Last week, the Titans put up just 6 points in a lackluster loss against the Buccaneers.
While expectations may be deflated with a rookie quarterback, the modern Titans have had high standards, going 53-43 since hiring Mike Vrabel in 2018.
In the last 16 games, though, Tennessee is a shocking 3-13. After a historic meltdown last season, going from 7-3 to 7-10 and missing out on the playoffs, the Titans now sit in last place in the AFC South at 3-6.
It has been two calendar years since the Titans scored 30 points in a game and with a porous offensive line, weakened defense, and immense lack of consistency, the outlook has never been so uncertain in the Vrabel era.
A 14-year NFL veteran and 6-year head coach, Mike Vrabel has an extensive football background. Coming from the Patriots, where he played most of his career, he has the Belichick-aura and has found his coaching success by leading tough teams that find ways to win.
The 2021 Coach of the Year is a sometimes-grouchy but grounded coach who from the outside, can appear somewhat egotistical. While he may come off as abrasive, Vrabel has an impressive method of motivation and cultivates a strong relationship with players.
However, given the Titans recent skid, many are not so sold on Vrabel or the direction of Tennessee. While fans are often overly emotional and irrational, things have been trending in the wrong way for some time now.
His iconic "gotta play better, gotta coach better" has evolved into a similar motto but now includes misplaced reassurance that the coaches and current players will figure out the team's recurring issues.
After Ryan Tannehill's Week 7 injury which forced rookie QB Will Levis into action, it became even more apparent that the Titans current issues are systemic. While Levis had a very impressive debut, the team as a whole is simply not the same as they were over the prior 3 seasons.
After the trade of AJ Brown heading into 2022 and the lack of attention to the offensive line and exit of Jim Schwarz heading into this season, the team's identity has changed. While some of the core pieces like Derrick Henry and Jeffery Simmons are present and still playing at a relatively high level, the trend is not inspiring.
Whether it is strictly a personnel issue or something greater is unclear. There is an obvious decline in talent at various positions but throughout the Vrabel era, the team has tended to surprise in those situations. Take the 2020 Tuesday night Bills game or the 2021 season as a whole which saw an NFL record 91 player suit up for Tennessee throughout the season as an example.
About a year ago, on December 6th, 2022, the Titans fired longtime GM, Jon Robinson. This was a sign of Amy Adams' distaste in the team's performance and a vote of confidence for Mike Vrabel. The team clearly believed that the team's issues stemmed from personnel issues and was with the players that Robinson had selected, not Vrabel's coaching decisions.
The Titans blame the personnel, bring in a new GM and and still, have equal or greater issues.
Looking at Ran Carthon's 2023 offseason, you'd think things would be much better. He acquired the team's defensive leader, Azeez Al-Shaair, leading receiver DeAndre Hopkins, and starting Quarterback Will Levis, among others.
Then the team gets considerably worse. There is no doubt that Derrick Henry is running behind a far worse line, that the secondary is far less trustworthy, and that the pass rush is not nearly as consistent. This is where the understandable lack of patience comes in with many Titans fans. On paper, some things seem to be getting better but the franchise seems to be spinning their wheels.
While there are things that are in Mike Vrabel's control that should undoubtedly be better than they have been, some things are tough to counteract such as the aforementioned issues.
Still, the stats and eye test are very poor thus far and Vrabel has been minimally inspiring as of late. The case against Vrabel is obvious but potentially misplaced.
While an easy copout, the personnel issue is legitimate. Comparing the 2021 offensive line of Taylor Lewan, Roger Saffold, Ben Jones, Nate Davis, and David Quessenberry to this uear's puts this into perspetive.
Defensively, the secondary has lacked a real lockdown corner with injuries to Kristian Fulton and Roger McCreary. The trade of Kevin Byard does not help the group's worsening consistency, either.
Taking a look at the Titans coaching staff, this could also explain some of the struggle.
The exit of senior defensive assistant, Jim Schwartz, who also served as the Titans DC from 2001-2008 has been costly. While it is unclear how he and current DC Shane Bowen split playcalling and overall decision making, Schwartz has assembled the league's best defense as Cleveland's defensive coordinator this season. Moreover, the Titans clearly lack the same bite they did when he was in Nashville.
While I am not in support of firing Vrabel, this discussion also begs the question: Would the Titans even consider firing Vrabel in the first place?
An NFL coaches job is very closely tied with that of a Quarterback. Hence why I think Arthur Smith, Brian Daboll, and Bill Belichick will all be considering jobs elsewhere after this season.
The Titans QB position has been in flux and has produced below average results in recent years. While the Titans ownership could see this as a negative, the admiration for Vrabel will likely lead them to believe that it was simply an unlucky series of events and that with the right quarterback, things will turn around.
The Titans last firing, Mike Mularky, came for different reasons. After a 9-7 season and playoff win in Arrowhead, the ownership opted to move on from Mularky after he wanted to keep his coaching staff intact.
While this exact issue may not resurface with Vrabel, his know-it-all mentality could come back to bite him in one way or another. If he wanted to keep, say, keep Shane Bowen for an extra season or miraculously wants to stick with Tannehill, that could be a reason for concern.
While the current landscape may suggest that Vrabel could be on the hot seat, the firing of Job Robinson carries far more significance. It was such a clear suggestion that the issue was in the team's management and not in the head coach.
Vrabel has been in the job long enough to build a culture, get in touch with the city, and create an image. While some coaches such as Mike Tomlin don't have particularly down years, ownership should see the various factors acting against Vrabel that are hindering the team's ability to win.
Now, if Vrabel's hirings continue to underperform and the team's offensive identity is not solidified by the end of the 2023-24 season, that is cause for concern.
The lack of direction has been worrying but is also still within the range of the ups and downs of a perennially good football team. It takes years to build a culture that leads to championships and Vrabel has done positive things moving in the right direction.
All things considered, there is not enough talent or coaching prowess on the 2023-24 Titans to suggest that Mike Vrabel is at fault and should be fired.