NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Not every offense in the NFL has to have a one-liner philosophy or identity. Sometimes, the best identity is constant change or adaptation.
The Tennessee Titans offense is certainly in the boat of not having a distinct identity or some kind of catchphrase that defines the unit as a whole. The unit prides itself on focusing on various important elements of the game as opposed to merely being “hard-nosed” or something of the like.
Here’s the problem with that, though: the Titans are repeatedly failing to accomplish the things that they are setting out to do.
“WE WANT TO RUN THE BALL”
Multiple Titans offensive players, when asked what they believed the unit’s identity to be, mentioned a focus on using the running game to set up the rest of the offense.
“We want to run the football and be a physical front,” QB Ryan Tannehill said. “Obviously, Derrick [Henry] is a big tough runner. We want to get him carries, get him going early. We want to set the tone that way and then play off of that.”
“I know we want to run the ball and set the tone in the run game and just feed off of that in the passing game,” WR Adam Humphries said.
Yet, the Titans’ approach in Sunday’s game against the Panthers essentially featured zero effort to establish a ground attack. Henry, one of the offense’s few redeeming elements this season, carried the ball just twice in the first half.
That’s not what an offense that wants to build things off of its running game should look like.
“WE WANT TO HAVE GOOD FUNDAMENTALS”
Others within the Titans’ building believe that the offense’s identity comes down to strong fundamentals and attention to detail.
“We want to be sound, we want to be physical, we want to be, obviously, effective,” head coach Mike Vrabel said. “A smart football team, a smart offense, a fundamentally sound offense.”
“Tempo in and out of the huddle, playing hard and playing fast, being fundamentally sound,” said WR A.J. Brown.
Yet, again, the Titans have failed miserably, as of late, at accomplishing those goals.
On one first-half drive against Carolina, the Titans’ offensive line committed three penalties that drove the unit backward 40 yards. Drive-killing penalties like those have become somewhat commonplace for the Titans offense.
Brown and TE Jonnu Smith each had a drop, the former leading to an easy interception for the Panthers.
WHERE ARE ALL OF THESE THINGS?
You would think that the elements of offensive football that the Titans proclaim to be focused on would be the ones most visible in the output. But that has been far from true over the last several weeks.
So, why is that happening? Why are the Titans’ self-proclaimed elements of their identity getting lost?
Those are questions to which perhaps no one has the answers.
“We have to try to be more consistent when doing those things because I think there’s evidence of a lot of those things,” Vrabel said. “When you aren’t some of those, that’s when you create those longer yardage situations and get back on track.”
It’s hard to believe that “consistency” is the main problem for an offense that has failed to put up a single first-half point on four separate occasions through the first nine games of the season.
A stat as alarming as that one indicates that the problem isn’t that the good things aren’t happening enough, something that could have been said about the 2018 Titans, but that they aren’t happening at all.
IT’S TIME TO GET IT FIXED
With that being the case, it’s up to the Titans’ leaders—both the coaching staff and the players in the locker room—to get things fixed.
Some of those leaders, though, have seemed more inclined toward a “wait and see” approach than one of swift and perhaps even painful correction.
“It depends on what it is,” Tannehill said. “If it’s lack of focus, lack of effort, those are things where you’ve really got to get on guys and make sure we’re locked in and heading in the right direction. If someone just gets beat or the other guy makes a play, which happens too, then it’s, ‘we’re going to be okay, move onto the next one and keep playing.’”
The time for “move onto the next one” is fading quickly for this Titans team. At 4-5 in a tough division, their chances of catching up and earning a playoff berth are slipping away.
To keep those chances alive, it might be time for a fire of some kind to be lit under the offense.
Cover image: Jeremy Brevard/USA Today