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Front Page - Friday, January 1, 2021

Snow joke: It’s down to finale again for Titans

Green Bay wide receiver Davante Adams made the inept Titans defense look even worse than usual Sunday with 11 catches for 142 yards and three touchdowns. His quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, completed 21 of 25 pass attempts – in the snow – for 231 yards and four touchdowns. - Photo by Jeffrey Phelps | AP

Titans safety Kevin Byard isn’t pulling any punches when it comes to describing the defense’s poor play this season.

“We need to improve in everything,” Byard said after Sunday night’s prime-time drubbing by the Green Bay Packers.

The Titans defense has been the team’s Achilles’ heel all season, and it was on display before the entire country Sunday night in an embarrassing 40-14 loss at Lambeau Field.

Yes, there was snow and slippery footing that contributed to the ugly loss. But the snowflakes couldn’t whitewash what has been a Titans problem from the get-go this season and remains so as this team tries to nail down its first division title in 12 years.

And speaking of that, the Titans are down to their last chance, needing to win Sunday in Houston just to win a division they have been in control of for several weeks.

“It is absolutely disappointing to put ourselves in a position where we have to go out there and win next Sunday against Houston,” Byard says. “I feel confident and I think the team feels confident that we’ll go out there and get the win at their place. We just have to go out there and do it, practice hard all week and do whatever we can to go get one more win to win a division.”

The Titans defense gave up scores on their first three series against Aaron Rodgers, which helped to take the offense out of its rhythm. The play-action offense featuring Derrick Henry runs and Ryan Tannehill’s passing, has been Tennessee’s recipe for success – even in shootouts in which the defense has played poorly.

“Obviously, as a defense, we didn’t give our offense a chance,” Byard adds. “We didn’t start fast. We didn’t finish strong. We just didn’t play well.”

Trading touchdowns keeps the Titans in games, but when the defense is a sieve and the offense stalls early, it usually ends in a loss for Tennessee.

While the Titans’ efforts to improve begin on the practice field, Byard says, it seems to end there too often, as well.

“We always talk about improvement, honestly, but you have to go out there and perform,” he says. “It doesn’t really matter how you practice. You can practice good all week, but if you don’t go out there and perform, there’s no improvement.”

At this point, there are plenty of reasons why the Titans defense has been markedly worse than the one that helped them reach the AFC Championship game a year ago. There is the absence of retired defensive coordinator Dean Pees, and the question of whether head coach Mike Vrabel is spread too thin with the defensive duties on his plate.

There are the losses of Jurrell Casey and Logan Ryan, key cogs to last year’s success, who were let go in the offseason.

And, of course, how could we forget free agent busts Vic Beasley and Jadeveon Clowney and their lack of contribution to the Titans’ pass rush.

Truthfully, things probably aren’t going to improve much at this point for the Titans defense. The team will likely go as far as Derrick Henry and the offense can take them.

When they’re on, the Titans can play with any team in the league. When they stumble or fall behind early like Sunday night, the results are not pretty.

Byard says the defense must continue to work hard and hope to hold up its end somehow.

“I think guys have a lot of confidence. It’s not like we’re over on the sidelines hanging our heads or anything like that,” he says. “Guys are playing hard. We’re just not playing great football.

“I would tell you if I didn’t think guys were playing hard or guys were taking plays off. Guys are still out there playing hard, trying to win and trying to find success.

“We’re just not having it right now.”