We may be witnessing the end of the Tennessee Titans as we know them. Being 0-2 is one thing. It’s another thing not to look like the team we’re used to seeing under Mike Frapel.
Derek Henry looks deadly. Defense retreat. And Ryan Tanehill isn’t good enough to save his teammates.
No need to hit the panic button yet. The Titans reside in a division where each team loses. AFC South is like a bad neighborhood in a depressed market. A 9-8 record might be good enough to win it.
How did things go so wrong so quickly? Last season, Tennessee was the top seed in the conference with convincing victories over Buffalo and Kansas City. Three years ago, the Titans made it to the Asian Championship match. The franchise has entered this year 41-25 since Vrabel took charge in 2019.
The Henry-Taneyhill-Frabel version of the Titans may not be officially out yet. But you can see the end from here. All three will likely not return in 2023.
Frabel built this team around an identity. In the golden age of traffic crime and the declining age of undo value, the titans were zigzagging while everyone else zigzagged. The plan was almost an ’80s scheme: base your running game, have your game manager quarterback make a few throws on the field, and play a solid, opportunistic defense.
Attractive and effective. However, if the foundation of their entire philosophy is showing cracks, who are the Titans? The entire system is built on Henry being exceptional. We haven’t seen Henry exceptional in nearly a year.
4 and 1 at the goal line was an easy play call for the Titans.
Falling, Derek Henry. 🏈💪 pic.twitter.com/4cVs7QzDHS
– return (thecomeback) September 19, 2022
Henry has 34 holders for 107 yards and touchdowns this season. He hasn’t had a 100-yard game since October 18 when he rushed 20 times for 143 yards and three touchdowns in a 34-31 win over the Bills in Nashville. Henry was going in full swing for the second 2000 yard season in a row until he broke a bone in his foot. He missed the second half of the regular season but returned to the playoffs.
In the 19-16 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, Henry had 20 carry-ons for 62 yards and a point. It’s fair to wonder if Henry, 28, has finally reached his expiration date. At 6 feet 3 and 247 pounds, he was a physical prodigy to last as long as he had such a massive job.
Over the past two full seasons, Henry ran the ball 681 times. It’s as hard as it gets but running is painful. It’s one of the few situations where all eleven defenders have a chance to deal with you. These blows require effort which is why most runners have short jobs.
Mark Ross of the NFL Network provided this candid assessment of Henry.
“I don’t think they can play bullying ball with Derek Henry anymore because I don’t think it’s the same Derek Henry,” Ross said on the net. “After the injury, he doesn’t look the same to me… He doesn’t look as strong, tough or explosive as he did last year. We know when the Tennessee offensive was rolling, when they were winning games, Derek Henry was playing as the best player in football.”
Last year, even with Henry missing nine games, the Titans finished fifth in the rush (141.3 yards per game). This year, they are 24 (86.5). Without this quick support, all the stress fell on Taneyhill. That takes a lot from the man who lost his best wide receiver in the off-season when she replaced Tennessee AJ Brown to the Philadelphia Eagles on a salary transfer.
Frabel and former offensive coordinator Arthur Smith are credited with having the best years of Tunnehill. But he was never a man who could stand a team. He is a man who works best within the system. This system is very vulnerable.
There is still plenty of time to save the season. The Titans, aided by their weak division, play the sixth easiest remaining table. As long as they can stay in the postseason feud, Taneyhill will start. Once eliminated, they might turn to apprentice Malik Willis, who saw duty to mop on the 41-7 attack at Buffalo.
– return (thecomeback) September 20 2022
The immediate future looks bleak. Tennessee may cut Tannehill. Henry has only one year left on his contract. Not so long ago, the Titans were a win away from the Super Bowl. Now this window appears closed.
Life in the NFL comes quickly.