After earning a trip to the AFC Championship last season, anything less for the Tennessee Titans this year was going to be something of a letdown.
Tennessee broke out of its 9-7 rut and finished with an 11-5 record and the team’s first AFC South title in 12 years. The Titans had the best statistical offense in team history but the defense without a doubt needs work, beginning with finding competent pass rushers and hiring an actual defensive coordinator.
Now, the Titans’ focus shifts toward roster building for the 2021 season. The team signed 14 players to futures contracts. That group includes receivers Rashard Davis and Cody Hollister, tight end Tommy Hudson, quarterback DeShone Kizer, kicker Tucker McCann, offensive lineman Daniel Munyer, long snapper Matt Orzech and linebacker Tuzar Skipper.
With plenty of options in the upcoming draft, as well as a deep free agent class and coaching staff adjustments, the Titans have a long to-do list. Here are the top issues Tennessee needs to address before next season:
Address the lack of a pass rush
For the second consecutive year, the Titans were undone by an inability to rush the quarterback in the playoffs. Lamar Jackson torched Tennessee for 136 yards and a touchdown on the ground Sunday and Patrick Mahomes had 56 yards and a rushing touchdown in the AFC Championship last year.
It was also a problem throughout the season as well as Tennessee had the third-fewest sacks (19) in the NFL and had the fourth-fewest QB pressures (117) and seventh-fewest QB hurries (50).
There will be several options for Tennessee to pursue in free agency – Von Miller, Matthew Judon, Melvin Ingram, Bud Dupree, Shaq Barrett and Ryan Kerrigan – plus several intriguing prospects in the NFL draft including Greg Rousseau, Micah Parsons, Nick Bolton, Zaven Collins, Azeez Ojulari and Joseph Ossai.
“We'll have to identify a lot of areas of focus and making sure that we do a great job of bringing guys in here that love football, that are talented, that put the team first, and play with great effort and finish,” Vrabel said. “They’ve got to love football. This is a grind. This league is a grind. Those are the types of players that we're looking for, and obviously talented.”
Hire a defensive coordinator
Although Vrabel will downplay the weight of the situation, the Titans didn’t have an official defensive coordinator in 2020. Vrabel told reporters on Monday that outside linebackers coach Shane Bowen served as the team’s defensive coordinator, however, it was clear watching the Titans that the team was rarely ever on the same page defensively this season.
“This thing took a life of its own and I guess that was really important,” Vrabel said. “Shane led the meetings. Shane led the walkthroughs. Shane called the defense. We get caught up too much in titles. I guess, I apologize, because clearly didn't think it would take on a life of its own.
“…There were times that it looked like we put all three phases together, played really well, and then there were stints where we didn't do that. We're going to evaluate the roster and the coaching staff, the plays that we run, and the scheme that we have and everything across the board. We ultimately didn't win a championship.”
The Titans had the worst third-down conversion percentage (51.9) in league history. The team also had the third-worst red-zone percentage (69.2) in the league and the fourth-fewest QB hits (70) while allowing the second-most touchdown passes (36) and sixth-most rushing touchdowns (18).
Tennessee ranked near the bottom of the NFL in several other defensive categories including 29th in passing yards per game (277.4); 28th in tackles for loss (54) and total yards per game (398.3); 24th in points allowed per game (27.4) and yards per play (5.9).
Find Corey Davis’ replacement
After not having his fifth-year option picked up prior to the start of the season, Davis vowed to make a statement in 2020. What he did was pay himself into a nice pay raise in his second contract.
What made the Titans offense so explosive this year was having two, legitimate weapons on each side of Ryan Tannehill. A.J. Brown had 1,000 yards receiving for the second straight year and Davis was just shy with a career-high 985 yards and five touchdowns.
Jon Robinson will surely work diligently to re-sign Davis, but that bridge may already be burned. If so, there will be no shortage of suitors for the 26-year-old. If Davis does leave, the 2021 draft is deep at wideout and the free agent market has several big-name options like A.J. Green, Allen Robinson, T.Y. Hilton, Will Fuller, Juju Smith-Schuster and Kenny Golladay.
“We're aware of our free agents and the ones that have contracts that are expiring,” Vrabel said. “Free agency, like the same thing we said last year, it's a two-way street. The player has to want to be here, the team has to want him to back, and then obviously the contract has to be good for both parties and they have to feel like they got something out of it. Jon (Robinson) and I will continue to discuss that. We'll meet with those players and their representatives and see about getting something done.”
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