After spending yet another offseason defending Tennessee Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill, there was nothing to defend following the 16-15 Week 1 loss to the New Orleans Saints on Sunday.
Tannehill threw the game away, tossing three back-breaking picks and nearly two others en route to one of the worst performances of his career.
An offer for Titans fans
The three-pick, zero-touchdown showing was the second of his career, with the first coming over a decade ago during his rookie season with the Miami Dolphins (2012).
Making matters worse, Tannehill missed at least two easy throws that could have been touchdowns, and he opted to throw into double coverage on two occasions instead of going to wide-open receivers elsewhere.
The ugly showing spoiled what was a mostly sensational effort from the defense, which held the Saints in check all game long.
The respective performances of Tannehill and the defense are just two of the biggest takeaways from Sunday’s loss.
It's all on Ryan Tannehill
We can point to a few things the Titans could’ve done differently (more on that shortly) throughout this game to change the end result, but nothing comes close to overriding the blunders from Tannehill.
Putting the interceptions aside for a second (he should’ve had five, not three), if Tannehill just hits a wide-open Chig Okonkwo or Tyjae Spears down the sideline on those two missed throws, the Titans win this game.
And there were countless other plays where Tannehill missed an open receiver, only to attempt a far more difficult throw, like the two picks he threw into double coverage.
If you’re hoping for a quarterback change, don’t hold your breath. The Titans are rightly going to give him a chance to fix things. However, they must not allow him to finish another game if he plays like he did on Sunday.
Not enough Derrick Henry
Henry was torching the Saints’ defense in the first half and was, per usual, the engine behind whatever the Titans could muster up on offense.
He carried the ball 10 times for 51 yards over the first two quarters, including an 18-yard run, and took a screen pass 46 yards. Surprise, surprise, the drives with the screen pass and 18-yard run both ended in points.
But we saw less and less of Henry as the game went on, and more and more of Tyjae Spears, even on early downs. In fact, Henry had just five more carries the rest of the way and Spears actually out-snapped him, 33-28.
— TURRON DAVENPORT (@TDavenport_NFL) September 10, 2023
That should never happen, especially in a close game where the Titans could not get much going through the air. Even if the ground game wasn’t working with Henry, the Titans should have gotten him the ball in space more through the air.
It was a very Todd Downing-esque move from new offensive coordinator Tim Kelly, who took away the only thing working for Tennessee’s offense.
Offensive line was good enough but needs to be better
I figured if the Tannehill struggled in this game, it would be because the offensive line was a mess. Well, that was not the case.
Granted, the unit upfront needs to be better moving forward, but it did its job good enough to the point where it can’t be blamed for Tannehill’s putrid performance and the loss in general.
Outside of Andre Dillard’s early struggles, pass protection was fine and both he and the entire line got better as the game progressed. The run-blocking got worse as the game went on but I’d attribute that more to the Saints selling out to stop the run than purely bad blocking.
I’m not declaring the offensive line a finished product by any stretch but things went better upfront than I expected after a rough start.
Mike Vrabel deserves some scrutiny
As I stated earlier, this loss is squarely on the shoulders of Tannehill, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t point to a few questionable decisions Vrabel made that could have swung this game in the Titans’ favor.
The first (and worst, in my opinion) came in the third quarter with the Titans up 9-6. On a third-and-1, the Titans made the stop to force a fourth down but the Saints were flagged for holding, which would have pushed them back 10 yards and to the 43, putting them out of field goal range but giving them another third-down try.
Vrabel decided not to take the penalty and trust his defense to make another third-down stop, which gave New Orleans life for a field goal from 52 yards out. Saints kicker Blake Grupe promptly nailed the field goal, which proved to be huge in the grand scheme of things.
The other questionable decision came late in the fourth quarter when the Titans were at the Saints’ 11-yard line and facing a fourth-and-6 with a little over two minutes left in the game.
Vrabel decided to kick the field goal and trust his defense to make a stop on the next series instead of going for the touchdown, which left the Titans one point short.
Normally I’d shred Vrabel badly for such a decision, but it’s hard to totally do that when you consider how bad Tannehill was. Even still, I have zero issue with anyone who wants to get on him for it.
The bottom line is this: if you’re going to trust your defense to force a three-and-out to get the ball back with a chance to win the game, you have to trust your defense to make a single third-down stop. When put side-by-side, the earlier decision makes even less sense.
Defensive front was as advertised
While its impact waned as the game progressed, the defensive front was a big bright spot for Tennessee in Week 1.
Arden Key proved he’s going to be a difference-maker on this defense, and Denico Autry and Jeffery Simmons picked up where they left off last year.
And, as good as the front was, there’s actually room to be even better if the pass-rush can put together a more complete 60 minutes and get more from Harold Landry and Trevis Gipson.
On top of the pressure, the Titans’ run defense was stellar, holding the Saints to just 69 yards on 27 carries. If there’s one area on this team we have zero concerns about after Week 1, it’s the defensive front.
Too many big plays
The biggest issue for the defense that was prevalent throughout the game was the secondary’s propensity for giving up big plays, which has been an annual problem for this team.
When an opposing offense is struggling, the last thing a defense can afford to do is make things easier, which is what the Titans did by allowing big chunks of yardage through the air as opposed to making the Saints earn every yard.
In all, the Titans gave up five plays of 20-plus yards, including two over 40. Three of those receptions came on scoring drives, and one iced the game on New Orleans’ last series. Rashid Shaheed nearly had a third 20-plus-yard reception on his touchdown catch, which went for 19 yards.
In good hands with Nick Folk
Another one of the few bright spots on Sunday was Folk, who made all five of his field goal attempts, accounting for all of the Titans’ points in Week 1. Making me more excited, he actually hit one from 50 yards out!
And, for all of you who were so concerned about kickoffs:
Well, at least the Nick Folk touchback percentage is a death sentence nonsense was completely exaggerated after one week lol.
These were the results of all his kickoffs today:
-Fumble recovery inside 25
-Tackled at 25
-Tackled at 28
-Tackled inside 15
-Tackled at the 29
— Shaun Calderon (@ShaunMichaels31) September 10, 2023