Last season was a disappointment for Tennessee. That sounds weird, as the Titans won the AFC South easily (11-5) and scored effortlessly most weeks. In addition, they had an MVP-worthy running back in Derrick Henry ; though that title ultimately went to Packers-QB Aaron Rodgers. Losing to Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens in the Wildcard round of the playoffs, however, hit hard.
Not that it’s a shame to lose to the Ravens, but a year earlier, the Titans were just one win away from a Super Bowl spot. That postseason, Tannehill and his men single-handedly ended the Brady dynasty in New England. They left the Patriots in Foxboro without a chance. Baltimore had been no more than an obstacle to the AFC Championship Game, where it lost to later champions Kansas City Chiefs. It offered a lot of hope for 2020, but a year after the strong playoff run, the Ravens turned out to be a size too big. So cry out and start over.
This is where the Falcons preview started with “I’m outta there man!”. That was very bad news for the Atlanta fans. With those words, wide receiver Julio Jones indicated that he no longer wanted to play for the Falcons. After weeks of speculation about where Julio would land, it turned out that the superstar is moving to the country capital of the world. It cost the Titans a second-round draft pick in 2022 and a fourth-round pick in 2023. For that last pick, they got back a sixth-round pick in 2023. In short: Jones for a second and a fourth/sixth trade. That’s an excellent job from GM Jon Robinson and his team.
That reinforcement was needed, as in wide receiver Corey Davis (Jets) and tight end Jonnu Smith (Patriots), Tannehill lost two important weapons. The Titans also saw cornerback Adoree’ Jackson (Giants) and defensive end Jadeveon Clowney (Browns) leave. For them, cornerback Janoris Jenkins (Saints) and defensive ends Bud Dupree (Steelers) and Denico Autry (Colts) were brought in. Wide receiver Josh Reynolds (Rams) was brought in for more depth at that position.
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The free agents already showed that the focus for Tennessee was on building up the defense. They continued with that in the draft. Virginia Tech cornerback Caleb Farley was selected in the first round. Later, linebacker Monty Rice (Georgia) and cornerback Elijah Molden (Washington) were added. In the fourth round, edge rusher Rashad Weaver (Pittsburgh) followed and later also a safety in Brady Breeze (Oregon). The offense must be aided by offensive tackle Dillon Radunz (North Dakota State) and wide receiver Dez Fitzpatrick (Louisville).
How hard is attacking when you have a running back who can walk through a wall? Answer: not that difficult, but it is beautiful. Derrick Henry has been proving to be the best downhill back in the National Football League (NFL) for several years now. Meanwhile, quarterback Ryan Tannehill is also stringing together the good seasons. Last year, the playmaker showed he has a great connection with superstar-to-be AJ Brown and Corey Davis. The latter, however, left for New York. With Julio Jones, Tennessee nevertheless gets a boost in that spot.
Step into the shoes of a defensive coordinator who plays against the Titans. You’ll be up against arguably the best WR duo in the league and arguably the best pure bruising back in the league. What are you stopping? Where do you leave something? Clearly, new offensive coordinator Todd Downing—Arthur Smith left for Atlanta—always has options. The Titans seem like no other team suited to launch a very varied attack. That attack is further aided by the return of tackle Taylor Lewan. However, there are still questions about tight end. That Anthony Firkser and Geoff Swam the hole that Jonnu Smithleaving behind, being able to fill, is highly questionable. There therefore seems to be a good chance that Tennessee will still enter the market for a new tight end.
Where the attack can count itself among the best in the NFL thanks to the weapons, it is very different for the defense. The Titans were unable to stop opponents sufficiently. The reasons for this are many, but the fact that safety Kevin Byard had a disappointing year didn’t help. Not long ago, Byard was the league’s interceptions leader, but only intercepted one pass last season. The Titans also failed to put enough pressure on the ball.
In any case, you can’t say that the Titans didn’t do anything with this information. Both the secondary and the front seven were strengthened and a new defensive coordinator was also found in Shane Bowen. Dupree, Autry and defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons have to put more pressure on the ball. Veteran Janoris Jenkins has an important task to ensure that rookies Caleb Farley and Elijah Molden can add value this year. Whether that will work remains to be seen. The signals from the training camp indicate that Farley still needs some time before he is really ready for the NFL. Due to COVID-19, college players have hardly played in the past year, so many of them are still a bit rusty.
The AFC South title isn’t actually a title; it’s a formality. Something the Titans should check off their to-do list. Head coach Mike Vrabel and his colleagues have little to fear from the rest of the division. The rest of the schedule isn’t too scary either. On paper, tough opponents like the Buffalo Bills, Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers are coming to Nashville. In terms of away games, only those against the Seahawks, Rams and perhaps the Patriots and Steelers seem above average. Looking at the schedule, we don’t see many games that the Titans have to lose.
13-4 is feasible, but then everything has to go well. 12-5 is realistic, but that can slide to 11-6. With a view to fitness for the play-offs, Vrabel and his followers can be careful with minor injuries and occasionally keep important pawns like Henry, Brown and Jones out of the wind. For convenience, we choose the middle ground between those scenarios. Especially if Robinson manages to score a decent tight end, there is no reason to doubt these Titans. The real test will not come until the play-offs, where the Ravens, Bills or Chiefs are undoubtedly waiting. Then it gradually becomes ‘now or never’ in Music City.