wit hall the pass-catchers Ryan Tannehill has at his disposal.