Sunday’s game in Nashville against the Tennessee Titans looks like a tough matchup for the Detroit Lions. The Titans are 9-4, leading the AFC South and feature the NFL’s leading rusher in Derrick Henry.
To learn more about coach Mike Vrabel’s Titans, I turned to Mike Moraitis of Titans Wire. Moraitis offered some very insightful answers on the success of the Titans offense, their defensive issues, possible Lions offseason targets and more.
The Titans offense puts up very impressive numbers. Should Derrick Henry get more notice as an MVP candidate?
No question. He’s the engine behind one of the best offenses in the NFL and has the ability to take games over on a weekly basis. Unfortunately, even if he hits 2,000 yards (he needs 156 per game over the last three to get there) it’s unlikely that he’ll win the award because it normally goes to quarterbacks, and both Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes are putting up ridiculous numbers.
Mike Vrabel’s defensive scheme is very similar to Detroit’s under ex-coach Matt Patricia and appears to struggle in many of the same ways. How much do you attribute to scheme vs. talent for the Titans being dead last in third-down defense and sack percentage?
There’s a few different directions we can go here, but I’ll start by saying that losing a great defensive mind like Dean Pees and going with a rookie play-caller in outside linebackers coach Shane Bowen has been the biggest blow. Pees’ ability to scheme-up pressure and disguise coverages was second to none and I just haven’t seen that kind of creativity out of this year’s defense.
Talent and injuries have also been an issue. The Titans brought in Vic Beasley and Jadeveon Clowney to improve the pass rush, but both proved to be busts after totaling zero sacks combined. Clowney is now out for the season and Beasley was released after five games. Harold Landry was supposed to take that next step this season but has been a major disappointment.
One thing the Titans did often last season that worked was sending cornerback blitzes to create pressure with Logan Ryan, and losing his ability as a pass rusher isn’t talked about enough. On top of that, sending corners to create pressure simply hasn’t been possible with Tennessee dealing with several injuries to the secondary that has led to putrid coverage, forcing the Titans to drop more men to help out.
The potentially good news is that No. 1 cornerback Adoree’ Jackson might make his 2020 debut. With Jackson and Malcolm Butler on the boundary, along with Desmond King in the slot, the Titans are putting together a more formidable secondary that will enable them to be more creative in the pass-rush.
Corey Davis is a pending free agent that Lions fans see as a possible target. What’s been the secret to his uptick in play in 2020?
I think Davis has always had the talent, but for the first two-plus years of his career, the Titans saw shaky play from the quarterback position. Adding to that, Tennessee has been a run-first offense during Davis’ NFL career.
There’s no question the emergence of Ryan Tannehill in Nashville has been a huge plus for the Titans’ passing attack, but Davis didn’t really start to benefit until this season. One thing he and Tannehill always point to is chemistry, which is something the pair didn’t have much of in 2019. There were more times than I can count that Davis would be open but Tannehill simply wasn’t looking for him.
In 2020, both players made it a point of emphasis to improve their bond, and they did just that during training camp. Tannehill is looking in Davis’ direction more often and that has translated into career-best production for the former No. 5 overall pick.
I’d love to see what Davis can do in a more pass-heavy offense, and I think that he’ll get his chance in 2021 because it’s doubtful the Titans are going to pay big money for a receiver who is a No. 2 behind A.J. Brown. Whoever signs Davis is getting a guy who can be a No. 1, and he’s the type of player who loves to block, which is something he excels at.
Who are some Titans that don’t get enough national attention for their play?
On offense, I would definitely say that Corey Davis is one of them. He’s in the midst of a career year and often gets overshadowed by A.J. Brown. On defense, it’s Jeffery Simmons, who no doubt gets recognition, but not as an elite interior defender like he has shown this season. Big Jeff is a problem and if the Titans can put more around him to take the pressure off, I’m not sure anyone could stop him one-on-one.
Your thoughts on offensive coordinator Arthur Smith, who figures to get some head coaching interviews?
Smith has done some great things with the Titans, but on a weekly basis shows questionable decision-making that hurts the team. For example, last week on a 4th-and-2, instead of putting the ball into the hands of his best play-makers, Smith called a run for Jeremy McNichols, the team’s backup running back. In Week 13 with the Titans desperately needing points and in the red zone, Smith called a wildcat play that resulted in a fumble and a loss of yards.
Personally, he wouldn’t be anywhere near the top of my list as a head-coaching candidate in 2021. I need to see more to convince me that Tennessee’s offensive success is a result of his play-calling rather than just being a product of having some very talented players.
Who wins and why?
How close this game ends up being will depend upon the status of Matthew Stafford, who can carve up any pass defense he faces, and especially the Titans’ if Adoree’ Jackson doesn’t play. Regardless, I think the Titans will win this game. Having a bottom-five run defense is bad news for teams facing Derrick Henry, and that’s exactly what the Lions have.
Henry will feast, Tannehill will feed off of that and exploit an almost equally suspect Lions pass defense, and the Titans will emerge victorious.
Titans 34, Lions 24