It’s hard to argue that any team has had a worse week than the Vanderbilt football team, but the Tennessee Titans sure gave them a run for their money over the weekend.
First, 2020 first-round pick Isaiah Wilson was suspended for Sunday’s game against the Cleveland Browns for a violation of team rules. Then word came that big-money free agent signing Jadeveon Clowney has had season-ending surgery.
The final nail in the coffin was Sunday’s 41-35 loss to the Browns at Nissan Stadium in which the Titans defense was exposed yet again. The loss was essentially payback for last season’s 43-13 Titans win in Cleveland in Week 1.
Billed as a matchup between two of the NFL’s top rushing attacks, the Browns picked apart the Titans through the air as Baker Mayfield threw four first-half touchdowns, becoming the first Browns quarterback with four touchdowns in the first half of a game since Otto Graham in 1951.
Mayfield also set season highs in passing yards (334) and quarterback rating (147.0). Additionally, Cleveland’s 38 first-half points are also the most the team has ever scored in a single half in franchise history.
So, where did it start to go downhill for the Titans?
“[We] just hung the defense out,” Vrabel said. “I mean, just didn't give them opportunity, and they weren't coming up — defensively, we weren't coming up with stops. [We] couldn't run the ball offensively, (we weren’t) getting anything substantial.”
The Titans continue to be one of the NFL’s more inconsistent teams. Yes, their record is 8-4, but a week after laying the hammer down on the Colts to recapture the AFC South lead, they got the doors blown off in the first half on Sunday and couldn’t recover.
The third-down woes continued: The Browns converted on 10 of 16 third downs (62.5 percent) and Tennessee allowed Cleveland to score on its first six possessions, five of which were touchdowns.
“Of course you want to get off the field on third down, but at the same time, it’s not all sacks,” defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons said. “It’s not all about just interceptions. It’s how can you affect the quarterback to cause bad throws, just get them to lob it over and you maybe get an interception… True enough, we want sacks, but we’re going to keep trusting this game plan. I mean, of course we struggled probably today but we’re not a bad team on third down.”
The Titans defense entered Sunday allowing 384 yards of total offense, 268 yards passing yards, 24 first downs and 25.9 points per game. By halftime, the Browns had racked up 344 yards, 290 passing yards, 22 first downs and 38 points.
Whether Vrabel wants to admit it or not, his defense is floundering. Tennessee has no true defensive coordinator and no credible pass rush and it’s costing the team games.
“[It was] bad communication, bad execution,” safety Kevin Byard added. “You go out there and play like that, you got your behind whipped.
“…We have to look ourselves in the mirror tonight, tomorrow and Tuesday, and come back on Wednesday fired up and ready to go for the next week.”
Follow Michael Gallagher on Twitter @MGsports_