NFL teams in playoff contention have three options as the season nears an end, according to Tennessee Titans linebacker Rashaan Evans.
“There are going to be some teams that start to decline, some that start to elevate and some that will maintain,” Evans said.
After a blowout win over the Indianapolis Colts, it seems clear that Evans’ Titans are elevating.
The team has now won two straight games against strong opponents following a dismal month-long stretch in which it lost three out of four. All three phases look to be improving as the Titans seek to win their first division title since 2008.
“I think, in these last two games, we’ve obviously improved,” safety Kenny Vaccaro said. “We’ve beaten two great organizations in the Ravens and Colts.”
Are the #Titans improving?
Head coach Mike Vrabel: “We beat the Ravens and Colts on the road in back-to-back weeks…”
— AtoZSports Nashville (@AtoZSports) November 29, 2020
The Titans’ biggest improvements have been on the defensive side of the ball.
Over the first eight weeks of the season, the Titans’ defense was absolutely horrendous, particularly on third downs. Lately, though, the unit has managed to consistently rise to the occasion.
Against the Colts, the Titans’ defense was smothering. Their impressive play led to the Colts, at one point, finishing seven straight drives without scoring points. During that time, the Titans’ offense scored 24 points to take a 38-14 lead.
“We made them earn everything that they were going to get, and that was the biggest thing,” Evans said. “We wanted to start fast and finish strong.”
The Titans’ offense, though their starting point was much better than the defense’s, has also continued to improve. Following two games in which the unit sputtered after a strong start, it was consistently dominant against the Colts.
RB Derrick Henry, in particular, was nearly unstoppable. It seemed like he was getting five to six yards on every carry before even being touched by a Colts defensive line that was ravaged with injuries and COVID-19 cases.
He finished the day with a whopping 178 rushing yards and three touchdowns.
“That’s the way we like to play, physically,” QB Ryan Tannehill said. “Derrick was running his tail off.”
“Any time the o-line’s getting movement and getting Derrick going, it’s a good thing for the Titans.”
NEXT MAN UP
What’s most impressive about the Titans’ two most recent wins is that they’ve come with a handful of the team’s key players sidelined due to injury.
The offense is on its third left tackle following Taylor Lewan’s and Ty Sambrailo’s longterm injuries, WR Adam Humphries hasn’t played in four weeks, OLB Jadeveon Clowney is on I.R., LG Rodger Saffold missed a game, S Kenny Vaccaro missed a game and CB Adoree’ Jackson has yet to play in 2020 due to a knee injury.
Yet, the Titans keep winning.
“This league has a 100% injury rate,” Vaccaro said. “Guys have to come in and step up. For us to go on a long run and get to where we want to get, you’re never going to have all 11 of your starters out there at a time.”
Currently sitting in first place within the AFC South, the Titans have set themselves up nicely to end the 2020 season hosting a playoff game or, at the very worst, earning a wildcard berth.
Continued improvement will only increase those chances.
“We want to continue to elevate each and every week,” Evans said. “There are little things we want to improve on, but at the same time, I can’t take away from what this team has done.”
Cover image: Trevor Ruszkowski / USA Today