NASHVILLE – At times last season, it seemed the Tennessee Titans could pull just about anyone off the street, fit them in to their lineup and have them play well.
That has not been the case in 2022, and Sunday’s 24-22 victory over the Las Vegas Raiders was the latest example.
Following the first victory of the season, coach Mike Vrabel hardly sung the praises of veteran cornerback Terrance Mitchell, who played extensively but allowed a number of big plays days after he was signed off the New England Patriots’ practice squad.
Mitchell was credited with eight tackles against the Raiders, tied for the third-highest total of his career. Part of the reason was that receivers caught passes against him, some of them well down the field. Most notably, he got beat down the right sideline by wide receiver Mack Hollins for a 48-yard reception on fourth-and-15 just ahead of the two-minute warning. Shortly thereafter, the Raiders scored a touchdown that put them within a successful two-point conversion of forcing overtime when Hollins got the best of Mitchell on a jump ball.
“We have got to find some guys that can go out there, cover, challenge and compete,” Vrabel said following the contest. “We'll keep searching, and we’ve got some guys here that we will give another look to this week.”
Coaches went with Mitchell over 2021 first-round draft pick Caleb Farley and undrafted rookie Tre Avery, both of whom struggled in Monday’s loss to the Buffalo Bills. Experience, no doubt, was a factor in that decision.
Mitchell, 30, arrived with 83 games played and 51 starts to his credit in a career that began when the Dallas Cowboys selected him in the seventh round of the 2014 NFL Draft. He rotated in with starters Kristian Fulton and Roger McCreary in packages that included extra cornerbacks. In those cases, McCreary moved inside and defended the slot while Mitchell lined up outside.
Mitchell ultimately played 53 snaps on defense. He was targeted eight times and allowed six receptions for 102 yards, per Pro Football Focus. Hollins accounted for four of the catches for 82 yards and the touchdown on a day when he set career-highs with eight receptions and 158 receiving yards.
Farley played one snap on defense when Fulton had to come out for an injury. Avery was limited to special teams.
“We just wanted to try somebody new,” Vrabel said Monday. "That may change this week. That could be something different for the gameplan this week. … Certainly, the thing we look for is the ability to be able to match up, to be able to understand what the zone coverage responsibilities are, the ability to play the correct leverage. Those are all things we look for.”
What they wanted against the Raiders, he added, was to give extra attention to wide receiver Davante Adams (five receptions, 36 yards) and tight end Darren Waller (three receptions, 22 yards).
That meant Mitchell largely mathed up with a less-threatening option. Much of the day, that was Hollins, who previously never had more than five receptions or 72 receiving yards in a game. The sixth-year veteran’s breakout performance started with a 20-yard reception on third-and-15 – against Mitchell – early in Las Vegas’ first possession.
“(Mitchell) was lined up on my side for pretty much the entire game, so I was having to make sure I was communicating with him a lot,” safety Kevin Byard said. “We run a lot of different defenses. This defense is very complex, different situations call for different defense, a different technique. He's been in this league a while. I know he'll be able to bounce back. It's just tough.”
For all his promise, Farley remains a work in progress. In the first two games, he allowed 12 receptions on 17 targets at an average of better than 12 yards per catch. Avery allowed three receptions for 66 yards on three pass attempts at Buffalo in his first real taste of game action.
There were no other options against the Raiders after Chris Jackson was placed on injured reserve last week and Ugo Aamdi was ruled out two days before the contest. Elijah Molden has been on injured reserve since the start of the season and must sit out at least one more game.
It is possible, therefore, that coaches coach give Mitchell another try. Or they could go to the practice squad and try Nate Brooks, who has limited NFL experience. Or they could bring in somebody from the outside once again and try to recapture some of last season’s magic.
“We will have to see what it looks like this week,” Vrabel said.