The Tennessee Titans’ kicking situation this season has been a total and complete disaster, but that isn’t any kind of revelation.
As the team heads into Week 15, new signee Greg Joseph is set to be the fifth different kicker the Titans have used in 2019.
Whether you use the eye-test or traditional statistics to evaluate the Titans this season when it’s come to field goals and kickoffs this year, only one conclusion can be reached: from start to finish, it has been a nightmare.
JUST HOW BAD HAS IT BEEN FOR THE TITANS?
At the moment, Titans kickers are a measly 8-for-18 on field goal attempts in 2019. That means Titans kickers have missed more kicks than they’ve made this season.
If the Titans finish the season having missed more kicks than they made, they will be the first NFL team since the late-1980s to “accomplish” that “feat.”
And, as Michael David Smith of Pro Football Talk aptly noted earlier this week, the 1987 Minnesota Vikings team that missed more kicks than they made, the most recent team to do so, played their games right in the midst of a players’ strike.
In addition to the field goal kicking woes, the Titans have been pretty dismal on kickoffs.
The Titans have kicked off 67 times thus far in 2019, and only 33 of those kickoffs resulted in touchbacks. That’s good for a 49.3 touchback percentage, the sixth-worst in the league this season.
HOW DID THE TITANS GET HERE?
The Titans’ path to achieving those numbers has been one that could be added as an installment to the “A Series of Unfortunate Events” series of novels.
Ryan Succop, who had been the Titans’ primary kicker since the 2014 season, missed all of 2019 Training Camp with an unspecified knee injury. All that was known, at the time, was that he had undergone surgery during the offseason.
While Succop did return for the end of the preseason, he decided that he just didn’t have the “pop” he needed to be effective and had the team place him on injured reserve to start the season, with the hope of a Week Nine return.
His first replacement, Cairo Santos, quickly became a metaphoric punching bag for Titans fans. Against the Bills in Week Five, Santos missed a whopping four kicks, including a 53-yarder at the end of the game that wasn’t even close.
The Titans cut Santos after that game. He finished 4-9 on FG attempts.
Cody Parkey, signed to replace Santos until Succop’s return, did alright, making all three of his field goal attempts and missing just one extra point.
When Succop returned, things really started going downhill. He played just six games before being placed back on IR on Wednesday, ending his season.
There was clearly something not quite right with Succop, as he was far from the version of himself that had been so steady and reliable for the Titans over the years.
On field goals, Succop had little to no pop. He finished just 1-6. Getting touchbacks on kickoffs was, arguably, an even bigger issue, as just three of his 17 kickoffs (17.6%) resulted in touchbacks.
The Titans even kicked the tires for a few weeks on a kickoff specialist. They brought in the 6-5, 258 Ryan Santoso to handle those duties, but he struggled with touchbacks, as well.
Now, after releasing Santoso and placing Succop on IR, the Titans have put their faith in Joseph, who was previously on the Panthers’ practice squad.
WHOSE FAULT IS IT?
Titans head coach Mike Vrabel does not control team personnel. That responsibility falls to general manager Jon Robinson, who has certainly dropped the ball multiple times this season when it’s come to finding capable kickers.
But Vrabel is not without fault. While the words he offers to the media don’t necessarily reflect his true attitude or what goes on behind the scenes, Vrabel has said at least a couple of concerning things in front of the podium this season in regard to the kicking situation.
When he was asked after that Week Five Buffalo game why he sent Santos out for a fourth attempt after three earlier misses, Vrabel mentioned a “confidence” in Santos.
“I have confidence in him, and obviously when we send him out there, we’re sending him out there with the intent to put points on the board,” he said.
“We like to think that if you make mistakes we can get them fixed and corrected.”
Now, fast forward to Week 15. Succop’s struggles were nearing their end—he was 1-5 on the season, at the time—and Vrabel offered a statement in support of the ineffective kicker.
“I think Ryan’s really done a pretty good job,” he said. “I wouldn’t like to hit the crossbar, or hit the post on the one, but we’ll keep working.”
Again, Vrabel doesn’t control the roster and his sentiments at the podium don’t necessarily reflect his true feelings.
It would also be unreasonable to blame he or Robinson for not having a legitimate kicking prospect on the roster during Training Camp, as they really had no reason at that point to doubt Succop at that point.
But is there at least a chance that Vrabel’s constant hopefulness, a tendency he has shown over and over again, negatively affected his team’s kicking situation? Absolutely.
At the end of the day, though, Vrabel can’t be blamed entirely or even mostly for the Titans’ missed field goals. It’s up to the players getting paid to kick it between the uprights to get the job done, and that simply hasn’t happened enough this season.
IS THERE ANY HOPE?
With just two games left in the 2019 regular season, the Titans are turning to Joseph.
As with any midseason pickup, there’s a reason Joseph was available. He’s a perfect 11-11 in his NFL career on kicks inside of 40 yards, but longer-range kicks have been a bit troublesome for him.
Still, it would be tough for Joseph to be any worse than the trio of Santos, Parkey and Succop that served as his opening act.
“I don’t wish ill on any kicker, but it’s part of my job to be aware of what’s going on,” Joseph said when asked about his familiarity with the Titans’ kicking problems this season.
“I was just staying ready, doing my part.”
Time will tell if Joseph is actually ready and if he can get things turned around for the Titans, something they need desperately during their final playoff push.
Cover image: Christopher Hanewinckel/USA Today