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2022 Tennessee Titans Team Preview

titans team preview

Mike Vrabel has built a winning football operation in Tennessee. The Titans entered last year’s playoffs as the top seed in the AFC, earning Vrabel Coach of the Year honors. Vrabel’s Titans have a habit of exceeding expectations, finishing with a winning record in each of the four seasons since he took over. Will Tennessee continue that streak this season? Or are the Titans losing ground in an improving AFC? Let’s take a closer look at the Titans:

Opening Win Total: 9.5

Current Win Total: 9 to 9.5

Schedule Difficulty: Medium

Offense

There aren’t fifteen quarterbacks on the entire planet that are capable of consistently carrying an NFL offense. More than half the teams in the league will simply not have access to that type of talent at the position. What do you do if you are one of those teams? My answer to that question has always been: become a physical, uncomfortable matchup. That’s what I love about the Titans, they have embraced being an old-school, physical football team. That decision has made them a perennial playoff contender in the Mike Vrabel era.

Per Sports Info Solutions, the 2021 Titans offense was:

  • 24th in net passing yards.
  • 5th in rushing yards.
  • 15th in points per game.

Quarterback Ryan Tannehill has been better than anyone could have hoped for since joining the Titans in 2019. He won the Comeback Player of the Year that season. He’s been second in the league in passing yards per game off play action over the last two years, per TruMedia Networks. Tannehill is solid, but he’s not driving an elite passing offense. He probably never will, which is why Malik Willis is an interesting long-term prospect in an AFC that’s loaded with dynamic quarterbacks. But that’s a conversation for another day.

The Big Dog Derrick Henry is one of the true difference-making running backs in the league. Dealing with Henry is a unique experience for NFL defenders, because if he gets to the second level with a full head of steam, you’re in trouble. Henry didn’t quite look like himself when he returned late last season from a foot injury. Former Titans running back Eddie George provides valuable insights on coming back from a foot injury, as well as Henry’s 2022 prospects.

Henry’s recovery coming off massive workloads the last few seasons is unquestionably concerning. But the state of the Titans offensive line may even be more problematic for Tennessee’s offense. Guard Rodger Saffold is now in Buffalo. While the 34-year-old isn’t quite the player he was in his prime, Saffold’s presence as a run blocker is a big loss. Tennessee now has inconsistent or otherwise unproven players at LG, RG, and RT. Left tackle Taylor Lewan’s play has even started to decline. Offensive line play has been one of the strengths of the Titans football operation throughout the Vrabel era. There’s a very real chance it’s closer to a liability this season. 

The indirect swap of A.J. Brown and Julio Jones for veteran Robert Woods and rookie first-rounder Treylon Burks is a downgrade, at least for this season. Woods is a 30 year old wide receiver coming off a torn ACL. Burks is a unique talent that could develop into one of the better run after the catch options in the league. This preseason, Burks deployments have indicated that he may be gradually eased into the offense. Heading into opening day, we don’t quite know what we’ll get out of either player early in the year. Nick Westbrook-Ikhine is a replacement level player. This wide receiver group is thin enough that No. 163 overall pick Kyle Philips has been getting some August buzz. The addition of veteran tight end Austin Hooper isn’t a big impact move, but he could be a small upgrade at the position.

In a nutshell, the Titans’ offensive line and wide receiver group have both gotten worse. We can’t be certain that Derrick Henry will continue to be the player that he was before his foot injury. Ryan Tannehill is a good, but not great quarterback that can’t be counted on to significantly elevate the talent around him. There are more paths to the Titans offense taking a step back this season, rather than a step forward.

Defense

The Tennessee Titans defense beats you up by design, even in preseason joint practices. That level of physicality is one of the driving forces behind their recent success. It’s also the primary reason Tennessee took down three-of-the-four teams that played on championship weekend last year.

Per Sports Info Solutions, the 2021 Titans defense was:

  • 2nd in rushing yards allowed.
  • 25th in passing yards allowed.
  • 10th in sacks, 8th in hurries, 24th in knockdowns, and 10th in pressures.
  • 6th in points allowed per game.

The Titans’ front is the strength of their football operation. Jeffery Simmons and Denico Autry make up one of the most disruptive interior duos in the league. Edge rushers Harold Landry and Bud Dupree are a solid tandem that still has room for growth. All together, Tennessee has one of the best, most complete front fours in football. When at full strength this group provides a top ten pass rush. It’s also the foundation of Tennessee’s run defense that gave up the second fewest yards, on the second fewest carries last season.

Linebacker is a thin and questionable unit for the Titans. Veteran Zach Cunningham had his moments as a Texan, but he missed all but four games in his first year as a Titan last season. Second-year linebacker Monty Rice has been placed on PUP with an Achilles injury. He’ll miss the first four games, at minimum. That leaves David Long Jr. as the other Titans linebacker, along with Cunningham, positioned for a significant role early in the year. Solid, but unspectacular is the most ambitious type of expectation we should have for this group.

The Titans secondary has one elite player in safety Kevin Byard. The other starting safety, Amani Hooker, is 24 years old. The Titans cornerback trio of Caleb Farley, Kristian Fulton, and rookie Roger McCreary were all taken within the first two rounds. They’re also all 23 years old or younger. Given the youth and draft capital of this cornerback group paired with a high-level safety like Byard, the Titans secondary could take a leap this season. If they do and Tennessee’s front four stays healthy, the Titans could end up with one of the best overall pass defenses in the league.

Schedule

Opening day versus the Giants is a very winnable game before a tough three-game stretch: at Bills (MNF), vs. Raiders, at Colts. The Titans then head to Washington in Week 5 before their Week 6 bye. If Tennessee can get through this stretch with a 3-2 record, that would be a win.

Coming off their bye Tennessee enters a rough seven-game run: vs. Colts, at Texans, at Chiefs (SNF), vs. Broncos, at Packers (TNF), vs. Bengals, at Eagles. A 3-4 record through this stretch obviously isn’t ideal, but it could be worse against these opponents.

The Titans finish up: vs. Jaguars, at Chargers, vs. Texans, vs. Cowboys (TNF), at Jaguars. You may have noticed that Tennessee gets two Thursday Night Football games this year. That is unquestionably a disadvantage for the Titans and an edge for their division rivals. Given the front end of their schedule, Tennessee will likely need to go 3-2, if not better, through this stretch to have a shot at the postseason.

Final Thoughts

If Derrick Henry doesn’t bounce fully back from his foot injury and the Titans young secondary doesn’t take a step forward, Tennessee’s front four is the only real strength of this roster. The Colts got better, the Jaguars got better, and multiple AFC contenders with dynamic quarterbacks have improved their rosters this offseason. The Titans need a lot of things to break their way to not lose ground in the AFC.

Tennessee went 6-2 in one score games last season, while upsetting four (Bills, Chiefs, Rams, 49ers) of the best teams in the league last year. That’s remarkable when you consider the injuries that Tennessee overcame, which is why Vrabel won last year’s Coach of the Year award. That said, we can reasonably expect regression to the mean in one score contests. We probably shouldn’t bank on the Titans knocking off four heavyweights again this year, either.

The Titans have made bettors pay for doubting them throughout the Mike Vrabel era. Tennessee’s win total has already moved down half of a game at some sportsbooks since it opened. The spots where it’s still available at 9.5 games have heavily juiced the under. I leaned towards the under at 9.5 games before the A.J. Brown trade, and I like it even more now. If I had to pick a side on the number 9, I’d still lean under given the layout of the Titans schedule.

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