The Tennessee Titans deserve to be lauded for their comeback, overtime win against the Houston Texans, but they shouldn’t have had to win the game at the end.

The Titans had a 21-7 lead in the second quarter and promptly collapsed. Houston scored 16 unanswered points and eventually made the score 36-29, after which the Titans offense mounted two touchdown drives, one in regulation and one in overtime, to win the game.

“We didn’t play well enough in the third quarter,” head coach Mike Vrabel said.

That collapse was mostly thanks to the Titans’ defense, which has, through five games proven to be problematic in many ways.

Vrabel, in evaluating his defense after Sunday’s win, expressed that the unit may not be as bad, at the core, as they’ve looked.

“Defensively, I would say that there’s a lot of positives, and there are some uncharacteristic x plays that murk and kind of overshadow a lot of the stuff that actually is good, that is positive,” Vrabel said.

Vrabel’s view, there, is very much glass-half-full. In reality, the Titans’ defense has repeatedly turned in pitiful performances in 2020, particularly on third down. There have been very few, if any, positives.

The defense’s biggest problem is third down.

Entering Sunday’s game, offenses were 30-for-50 on third downs against the Titans’ defense. After another poor performance against Deshaun Watson and the Texans, that number has ballooned to 37-64, with Houston also going 3-for-3 on fourth downs.

The Titans’ defensive problems go beyond third-down inefficiency, though.

Outside of defensive lineman Jeffery Simmons, who has often been a one-man wrecking crew, the Titans have been really poor at generating a pass rush.

The secondary, known in years past for being one of the strongest units in the NFL, has been repeatedly abused.

Sometimes, their slow cornerbacks like Johnathan Joseph and Malcolm Butler get torched down the field by speedy receivers. Other times, Butler and Joseph give receivers so much cushion to avoid an explosive play that quarterbacks can easily play dink-and-dunk.

And, then, there’s the occasional total coverage breakdown, such as what happened when Texans WR Will Fuller caught what may have been the easiest 53-yard touchdown in NFL history.

“Not very good coaching, not very good playing, not very good execution,” Vrabel said of the play.

The 1-5 Texans have, as their record indicates, not been good in 2020. That one win came against Jacksonville, who is also 1-5.

Yet, facing the Titans, they looked like superstars in the second half, thanks to the defense.

As a result, though the Titans do deserve to celebrate the win and their impressive 5-0 start to 2020, the week leading up to their matchup on Oct. 25 with the Steelers, also 5-0, needs to be one centered on improvement.

“We’ve got to play better on defense,” Simmons said. “We’ve got to communicate better. I trust this defense, though. I know we’re going to fix it.

“That’s what next week is for. Come back, fix this, just try to communicate better and play better as a team defense.”

The Titans may be 5-0 and on their way to a division title, but they simply have to get better performances from the defense throughout the rest of the season.

Eventually, Ryan Tannehill and Derrick Henry aren’t going to be able to bail them out. It may take until the postseason for that to happen, but the Titans are a team with real Super Bowl aspirations.

They won’t reach that goal with a defense of this caliber.

Cover image: Christopher Hanewinckel / USA Today


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