On Sunday, the Titans beat the Chargers 23-20 in a thrilling game that came down to the wire. The Titans had a goal line stand in which two touchdowns were reversed. Additionally, Chargers RB, Melvin Gordon, fumbled on the 1 yard line as time expired. The Titans were the better team but they were extremely close to losing in the final seconds of the game.
On Tuesday, coach Mike Vrabel announced the Titans would start Ryan Tannehill in order to provide a "spark" to the Titans offense. Tannehill threw for 312 yards, 2 touchdowns and 1 interception, on 29 attempts. These are solid numbers and they are just what the Titans needed.
Tannehill did hold the ball too long a few times and took two sacks. On the first sack, he fumbled the ball but it was recovered by the defense. Tannehill's interception came after Jonnu Smith missed a blocking assignment and Tannehill's arm was hit from his blind side. Tannehill made some mistakes but that is bound to happen in a Quarterback's first real game with a team.
Tannehill played a solid game, as did the offensive line. They were a big problem through 6 weeks, but they played well against the Chargers. RT Jack Conklin left the game in the first quarter with a thigh injury, and RG Nate Davis left the game in the second quarter with a rib injury. This forced Dennis Kelly and Jamil Douglas to fill in at RT and RG. The improved play of the Offensive Line became clear when Derrick Henry began to get going and rack up some yards. His longest run was just 12 yards but he was running angry and had some fantastic runs.
Here are some stats from the game: (taken from ESPN.com)
QB Ryan Tannehill: 23/29 312yds 2 TD 1 INT (Tannehill's first 300+ yd passing game since 2016)
P Brett Kern: 1/1 11yds (fake punt on first offensive possession)
RB Derrick Henry 22 CAR 90yds 4.4yd avg 1 TD
WR Corey Davis: 6 REC 80yds 1 TD 7 tgts
TE Johnnu Smith: 3 REC 64yds
WR AJ Brown: 6 REC 64yds 9 tgts
K Cody Parkey: 1 FG Made (45yds) 2/3 PAT
LB Rashaan Evans: 10 tot tackles 8 SOLO
DT Jeffery Simmons: 4 tot tackles 4 SOLO 1 Sack 2 TFL (tackle for loss)
Fumbles: 2 (both Tannehill)
Fumbles lost: 0
Fumbles recovered: 3 (Casey, Tannehill, Saffold)
Kick returns: 3 (24yd avg) (Jennings)
Punt returns: 1 (14yds) (Humphries)
3rd down efficiency: 6/11
Total Yards: 404
Sacks: 1 (Simmons)
Rushing yards: 97
QB Philip Rivers: 24/38 329yds 2 TD 0 INT
RB Melvin Gordon: 16 CAR 32yds
RB Austin Ekeler: 7 REC 118yds 1 TD LONG 41yds
TE Hunter Henry: 6 REC 97yds
WR Keenan Allen: 4 REC 61yds 11 tgts
Fumbles lost: 1
Fumbles recovered: 1
Kick returns: 1 (8yds)
Punt returns: 0
3rd down efficiency: 6/11
Total Yards: 365
Rushing yards: 39
This was one of the craziest Titans games in a long time for many reasons. The main reason being the shocking ending. The Chargers scored with 5 minutes left after a strike to Austin Ekeler. The Titans still seemed in control, but Vrabel elected to go for it on 4th and inches. I am split on this decision because at the time, it seemed impossible that a QB sneak could not get a few inches. The Chargers stuffed the line and stopped Tannehill short, and the Titans lost yards. Rivers took the Chargers down the field with no timeouts. The Chargers then had 1 TD reversed, a false start penalty, a defensive pass interference on Malcom Butler, then a near TD by Melvin Gordon that was reversed again. The final play completed the Titans goal line stand as Wesley Woodyard forced a fumble that was recovered by Jurrell Casey.
What went well in the game:
1. The Offense as a whole
The Titans defense has been incredible through 3 weeks, but heading into the week, the Titans had just 2 wins. All the blame for the Titans poor start was pinned on the offense, and deservingly so. This week, however, the Titans played the most complete offensive game of the season, scoring 3 TD (two to receivers) , and a field goal. The Titans scored in 3 of 4 quarters, but the one quarter they didn't score in, they dominated. Last week, I wrote about how the play of Ryan Tannehill and the offensive line would determine the outcome of this game. That was correct. Tannehill played well, he gave the receivers opportunities to make plays. Tannehill also showed his arm strength and his ability to fit the ball into very small windows. The offensive line also played well, despite two injuries. They worked to open holes for Derrick Henry and pass protected pretty well.
2. Play of Linebackers
Heading into week 7, the Titans were very thin at LB. Injuries to Shariff Finch, Jayon Brown, and Cameron Wake forced the Titans to promote LB Derek Roberson from the practice squad. This also forced the team to play Rookie 6th round pick, David Long Jr for 9 defensive snaps. The linebackers stood out to me because they were more effective in the pass rush then the defensive line. Cameron Wake had a good QB pressure, and Harold Landry also had many pressures. I picked Landry to breakout this season, and he has put up great stats including 4 sacks. Rashaan Evans also had a great game. He racked up many tackles. Evans was also very helpful in the run defense.
What did not go well:
1. Consistent Defense
The defense played a pretty solid game but they lacked some consistency down the stretch. Outside of the goal line stand, the last two drives were poor defensively. Rivers had a lot of time in the pocket and completed some pretty easy looking passes over the top. I cannot really criticize the defense, its was just the last two drives that were poor. I think if the pass rush can get going, the defense could legitimately be the best in the league. The Titans don't often make trades but I think the Titans should trade for a pass rusher before the October 29th trade deadline.
Coaching seems to consistently come up when I talk about what went wrong in games. Mike Vrabel made an interesting decision to go for it on 4th down, at the Chargers 48 yard line. The playcall was a QB sneak on 4th and inches which I agree with but Tannehill made a poor attempt to go over the pile rather than under. The poor coaching comes when Vrabel opted to not challenge the spot. The Titans had all three timeouts, and it appeared that Tannehill had gotten over or near the first down marker. A successful challenge may have ended the game as the Chargers had no timeouts remaining. When it came down to the wire, with seconds left, Mike Vrabel had some peculiar time management. He wasn't necessarily wrong with what he did but he used a timeout, which gave the Chargers time to set up for the next play. Presumably, this was done so the Titans would have more time on the clock when they got the ball back, Vrabel assumed the Chargers would score when they were on the 1 yard line. The Titans got away with not challenging the 4th down spot, but narrowly.
This game was extremely entertaining and it was very good to see the Titans offense finally click. Tannehill used all the Titans targets and spread the ball around. Tannehill completed a pass to 8 different receivers which is great. It will be interesting to see who Tannehill develops has his favorite targets. The Titans real skill will start to show as teams struggle to cover all of the Titans targets.
The Titans now sit at 3-4 and they remain last in the AFC south. The Titans must use this win as a building block, and the next couple games can certainly be wins. If the Titans offense can play like this every week, and the defense continues to be strong, the Titans have a chance to salvage their poor start and compete late in the season.