The Tennessee Titans were blown out on Monday night by the Houston Texans, with their coaching staff leaving plenty of questions in the aftermath.
Whether it was fourth-and-inches in the second quarter or trailing by 17 points with just under seven minutes in the fourth quarter, Titans head coach Mike Vrabel seemed to be clueless about strategy.
Fourth and inches at the Texans’ 3-yard line. Houston leading 14-10 with 9:42 remaining in the second quarter.
For Vrabel, this was no time to be conservative. Offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur sent in the play. A run, right up the gut. By tight end Luke Stocker. Derrick Henry, who checks in at 247 pounds, averages 3.7 yards per carry. Stocker had never carried the ball in his eight-season career prior to that snap.
The play was a dismal failure, with Stocker being stood up at the line. The next play saw Houston go 97 yards in a flash, with Lamar Miller going the distance. For Vrabel and his staff, the play was only the start of what would be a horrendous night on national television.
After being thoroughly outplayed for another two quarters, the Titans found themselves in a desperate position, trailing 34-17 in the middle stages of the fourth quarter. Tennessee had some hope, though, with Marcus Mariota yet to throw an incompletion.
On fourth and eight from the Tennessee 28-yard line with 6:54 left in regulation, the Titans needed a play from Mariota. By legs or arm, the fourth-year quarterback had to make something happen or face 5-6 and the very real fate of either winning out or watching the postseason from home.
Shockingly, this was the time for Vrabel to be conservative. Instead of going for a first down in a must-have spot, the former Texans defensive coordinator punted the ball away along with his team’s playoff chances.
How does Vrabel, a former linebacker who played under Bill Cowher and Bill Belichick, not understand basic game theory? Belichick is the master of it, while Cowher is a borderline Hall of Fame coach who won a Super Bowl, appeared in another and reached a half-dozen conference title games.
Yes, it’s no secret that the Titans aren’t an explosive team. Tennessee has only 32 total plays of 20+ yards (27 passing), the product of a unit that ranks 30th in passing yardage and is dead last with 39 sacks allowed. Regardless, Vrabel should have been compelled to forge ahead with a punt the equivalent of surrender.
Whether the season ends in disappointment or somehow finds its way to January, Tennessee has to ruthlessly self-scout. If Mariota is going to be the long-term answer in Nashville, he must be surrounded by more than Corey Davis and a bunch of nameplates.
In 2018, the road to success isn’t paved with four-yard runs. It’s lined with excellent spacing, yards after the catch and pre-snap motion. In their current form, the Titans come up woefully short.
Still, Monday night wasn’t about those shortcomings. It was defined by a coaching staff that failed its players in the must fundamental of ways.
It didn’t give them a chance.