What a year, right? The Titans now sit at 6-3 after dropping another opportunity at a chance to win the AFC South. Please reread that last statement and tell me that doesn’t sound like an oxymoron. Yes, the Titans are now #9 in the AFC standings which renders them “In the Hunt” for a playoff spot. The Titans have a long list of issues and I’m going to share the conclusion I’ve come to in the recent, “Who is to blame: coaches or players” debate regarding the Defense.
First, let’s make something very clear – the Titans are in a very unique situation based on the outcome of games through Week 9, their remaining schedule, injuries, coaching woes (yes, they exist), and all that money they just burned with the Vic Beasley experiment. Forgive me for the run-on sentence, but it seems fitting with the complexity of the Titans situation. I’ve spent some time looking around the NFL, and even into past seasons to see if there’s anything like it, and there are some similarities, but as expected, I found very few seasons that compares to where the Titans find themselves right now in 2020.
Now that we’ve established that, I want to focus on the Defense. Yes, the “Defensive Coordinator-less” Tennessee Titans where they think it’s okay to continue doubling down with their stubbornness and still tell the media “it’s not a coaching issue.” Well, as many of us know, THAT’S A LIE! Even Maury Povich agrees:
Just to pop the bubble and make sure we’re all on the same page as spectators – what you hear from Vrabel in pressers is weighed out and deliberately laid out as to what is public and what is not prior to sitting down with the media or other places. I’m talking about injury updates, thoughts on player performance, coaching issues, etc. Most times we hear nothing but “coach speak” but sometimes Vrabel breaks character and jabs at Paul Kuharsky or has some other off routine interaction with the media. This team isn’t going to throw their own under the bus, which I fully approve of and respect. However, this idea that there is an execution issue and that it’s NOT a coaching issue is the closest thing we’re going to see to Vrabel throwing players under a bus. We heard Kevin Byard make these “we’ve not been Coordinated” comments and here’s the fact: Both can be true. Yes, some play we’ve seen has been terrible and the play calling at times has been terrible, but let me explain why, I believe, it all comes back to the coaches.
Over the course of the offseason, we all made mention of the loss of Dean Pees’ retirement, the laundry list of players that are no longer on the team and how their leadership role is vacant and how this could be an issue. Several other things pointing at this defense, but we all thought was offset and fixed once the Titans signed Jadeveon Clowney. In theory, we should still be right. We should be seeing JD, Simmons, Jones, Landry, and company racking up the sacks, but there have been some signs that part of these issues are coaching related. When I see a Cornerback lined up on a Receiver and there is almost 10 yards between them, that’s a coaching issue. When I see players looking confused and mixed up then the ball gets snapped and the uncovered receiver is catching a TD with a trailing Titans player in pursuit, is a coaching issue. When I see a $12.5M player charging at a Rookie QB and he is unable to bring this QB down, that is a coaching issue. Now before you start point at the players in the scenarios and doing your best defense lawyer impersonation, let me explain further.
As a former athlete, I’ve been around some incredible coaches. In High School, I was fortunate to have played under coaches like Randall “Jack” Daniels and Ron Crawford during my time at Brentwood High, as well as lesser known but equally respected coaches, Guy Deloach and Jonathan Kist during my collegiate Rugby career. I bring these coaches up because at both these levels and in their respective sports – the teams these men formed had a reputation of being fundamentally sound in all phases of their respective game. The tell-tale sign of fundamentally sound teams is their ability to do the little things well. We tackled well, communicated well, helped each other, and all this became habit for the players and the standard was set.
With the Tennessee Titans, we see fundamental issues, and we even saw it last year in the AFC Championship game, and other playoff games where the issues were upstaged by a win. We saw bad tackling, which some might argue cost the Titans a chance at a Super Bowl, but throughout most the year they were able to overcome these issues with good coaching. Well I’m confident here and now we can credit all that “good coaching” on the defensive side of the ball to Dean Pees. Here and now, I’m telling you that I’ve landed at a place where I believe the Titans season could hang on the decision to not hire a Defensive Coordinator. When a Head Coach is able to rely on his Coordinators, he is free to identify issues in practice, spend time with individuals, and do what his title says and actually coach! We saw videos throughout the entire 2019 season where Vrabel was doing these things and we saw it enough where he was shown with several different players! Let me ask you – When’s the last time we saw this?
In this process of preparing for this post, I’ve come to the point where I believe Mike Vrabel – like Bilbo Baggins told Gandalf of himself in The Fellowship of the Ring – “is like butter scrapped across too much bread.” He’s doing too much. This team, since Vrabel took over the Titans, has fed off his energy and even embodied the demeanor of their Head Coach. They’re still doing that now, and we’ve see a team that looks, “like butter scrapped across too much bread.” They don’t know where to be (CB’s 10 yards off the ball), they don’t know what to do (missed tackles), and they don’t know how to do it (continued coverage issues).
Here’s the predicament we find ourselves in as spectators and fans of this team. There’s almost a sense of buyer’s remorse due to the fact that “this isn’t my team.” We were sold on the 2019 season, and we want more. What I fear is that this 2020 season for the Titans will go down as a failure due to one thing: Mike Vrabel’s stubbornness. That is the issue with the Tennessee Titans defense; Mike Vrabel. Admit the fault, hire a Defensive Coordinator, and start the process of getting this team on track. I don’t care if they want to hire Shane Bowen and make it official or put him under the wing of an experienced and available Coach like Wade Phillips. Something has to give, and it’s got to happen fast if the team wants to take full opportunity of this Super Bowl window. Mike Vrabel has shown himself to be too valuable to be spreading himself too thin to be a Head Coach and a Defensive Coordinator.
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Author: Tres Winn
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