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USA Today Sports Media Group
USA Today Sports Media Group
Mike Moraitis

Biggest takeaways from Titans’ Week 9 loss to Steelers

The Tennessee Titans’ playoff hopes took yet another hit on Thursday night after they dropped their Week 9 game to the Pittsburgh Steelers, 20-16.

While rookie quarterback Will Levis gave us another performance to be excited about, just about everything else went wrong.

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The pass protection was bad and a major obstacle for Levis, and the defense provided little resistance in terms of the pass-rush, run defense, coverage and even tackling.

Long story short: it was the same old 2023 Titans.

Before we turn our focus to yet another road matchup in Week 10, here’s a look back at Week 9 with the biggest takeaways from the losing effort.

Will Levis cemented himself as QB1

Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

There are still some things to clean up, for sure, but Levis has done more than enough to cement himself as the starter the rest of the season after another impressive outing.

It wasn’t just about the raw numbers, though. Levis played well and had good command of the offense despite having awful pass protection and playing in a hostile environment in prime time for what was just his second career start.

Sure, the 16 points weren’t great, but that wasn’t his fault. Furthermore, I don’t think the Titans’ offense scores even that many with Ryan Tannehill under center.

So, not only should Levis get an extended look because he’s the potential future of the franchise, he also gives Tennessee the best chance to win. There is simply zero justification for Tannehill playing again, barring injury.

Tim Kelly's play-calling was bad

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Kelly was too aggressive at times when he needed to be more conservative, and he was too conservative at times when he needed to be more aggressive. He simply couldn’t press the right buttons on Thursday night and that made his young quarterback’s job more difficult.

Kudos to Kelly for helping to get Levis to this point, but he’s got to do better moving forward to put the Kentucky product in a better position to succeed.

Andre Dillard needs to be benched permanently

Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

Barring a catastrophic injury situation, Dillard shouldn’t see the field again for the Titans. Hell, I’d even be OK with them cutting him loose now just so that situation has no chance to play out.

Dillard surrendered a whopping NINE pressures to Steelers edge rusher Alex Highsmith, per Next Gen Stats, and was a big reason why Levis was under duress all night long.

We’ve seen this story far too many times for the Titans to keep running Dillard out there.

If Nicholas Petit-Frere — who is no great shakes, either — can’t go in Week 10 after exiting Week 9 early due to injury, the Titans need to keep sorting through their young, in-house options in the hopes of finding an answer before investing in another left tackle in 2024.

Those potential options include Peter Skoronski, Dillon Radunz, and even Jaelyn Duncan, who saw a few snaps on Thursday night.

From elite to awful

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Remember when the Titans sported an elite run defense the past two seasons and the unit was historically great in that span?

My, how quickly things change. The Titans have gone from one of the best run defenses in the NFL to a downright dreadful unit in just a handful of games, and that has gone on even after Teair Tart’s return from injury.

Tennessee is now giving up 114.8 rushing yards per game, the 14th-most in the NFL. That’s a far cry from earlier this season, when Tennessee was ranked as high as No. 2 against the run.

With an inconsistent pass-rush and a secondary that can’t be trusted, the Titans’ defense doesn’t have a single reliable strength to hang its hat on anymore.

Titans' pass-rush disappeared again

Syndication: The Tennessean

The Titans’ pass-rush has been non-existent for the last six quarters after dominating in the first half against the Falcons in Week 8 — and the pass-rush coming and going in that drastic of a mannger has been the story all season long.

Unfortunately for Tennessee, the defense doesn’t have a good enough secondary to overcome the lack of a pass-rush, which allows opposing quarterbacks to pick the defense apart when there’s no pressure.

The inconsistent nature of the pass-rush isn’t because of a lack of talent, that’s for sure. But what’s behind it, exactly? I’m not sure even head coach Mike Vrabel knows.

Titans don't have the horses to make a run

Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

It goes without saying that the Titans’ playoff hopes are in big trouble. If you want to put a number on that, Tennessee has a four-percent chance to make the postseason, according to the New York Times’ playoff simulator.

While it’s not too late to still make a run, there is almost no margin for error moving forward. Unfortunately, I just don’t think this team is good or consistent enough to pull it off.

The final nine games of the season are all about Levis, anyway. All will not be lost if the rookie can continue gaining experience and playing well, en route to proving he’s the future of the franchise ahead of an offseason in which the Titans will have around $100 million in cap space.

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