Cracking the code of the enigma that is the Tennessee Titans has been quite the task for the media and fans alike.

If you have been following Vrabel’s squad closely throughout the season, you’ve definitely asked yourself at least one of the following: Are the Titans contenders or pretenders? Do they have what it takes to make a solid postseason run? Are they elite? 

There’s no doubt that concrete answers to these questions are hard to come by; the ups and downs of this year have caused a lot of head-scratching. Arguments for and against each subject can be made, so we’re calling the Titans to the stand to examine the mystery.

Solving the Mystery: Are the Titans Contenders or Pretenders?

Dec 20, 2020; Nashville, Tennessee, USA; Tennessee Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill (17) talks with Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator Arthur Smith at Nissan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Argument 1: The Titans are Contenders 

Two words: versatile offense. I’m sure we can all agree that Arthur Smith’s side of the ball has carried this team to where it is now. Not only does the offense arguably have the best running back in the NFL, but they also have weapons in both Corey Davis and A.J. Brown, who are well on their way to reaching 1000 regular-season yards apiece. 

Ryan Tannehill has made sure to join the party, too. For the first time since the days of Steve McNair, the Titans have a QB that they can count on to get the job done. 

Not only has the quarterback thrown for 1,869 yards to A.J. Brown and Corey Davis combined, but he has also been able to read the field and involve the rest of the roster. TEs Jonnu Smith and Anthony Firkster have shown their worth to the QB this year, with Smith racking up a total of 440 receiving yards and Firkster fairly close behind at 369. 

Tannehill has also been able to get other targets involved in the game. With 9 completions to Kalif Raymond for 187 yards and touchdown tosses to both Cameron Batson and Geoff Swaim, the QB has a high level of chemistry with the offense as a whole.  

Statistically speaking, the Titans have been dominant offensively across the board. Just take a look at this tweet from Jim Wyatt explaining how they could make team history this Sunday against the Texans:

But in Tennessee’s case, an explosive offense may only get them so far, making this mystery a tough one to crack. 

Argument 2: They are Pretenders

Dec 6, 2020; Nashville, Tennessee, USA; Cleveland Browns running back Kareem Hunt (27) runs for a short gain during the first half against the Tennessee Titans at Nissan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

While the Titans have been numerically dominant on the offensive front, the season has been a topsy-turvy one in terms of the most important statistic: wins and losses. 

Sure, the Titans have reached 10 wins for the first time since 2008, but there’s no question that that number should be considerably higher by now. Heart-attack-inducing backdoor wins and crushing losses could have been avoided if it wasn’t for – you guessed it – their ball and chain of a defense

The age-old saying “defense wins championships” may come to haunt the Tennessee Titans this year and beyond. Performance on third down continues to be a deal-breaking obstacle. After 16 weeks, the Titans’ defense ranks at the very bottom of the league in this category, allowing rival offenses to complete a staggering average of 52.48% of their third downs. In comparison, Dean Pees was able to hold the same stat to 39.18% in 2019. 

Opposing teams continue to march downhill to the endzone without having a care in the world about Tennessee’s defense, putting the team’s offense in a very stressful position. The Titans’ inability to bring down quarterbacks is also not much help, either. Averaging just 1.0 sack per game, Tennessee’s pass rush also ranks dead last in the NFL as of Week 16. 

While the Titans’ defense is proving itself to be dead weight for its extraordinary offense, there have still been some diamonds in the rough. LCB Malcolm Butler has been able to be disruptive, accumulating 81 solo tackles and 4 interceptions. While Kevin Byard has not been able to live up to his name in the interceptions category this season, the safety has been able to accrue 107 tackles in total, 75 of them being solo. 

That being said, the few studs that are on defense simply cannot carry the squad by themselves. The decision not to replace Deam Pees in the offseason is proving to be harmful to the Titans this year, and it could end up costing them a strong playoff run.

With one side of the ball being an absolute disaster and the other on the cusp of making franchise history, it is difficult to discern how things will cancel out. This begs the question, are the Titans really consistent enough to make a statement in the playoffs if they make it today? Steady arguments can be made for either side of the story, but one thing is for sure: the mystery of the Tennessee Titans has yet to be solved. 

Featured Image: Jeff Hanisch – USA Today Sports
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