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Front Page - Friday, December 10, 2021

Can Vrabel hold Titans together for 5 games?

Titans head coach Mike Vrabel has his team at No. 2 in the AFC standings despite a historic accumulation of injuries. The question is where will they be after the five remaining games? - Photo by Damian Strohmeyer | AP

One of the reasons Jon Robinson fired Mike Mularkey after a playoff win in 2018 and replaced him with Mike Vrabel was Robinson’s judgment that Vrabel was more likely to take the Titans to the next level.

Through two-plus seasons, Vrabel has had some ups and downs, but the Titans have remained a contending team and appeared very much on the verge of being the class of the AFC in 2021.

The Titans were sitting at 8-2 and had even weathered the injury of Derrick Henry to post wins in the first two games of the star running back’s absence.

But as the injuries continue to mount – especially with receivers Julio Jones and A.J. Brown and throughout the linebacker corps – the Titans dropped back-to-back games to the Texans and Patriots before their bye. While 8-4 and a 1.5-game lead in the AFC South still look good overall, the injuries have the Titans trending in the wrong direction.

That’s where Vrabel comes in. During his short tenure as head coach, Vrabel has proven adept at managing tough situations.

He handled the quarterback change from Marcus Mariota to Ryan Tannehill about as well as could be expected, helping the Titans lift their passing offense to a new level during the next two years.

He managed to survive the loss of defensive coordinator Dean Pees last year and guide the Titans to a division title, despite season-long defensive struggles.

But now, Vrabel might have his biggest challenge to date in trying to keep the Titans in contention despite all the injuries.

“I think we can get healthier. I think it is needed,” Vrabel says. “Just from the injury standpoint and where we have been the last two weeks, which has been very uncharacteristic, just some of the things we have done as a football team. Also, I think it is going to be real critical to get some guys back.

“It doesn’t look like we are playing with the same sort of speed that we had a few weeks ago or three or four weeks ago. I am very hopeful that it is going to help us and that everybody will be ready to get back to work here and get ready for Jacksonville.”

Fortunately for Vrabel and the Titans, the AFC overall appears flawed. While New England and Kansas City have been getting back on track of late, other teams like Buffalo and Baltimore have proven quite mortal.

Case in point, the Titans’ seeding improved Sunday without them playing. The Ravens’ loss to Pittsburgh bumped Tennessee back up to a No. 2 seed, and they are only a Patriots loss away from reclaiming the top seed and possibly setting themselves up with the bye that goes with it.

Of course, they have to get healthy enough to do something with their position, and that part might be out of Vrabel and his coaching staff’s hands.

Having Jones and Brown back would help the passing game and, perhaps, get a struggling Ryan Tannehill back in rhythm. If Henry can return, and be anywhere close to what he was before, then Tennessee could be as legitimate a contender to win the AFC.

Before they departed for the off week, Vrabel made sure to remind his team of their past formula for success.

“What I reminded them was that we were 15-5 in our last 20 road games, and that is because we had played good football, taken care of the football, could run it, stop the run, smart with penalties and that is why you win on the road,” he says.

With the bye week in the rearview mirror now, Vrabel again gets to play psychiatrist to get the Titans ready for the stretch, regardless of which players will be available for that five-game stretch run and the postseason.

“I think my focus is on today. Trying to figure out who is going to be back after this week, what the roster is going to look like and really focusing on each and every guy on what they need mentally or physically to help them move on to the season after the bye week,” he says.

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