When the Tennessee Titans officially announced the promotions of tight ends coach Todd Downing to offensive coordinator and outside linebackers coach Shane Bowen to defensive coordinator, the moves were viewed as somewhat puzzling.
Downing’s promotion raised fewer questions than Bowen’s as he has actual experience in his new position, having served as offensive coordinator with the Raiders in 2017. He also has experience calling offensive plays. He appears to be getting a pass until the on-field product gives Titans fans a reason to be discontent.
Bowen, on the other hand, was the unofficial defensive coordinator last season of the worst third-down defense in NFL history and one that ranked 28th in the league overall. Not exactly inspiring statistics and one can see why so many have questioned his official promotion this year.
The Titans could have gone out and hired a proven name to run the defense. They interviewed Steelers secondary coach Teryl Austin for the position and had available to them a slew of free-agent coordinators looking for work that included Raheem Morris, Matt Patricia and Dan Quinn.
However, Titans General Manager Job Robinson doesn't see it that way. During a video conference with reporters Tuesday, Robinson pointed out the positives of having Bowen running the defense full-time while seemingly absolving Bowen of the shortcomings of last year.
“When you have continuity with a staff, I think that can be a good thing,” Robinson said. “I would say the continuity is pretty good, the carryover … When it comes to execution of defense, there’s a lot of things that go into it. There’s the call itself, there’s the execution of the call, it’s the players that are on the field trying to execute the call. It’s more than one thing when things go good, and when things don’t go so good. It’s a combination of a lot of different things on every single play. So, I’m excited about the continuity and look forward to improving in a lot of areas on that side of the football.”
Robinson’s vote of confidence for Bowen presumably shows there will be some leeway for the first-year DC. He and Vrabel (through a released statement) have both said they believe the Titans’ defensive issues last year were due more to personnel than to coaching.
“When you send a call into a game, it’s about the execution of the call,” Robinson added. “Was it a bad call? Was it executed wrong? Were the players that were out there not good enough or not capable of executing it? [...] That’s what we’re working through now, is improving some of the calls, improving the execution of the calls, improving the personnel. That’s kind of our goal this offseason.”
Be that as it may, numbers never lie. Tennessee registered the third-fewest sacks (19) in the NFL and generated the fourth-fewest QB pressures (117) and QB hits (7) and the seventh-fewest QB hurries (50).
The Titans ranked near the bottom of the league in man major statistical categories, including 29th in passing yards allowed per game (277.4) and 24th in both points allowed per game (27.4) and yards allowed per play (5.9). Tennessee also had the third-worst red-zone percentage (69.2) in the league while allowing the second-most touchdown passes (36) and sixth-most rushing scores (18).
The best thing Robinson can do for Bowen is to equip him with two or three pass rushers, sign or draft a big-bodied defensive lineman to complement Jeffery Simmons and shore up the secondary with another cornerback or two. Doing so will help clarify just why last year's numbers were as bad as they were.
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