NASHVILLE – One or two games, even three? Write it off as a fluke.
A handful of games? There may be something to it.
But eight games? That seems like more than just a happy coincidence.
The Tennessee Titans certainly hope so, anyway, as they seek to take advantage of the AFC’s lone playoff bye week.
Since Mike Vrabel took over as head coach in 2018, the Titans are 8-0 during the regular season on “long rest,” defined as nine or more non-gamedays between contests. That perfect mark – which doesn’t include season openers or playoff games -- is tied with the Pittsburgh Steelers for tops in the NFL during that stretch.
“I definitely don’t think it’s a fluke,” safety Kevin Byard said. “But me personally, I just think every single week is different. And I do think that the way (Vrabel) prepares us every week -- whether it’s how many days we practice, how long we’re on the field, everything like that -- I’m sure all that factors into the whole equation.”
The Titans produced two of those long-rest victories in the last month, first returning from their bye week with a 20-0 triumph over AFC South rival Jacksonville. Then came Jan. 2, when the Titans – who hadn’t played since the previous Thursday – walloped Miami 34-3 and brought a harsh end to the Dolphins’ seven-game win streak.
There’s no magical formula Vrabel has used to ensure victory following long rests, but he does seem to be a progressive thinker, comfortable when the situation – as is the case after 17 regular-season games – may call more for rest and rehab than it does doubling down on grinding January practices.
Credit some of that strategy to the fact he played 14 years in the NFL, going to the postseason eight times during that stretch.
“I just try to focus on, `How much time do we have? What do we need to do? What does each player need to do?’” Vrabel said. “Try to have a plan for each guy based on health or based on how much they played and based on the things that I think we need to do. It changes. It changes based on when you have a bye, or in this particular week, coming after 17 games.”
Here’s one strategy Vrabel has designed to make the most of this particular bye week: Working with position coaches and the players, Vrabel has asked each member of the Titans to focus primarily on one thing this week – one thing that would make the players better when the Titans take on a playoff opponent next weekend at Nissan Stadium.
It’s easier to implement this week because the Titans aren’t preparing for a specific foe. They are just trying to make themselves better – much as they might during offseason OTAs or in training camp. During a regular game week, there’s more concern about schemes and gameplans, not as much opportunity to focus on the individual.
Byard, for example, said field vision is one of his top priorities this week.
“As a safety, I feel like there’s always things I could work on – work on my tackling, work on taking great angles, working on my eyes in particular in different coverages,” he said. “I want to (make sure) my eyes are always where they need to be, so I can go out there and play fast, make plays.”
Quarterback Ryan Tannehill said he planned to use this week to brush up on his technique – in a few areas.
“I want to go out there and work on some fundamentals and some details on things with the running backs, being in the pocket, timing with the receivers, and all that kind of stuff,” Tannehill said. “There are really several things I am excited to work on this week.”
Center Ben Jones agreed with the idea of narrowing down the issues, reasoning that at this point in the year, it’s about fine-tuning details.
“If you’re an O-lineman, you’re working on … (maybe) it’s tighter hands in run-blocking, (maybe) it’s moving your feet better in pass pro,” Jones said. “That’s where our focus is, cleaning up your own mistakes so you’re able to play your best football when our time is called.”
When that time is eventually called, the Titans will hope a long rest gives them a large advantage – yet again.