The Tennessee Titans made quite a statement win when they took down the Los Angeles Rams 28-16 and rose to 7-2 and the top spot in the AFC. Their defense put on arguably their best performance of the year, and the offense did enough to not cause them problems. However, when one looks at the stat sheet, the absence of Derrick Henry is more noticeable than one might expect. It did not matter in that game because the defense stifled the Rams, but there are still some questions about the Tennessee Titans offense going forward.
Tennessee Titans Offense Still Has Questions Going Forward Without Derrick Henry
Hodgepodge of Backup Runners
It has been said lately by some that the running back position is becoming more meaningless because even if you lose a good starter, the backup will usually do just fine anyway. That was not really the case for the Titans on Sunday night. The halfbacks combined only went for 74 yards, and only one of them had a particularly good yards-per-carry average.
Adrian Peterson was brought in after Henry got hurt, suggesting a lack of faith in Jeremy McNichols to handle the workload. Peterson’s running style may be more relatively similar to Henry’s, but he’s also 36 and likely has little left in the tank. He got only 21 yards on 10 carries, only managing to salvage his night with a touchdown (in fairness, he does still seem to be a decent goal-line threat).
Elsewhere, McNichols – who has been more notable as a pass-catching back – averaged 3.4 yards with 24 yards on seven carries. D’Onta Foreman was the one who made the most of his limited carries, getting five carries for 29 yards. But ultimately, hardly any of the halfbacks inspired confidence that they could step into the role. With both Peterson and McNichols in the picture, it’s fair to assume that they will be sharing carries for now. But at least one of them is going to have to do better to get the rushing attack going.
Passing Offense Inconsistency
Perhaps one of the bigger surprises of 2021 is that the passing offense of Ryan Tannehill, A.J. Brown, and Julio Jones have not been shredding pass defenses more. Sure, Jones has been injured at times, but even when healthy, he’s been underwhelming, having only one 100-yard game and only an additional game above even 50 yards. Brown has not underwhelmed nearly so much, but this has been less of a dynamic duo than expected.
But elsewhere on the offense, Ryan Tannehill seems to be having a little bit of an overlooked down year. He’s passed for 2,145 yards and has a decent completion percentage of 66.1% and yards per attempt of 7.4, but his touchdown-interception ratio is 11:8. That’s unexpectedly pedestrian compared to the numbers he had been putting up the previous two seasons. He has also already thrown more interceptions in nine games than he did in all of 2019 (six) or 2020 (seven).
The lack of passing touchdowns to balance things out can be partially attributed to Derrick Henry getting in the end zone more often instead. However, the higher turnover rate is a little concerning, and with Henry gone for the year, Tannehill will likely have to pick up some of the slack himself. Some of that may boil down to getting more production out of Jones, which seems to hardly be a given at this point.
Elsewhere Among the Receiving Depth…
In the previous two seasons, Tannehill did have more than one decently reliable pass-catcher to throw to besides Brown – Corey Davis and Jonnu Smith. They both departed in the off-season, and the lack of other options this year besides Brown and Jones has been notable – especially with Jones being underwhelming. They signed Josh Reynolds this off-season, but he did virtually nothing and actually got cut eventually.
That leaves Nick Westbrook-Ikhine, Chester Rogers, and Marcus Johnson on the wideout depth chart. Westbrook-Ikhine is the only one that has shown much potential, and they may need to get him more involved in the offense going forward – especially considering that the tight end position has barely been used at all this year. Anthony Firkser, who performed decently at times when Jonnu Smith was hurt last year, has also underwhelmed. So ultimately, if someone else is going to become a reliable target to help out Brown besides Jones, it will likely have to be Westbrook-Ikhine.
The Titans have essentially been getting carried by Derrick Henry for most of the season. And now, after struggling most of the season, the defense has suddenly decided they want to play good as well, seeing as they have now completely shut down both Patrick Mahomes and Matthew Stafford. The defense may be able to help carry them to some more wins if they keep this up.
But at some point, the Tennessee Titans offense will be in a position again where they will have to make things happen in order to win. The potential is certainly there with Tannehill, Brown, and Jones – but we may need to see Tannehill and/or Jones snap out of their respective funks (of varying degrees), or see someone else break out and contribute in order to see this Titans offense get back to their more expected level of efficiency. Brown cannot carry this ship by himself, especially if the running game is going to be shaky.
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