The Tennessee Titans’ blowout loss to the Colts puts the ability of rookie head coach Mike Vrabel into perspective.
After Sunday’s disastrous stomping at the hands of the Indianapolis Colts, the Tennessee Titans have secured their position as the NFL’s most unpredictable team. The up and down nature of their season has been, undoubtedly, incredibly frustrating for fans.
Things started off well for the Titans this season, as they notched a 3-game winning streak through Weeks 2-4 that included an overtime thriller against the Eagles. The three games that followed were all losses for the Titans, most of them a result of poor energy and execution across the board.
Then came two more wins, against the Cowboys on Monday Night Football and against the Patriots. In the latter game, the Titans were superior in every imaginable regard, making life very difficult for Tom Brady in company en route to a 34-10 victory.
The following week, against the Colts, the Titans laid a mammoth-sized egg and were brutally defeated by a score of 38-10.
The #Titans should be embarrassed by this performance. Every opportunity to set themselves up in the division & they play the worst football they’ve played all year. The season will come down to next Monday night against the Texans. Win, stay alive. Lose, playoff hopes dead.
— Zach Bingham (@Bada_Bingham) November 18, 2018
Emotionally, the Titans were absent from the game. They sleepwalked right out of the gate, letting the Colts constantly pressure quarterback Marcus Mariota and not getting any pressure themselves.
Colts QB Andrew Luck was able to continue his streak of not being sacked since the team’s loss to the Patriots in early October. He also improved his undefeated record against the Titans, moving to 10-0.
Following two games in which he looked to be totally locked in, Titans offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur looked lost, at times, against the Colts. He made many questionable decisions throughout the game with his play-calling, often refusing to take even minimal risks.
Most notably, with perhaps a chance to make the game competitive in the second quarter, the Titans ran the ball right up the middle on 3rd & 1 against a Colts defensive line that had dominated the entire game to that point. Predictably, running back Dion Lewis was brought down for a loss and the Titans had to punt.
In addition to not being able to lay even a finger on the consistently upright Luck, the Titans defense struggled mightily to cover his weapons. Cornerback Malcolm Butler had another rough performance, and Adoree’ Jackson was no match throughout the day for WR T.Y. Hilton, with whom he traveled for most of the game.
Hilton finished with 9 catches for 155 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Even the Titans’ special teams, a unit that has been incredibly consistent this season, struggled in the game. They allowed Chester Rogers of the Colts to return a punt 74 yards for a touchdown, though a penalty brought it back to the 33-yard line of the Titans. That gave the Colts an incredibly short field, something that Andrew Luck took full advantage of.
As if losing the game itself wasn’t bad enough, the Titans lost two key members of their team during the one-sided affair. Mariota left the game late in the first half with an elbow injury, and he did not return.
Defensive coordinator Dean Pees was escorted out of the stadium and to a local hospital during the game by team medical personnel after suffering what the Titans simply described as a “medical issue.”
Almost every facet of the Titans was a disaster on Sunday, but this victory is a massive indictment on one person more than any other, and it isn’t a player. The Titan’s blowout loss to the Colts revealed plenty of weaknesses in head coach Mike Vrabel and re-affirmed some others.
Following the team’s victory over the Patriots, the Titans assured everyone that they wouldn’t fall into another trap and that they were better equipped to emotionally handle victory.
Vrabel assured everyone that he would do a better job of coaching in that area. “I’ve got to do a better job than I did last time when we were 3-1…They understand as great as [beating New England] was, as good as it feels, that it’s still a long season and we haven’t really accomplished anything.”
Clearly, the team didn’t understand that, at least not to a level where it made any sort of difference. Also clearly, Vrabel failed to do any better than he did the last time at helping the locker room handle success.
— AtoZSports Nashville (@AtoZSports) November 18, 2018
As a rookie head coach in 2018, Vrabel’s performance has resembled that of a rookie player. There have been a lot of ups, times where fans can’t get enough of the guy. Then there are the downs which, in the eyes of some, cancel out the ups.
While the Titans’ loss to the Colts certainly serves as an indictment of Vrabel, it does not mean that he is a bad coach or that the Titans are a bad team. Instead, it merely puts things into perspective.
Even after that disaster of the game, the Titans stand a good chance to earn a playoff spot. They still have three games remaining against divisional opponents, and the AFC has been a generally weak conference this season.
What fans can probably expect for the rest of the season is more of the same from the Titans. One week, you’ll get a juggernaut who rips their opponent to shreds. The next, you’ll get a group of 53 players who sleepwalk for four quarters en route to a beating.
Inconsistency is just something the Titans will have to deal with for the rest of the season. It has continued to rear its head through the 2018 season’s first eleven weeks, and it’s probably not going away anytime soon.
For the Titans, the rest of the season will be all about rebounding and adjusting. Fans better get used to frustration because, even if things look good at the end of the season, there will be plenty of disappointment throughout.
Cover image: USA Today/Trevor Ruszkowski