The Tennessee Titans just wrapped up one of the most successful seasons in franchise history. They won 11 games, finished first in the AFC South for the first time since 2008 and hosted a playoff game for the first time in more than a decade.
Despite all of that and in the wake of a loss to Baltimore in the wild card round, though, there is plenty about which to be concerned, mostly on the defensive side of the football.
Yes, there are reasons to be encouraged, and there are questions that must be answered as the team makes its way through the offseason. Here, however, All Titans looks at five things that should concern Titans fans as they look ahead to 2021.
Third-down defense: It was a problem from the outset and it never improved. The distance didn’t even matter. Long or short, opposing offenses converted on third down against the Titans at a historic rate. The Titans allowed opponents to move the chains 111 times on third down on 214 attempts (51.9 percent). The 1994 Detroit Lions are the only team that has surrendered more third-down conversions (112), but the 2020 Titans are the only team to have allowed opponents to convert more than 50 percent of the time.
It will be hard for the Titans defense to be worse in that regard next season, but this is one thing that should concern fans the most because there was never any substantial progress toward improvement this season. At his season-ending press conference, coach Mike Vrabel explained some of the reasons for why the issue persisted.
“There were times where it looked like it was representative of what we wanted to do from a planning standpoint and a schematic standpoint, and then other times it was shorter distance and that we probably didn't do a good enough job on second down,” he said. “We’re all responsible. It's going to be about the playing and the coaching when there's things that don't go well, and then when you see it look good and how it's designed to be executed and coached, it looks pretty good.”
Pass rush: Another area in which the Titans never really improved was the pass rush. The Titans registered just 19 sacks this season. Only the Cincinnati Bengals (17) and Jacksonville Jaguars (18) had fewer sacks. The Titans had five additional sacks in their postseason game against the Baltimore Ravens.
Tennessee has recorded at least 39 sacks in each of the previuos five seasons, including 43 in 2019. Outside linebacker Harold Landry led the team with 5.5 sacks, which was a decline from the previous campaign. Nobody else had more than three. At least two Titans recorded more than five sacks in each of the last eight seasons.
Other than Landry, there is no one you can point to as a reason to believe things will be better in 2021.
Free-agent misses: Disappointing performances from two high-profile free-agent additions were at the core of the pass-rush woes.
The Titans signed Pro Bowl defensive end Vic Beasley to a one-year, $9.5 million contract. What they hoped to be a nice addition to their pass rush was a debacle from the beginning. Beasley showed up late for training camp and failed a physical due to a knee injury when he got there. He played in five games and contributed nothing to the team before being cut on Nov. 3.
Just before the season, three-time Pro Bowl defensive end Jadeveon Clowney joined the Titans on a lucrative one-year deal worth $12 million with another $3 million in incentives. But a torn meniscus ended his season after eight games in which he contributed a career-worst 19 tackles and zero sacks.
The Titans will have salary cap issues before roster cuts or contract restructures take place. General Manager Jon Robinson ultimately will have some money to spend to shore up the defensive deficiencies. It will be less than he had a year ago, and he will have to do more with it.
Wide receiver depth: Corey Davis is set to become a free agent, and it is hard to see the Titans bringing him back. His value skyrocketed after a career season in which he caught 65 passes for 984 yards and five touchdowns.
Other than A.J. Brown, the Titans are otherwise shallow at wide receiver. Veteran Adam Humphires is a serviceable veteran, but injuries have plagued him over the last two seasons. Outside of Humphries, there are a few practice squad guys who have seen action.
Adding a complement or two to Brown in the passing game will be an important part of the offseason. Plenty of veterans will be available in free agency (Willie Snead, John Ross and Will Fuller to name a few). The NFL Draft will also be an opportunity for the Titans to improve at receiver, but with so many other holes, it’s hard to see the Titans taking one in the first two or three rounds.
Rashaan Evans’ disappointing season: He led the team in tackles last season with 111 and before the 2020 season kicked off, he talked about his aspirations to become a Pro Bowler and earn All-Pro selections.
But the third-year linebacker fell well short of those goals. His tackle numbers were down this season as he finished with just 96, and Jayon Brown, who will be a free agent this offseason, outperformed him before suffering a season-ending injury in Week 11. Brown missed the last month and a half but still finished with 76 tackles.
Then there were Evans’ frustrating penalties this season. He was the most penalized Titan this season with eight. Five of the eight cost the Titans 10 yards or more and opposing teams scored touchdowns in the plays after one of his penalties on six occasions.