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Front Page - Friday, October 8, 2021

Titans must cure consistently inconsistent play

Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill was sacked seven times against the Jets, one of the NFL’s worst teams. Tennessee has allowed 17 sacks in four games, the most of any NFL team. - Photo by Adam Hunger | AP

After four games there is much to dissect about the Tennessee Titans. About the only certainty with this team is that it is completely inconsistent.

How else do you explain an upset win in Seattle and a win against the Colts followed by losing to the hapless New York Jets in overtime.

Sure, there is the excuse of injuries. A.J. Brown, Julio Jones, Bud Dupree and others were out of action Sunday. But the bottom line with this Titans team is it simply hasn’t played well enough for long enough to be considered a top-flight contender in the AFC.

Even in their two victories, there were gaping holes and shortcomings that were masked somewhat in the moment of the win. In Seattle, the Titans played themselves into a 15-point hole in the first half and – somehow – managed to rally and win in overtime.

At home with the Colts, the Titans turned the ball over three times but won thanks in large part to a gimpy Carson Wentz, whose lack of mobility gave the Titans just enough of an edge to overcome those miscues.

The inconsistency and struggles were prevalent enough to bite them again Sunday against the Jets, much like they did in the opener against Arizona. And if they’re not careful, they just might wind up giving Urban Meyer and Trevor Lawrence their first NFL win this week. But the loss to the Jets should certainly put them on notice that they can’t even take the Jaguars lightly.

Among the Titans’ most glaring problems is pass protection. The offensive line, which has had to battle injuries here and there, seems fine in run blocking for Derrick Henry. But protecting Ryan Tannehill has been a whole other matter. Tannehill was taken down seven times Sunday by the Jets, topping the six sacks the Cardinals got in on Week One.

Every week, there are at least one or two incidents in which Tannehill takes a wide-open hit from an unblocked rusher.

Seventeen is not only Tannehill’s jersey number, it’s also the number of times he has been sacked in just four games. Unless this gets fixed soon, the Titans might find themselves with Logan Woodside taking meaningful snaps.

“It’s just execution on picking up and blocking the penetrator and communication across the board,” right tackle David Quessenberry says of the pass protection woes against the blitz-heavy Jets.

For his part, Tannehill is trying to stay positive and says no quarterback anticipates taking as many hard shots as he has in the first four games.

“You never anticipate that. You never go into a game thinking you’re going to take a bunch of hits,” he says.

Those sacks Sunday came at key moments and killed several Titans drives, another common plight Tennessee has had this season.

The Titans are 21st in red zone efficiency, scoring touchdowns on just 53.9% of their trips there through four games. By comparison, the Titans finished second in the league last year at 74.2%. That dropoff is the difference between touchdowns and field goals and, as was the case Sunday, the difference between winning and losing.

“When you get down in the red zone, you’ve got to come away with touchdowns. If you don’t, you let teams linger and stay in the fight. When we get in the red zone, we’ve got to put it in the end zone,” Quessenberry says.

While the offense has been inconsistent this year and unable to sufficiently protect Tannehill, the defensive inconsistency has been perhaps even more maddening.

After a one-week reprieve, the Titans were back to their bad habits of giving up big plays over the top. Ex-Titan Corey Davis burned them for a 53-yard touchdown, and a key pass interference call that set up another score. “Big plays allowed” has now replaced third-down woes as the Titans’ No. 1 defensive concern.

“We’re frustrated because we got our tails whooped,’’ safety Kevin Byard says. “It’s just consistent and stuff with this team. We didn’t play well in the first game. We didn’t play well in the first half of the second game. We played well in the second half. We played well last week, but it’s consistency.

“We’re not doing it in all three phases, and that’s the main thing that is disappointing for this team.

“It’s not surprising we gave up big plays. That’s the overall theme of our defense was we gave up big plays.”

In this week’s preparation for the Jaguars – who like the Jets are one of the dregs of the NFL – Titans coaches and players will no doubt spout off how they have to show consistency, how their issues are correctable and how they have to fix things in practice and carry them over to the games.

But the time for talk has passed. The Titans are still in control of the weak AFC South, even with their mediocre 2-2 start. But until they find that consistency in all three phases of the game, they might find that this team is on the verge of taking another step backward in its current window of opportunity.

It’s something Byard knows all too well.

“Us as a defense or as a team, we’re just not understanding how to play complementary football right now,” he explains. “When the offense makes a big play we have to go out there and get a stop, and when you don’t do that, things are not going to go well.”

Tannehill agrees, saying, “You want to be consistent week in and week out no matter who’s out there. We’ve got a lot of football in front of us. We’ve done it at times, but not consistently enough. The key is being able to find that consistency.”

Terry McCormick publishes TitanInsider.com and appears 2-4 p.m. weekdays on the George Plaster Show on WNSR-AM 560/95.9 FM.