2018 Season Recap: Tennessee Titans

2018 SEASON RECAP: TENNESSEE TITANS

Division: AFC South

Record: 9-7, 3rd in AFC South

Draft Picks: 1.19 | 2.51 | 3.82 | 4.121 | 5.157 | 7.233

Head Coach: Mike Vrabel

Hey everyone! I want to thank /u/mlbrulz and /u/jayyburnhair for helping me with this. /u/MattNeely50 deserves thanks as well for all the memes he makes for us, including the ones here. I also want to thank everyone over at /r/TennesseeTitans for helping out and being an awesome subreddit to be a part of!

Stats

  Player Offensive Stats Offensive Rank Defensive Stats Defensive Rank
  Points For / Against 310 27 303 3  
  Total Yards 5002 25 5334 8  
  Plays 940   1001    
  Yards per Play 5.3   5.3    
  Turnovers 18 7 17 22  
  Fumbles Lost / Gained 6 4 6 25  
  1st Downs 289 26 298 5  
  Completions 293   337    
  Pass Attempts 437 31 533 10  
  Pass Yards 2975 29 3471 6  
  Pass TD 16 28 21 3  
  Int 12 12 11 23  
  Net Yards Per Pass Attempt 6.1 20 6.1 8  
  Rush Attempts 456 9 429 19  
  Rush Yards 2027 6 1863 18  
  TD 15 11 9 4  
  Rush Yards Per Attempt 4.4 16 4.3 15  

Coaching Staff / General Manager Review

  Position Name Grade Review
  General Manager: Jon Robinson B+ Jon Robinson went out and got a 3rd CB to solidify the defense, a pass catching RB to replace what would be lost with Murray retiring, replaced and upgraded from Avery Williamson, and got someone that looks to be the future of our EDGE. On top of all the personnel moves he made, Jon Robinson got the chance to build a coaching staff. There are a few assistants that many were very unhappy with, in particular Keith Carter, Pat P’Hara and Rob Moore. However, this is overshadowed by bringing in Vrabel, Lafleur, Pees, and Coombs.  
  Head Coach: Mike Vrabel B+ Vrabel had his learning moments this year, but he showed that he is a true leader and controls the locker room. He showed faith in his team to go for it on 4th down in FG range against the Eagles, and he showed faith in his team again when he went for 2 to get the win against the Chargers in London. Not to mention the injuries to nearly every star player on the team at some point this year, including the QB the entire year. He wasn’t perfect, but he showed everything one could hope for in a rookie head coach.  
  Offensive Coordinator: Matt Lafleur C Matt Lafleur really struggled to get a rhythm with his play calling. The offense he built showed promise at times, but most of the year it just looked unprepared, unequipped, and fighting itself. The biggest thing for me was that he completely changed the offensive line blocking scheme from power to zone blocking, but he didn’t create a quick offense at the beginning of the season to counter the inexperience in the offensive line in the scheme. This lead to Mariota getting hit a lot to start the year. The WR core lacked a lot of talent as well, so long developing downfield routes have very little separation, meaning Mariota has no one to throw to. Overall, I have no idea what the Packers saw in the Titans offense this year to make him their Head Coach.  
  Defensive Coordinator: Dean Pees A- Dean Pees came out of retirement to join his former player Mike Vrabel. Pees created a very solid backend defense that was still a top run defense. In fact, the Titans had the top scoring defense for a few weeks towards the end of the season. But, the Titans somehow got worse at pass rush from Dick LeBeau, and they were not great before. I think this is outweighed by how good the secondary was able to do, even setting the franchise record for sacks by DBs.  
  Special Teams Coordinator: Craig Aukerman A- The kick return game did great all year and consistently had the offense starting close to the 30 every drive. The punt return game was not great and seeing Adoree’ back there was terrifying, especially when he got hurt twice this season. Kicking and punting continued to be great for us, and he developed an amazing gunner in Dane Cruikshank. I think that the Kevin Byard to Dane Cruikshank play call in Week 2 deserves a high grade by itself.  
  Noteworthy Assistant: Arthur Smith (TEs) A+ Arthur Smith took nobodies off the street and whipped them up into a solid TE core, even after Walker and Smith went down.  
  Noteworthy Assistant: Keith Carter (OL) D The offensive line was terrible to start the year, and the interior line hardly improved all year. It is clear that Carter is not prepared to be an OL coach, as he was a RB coach before.  
  Noteworthy Assistant: Kerry Coombs (DBs) B+ Coombs really helped Adoree’ and Byard continue to develop. He also managed to keep Logan Ryan on the pace he was on at the end of last year. However, Butler was the worst CBs in the league before the bye, and then he became one of the best CBs in the league the second half of the year. I’m excited to see our High Energy Grandpa  

2018 Roster Performance Review

  Position Grade Review
  QB C Mariota was injured all season, Gabbert is not a starting QB. What more can you say?  
  RB: B+ Lewis had a few breakout games, Henry went on a tirade in the month of December, racking up 625 yards on 97 carries and 8 TDs. The combination of the two were able to put together some great games, as well as some poor ones.  
  WR: C+ This position could not have been more painful to watch this year. Corey Davis was on track to rack up 1,000 yards before Derrick Henry took over the entire offensive production. Big drops on 3rd downs, deep passes or touchdowns. A lot of lazy routes, little separation, and too many long developing routes lead to a poor performance by the WR core.  
  TE: B Even after losing Delanie Walker, Arthur Smith (TEs Coach) whipped up a good core of Jonnu Smith (for ¾ of the season, before injury), Luke Stocker, MyCole Pruitt, and Anthony Firkser. They also managed to be great run blockers for Henry in December.  
  OL: C+ The scheme change from power to zone blocking really screwed with the OL, especially since only Quinton Spain had played in a ZBS before. Conklin missed the first few games of the year recovering from his torn ACL against the Patriots in the 2017 Playoffs. It was obvious he rushed himself back, and he was really bad when he came back. Lewan missed a few games with a concussion after week 1. The interior OL was pathetically bad, getting blown up and missing assignments often.  
  DL: B+ Most of this grade is propped up by Jurrell Casey. By himself, Buttcrack deserves an A+ for single handedly being the pass rush most plays. In fact, Casey had more sacks (7) than Orakpo, Morgan and Landry combined (6.5). The rest of the DL was able to play well enough in the run game to make up for the lack of pass rush, as you can only expect so much from 2-3 guys.  
  OLB: C+ The edge rushers combined for 11 sacks this year. The lack of pass rush by the edge rushers really held the defense back from being considered elite. Hopefully this position can be upgraded this offseason as we are losing Brian Orakpo and most likely Derrick Morgan as well.  
  ILB: A- Jayon Brown was a top 5 ILB this year. He had 1 interception, 2 forced fumbles, 1 fumble recovery, 6 sacks, 10 QB hits, 8 TFL, and nearly 100 tackles. Wesley Woodyard was still a solid ILB at 32 years old with 4.5 sacks, 7 QB hits, a fumble recovery and 113 tackles in 14 games. Rookie LB Rashaan Evans played some time at ILB and OLB, but also struggled with injury to start the year so he missed time. In 9 starts he racked up 53 tackles, including a very clutch 4th down stop against the Jags  
  DB: B+ Butler was awful the first half of the year, but was one of the best corners the second half of the league. Outside covering Hilton, Hopkins or Fuller, the Titans DB core did a good job throughout the year in coverage, with only a few big plays given up. I think if the front 7 was able to generate pressure the DBs would have been able to do better.  
  K/P: B+ Succop missed a few kicks this year, and 3 extra points (one was blocked but it was the OLine’s fault). Brett Kern is still one of the best punters in the league  
  KR/PR: A+/F- Darius Jennings had the 14th highest yard per return in NFL history post merger last year (source). His kick return touchdown week 1 was an inspiring play in an uninspiring game. The punt return game was terrible and had many errors, from Adoree’ fielding punts he shouldn’t / not fielding punts he should, Batson’s safety, and the poor return yards overall, the punt return game needs a major overhaul this offseason.  
  ST: B+ The kickoff and punt teams both did fantastic jobs stopping returns. Dane Cruikshank and Brandon Trawick stopped nearly every punt return in their tracks every week. They did allow one touchdown to Jakeem Grant week 1, though.  

Coaching Changes going into 2019

Offensive Coordinator is changing hands as Matt Lafleur has moved on to the Packers to become their Head Coach. The incoming Offensive Coordinator is Arthur Smith, who has been with the team since 2011 and served as defensive quality control coach under, then offensive quality control coach, then He was assistant offensive line coach under Mike Munchak. Ken Whisenhunt kept him as assistant tight ends coach until he was fired, and then the main tight ends coach under Mike Mularkey and Mike Vrabel. Also to note, he is the son of FedEx founder Frederick W Smith.

Todd Downing is replacing Arthur Smith as tight ends coach.

Titans have also hired Frank Piraino as the new Strength and Conditioning coach to replace Tom Kanavy.

2018 Draft Review

Going into the draft, the Titans had a clear need to address their linebacker corp, which has been aging and underperforming for a while. For once, their secondary was in good shape, their offense was poised for a top 10 breakout so the LBs were the one weak point on the team.

Rashaan Evans, LB, Alabama

Round 1, Pick 22 (No. 22 overall) [via Baltimore]

First pick, first need hit. Evans was a much needed spring chicken among the linebackers and although he spent the first couple games injured and his first couple games coming back, the second half the year he was nothing short of spectular, providing much need run support and looks to be a cornerstone at the inside lineback position.

Harold Landry, DE/OLB, Boston College

Round 2, Pick 9 (No. 41 overall, via Raiders)

After concerns about his ankle caused him to slip out of the first round, the Titans traded up in the second to select Harold Landry. Landry is a perfect fit for the Titans system and showed his ability to get to the QB in flashes early in the season. By the second half in the season, Landry was getting more snaps and proved his worth, finishing third on the team with sacks and TFLs. With Brian Orakpo retires and Derrick Morgan starting to get up there in age, a lot of pressure will be on Landry to produce this year.

Dane Cruikshank, S, Arizona

Round 5, Pick 15 (No. 152 overall)

Cruikshank started the year with a bang, a 66 yard touchdown off a fake punt. Last season, he was an excellent special teams players but played sparingly on defence. With the current state of safeties on the roster, he could see himself with some extra playing time next season.

Luke Falk, QB, Washington State

Round 6, Pick 25 (No. 199 overall) Falk was drafted to compete for the back-up QB position for the Titans or at the worst be the 3rd string QB if they chose to carry one. He played fairly well in the preseason, but ultimately he was waived for the 53-man cut down. The intention was to re-sign him to the practice squad, and we would have gotten away from it if it weren’t for those meddling Dolphins, who claimed Falk off waivers. Overall, a waste of a pick.

Re-Signed and Extensions

  Player Pos. Age (now) Contract Spotrac Link
  Ryan Succop K 32 5 year $20 million Link  
  Josh Kline G 29 4 year $26.5 million Link  
  DaQuan Jones DE 27 3 year $21 million Link  
  Quinton Spain G 27 1 year $1.9 million Link  
  Taylor Lewan LT 27 5 year $80 million Link  
  Delanie Walker TE 34 2 year $17 million (extension) Link  

Jon Robinson started off the year (technically ending the 2017 season, but whatever) by re-signing Kicker Ryan Succop. He then re-signed Guard Josh Kline through 2021, with a potential opt out after 2019, DT/DE DaQuan Jones through 2020, and then gave TE Delanie Walker an extension through 2020. He also tendered our other starting Guard Quinton Spain. The biggest re-signing move needed for the Titans last year was to get Taylor Lewan locked up for the foreseeable future, and that is what based JRob did. He signed up the star LT to the largest offensive lineman contract in NFL history at $16m AVY, keeping him a Titan until 2023.

Signings

  Player Pos. Age (now) Contract Spotrac Link
  Dion Lewis RB 28 4 year $19.8 million Link  
  Malcolm Butler CB 29 5 year $61.25 million Link  
  Kevin Pamphile G 28 1 year $1.4 million Link  
  Blaine Gabbert QB 29 2 year $4 million Link  
  Will Compton ILB 29 1 year $1.25 million Link  
  Bennie Logan DT/NT 29 1 year $4 million Link  
  Kendrick Lewis FS 30 1 year $915k Link  
  Nick Williams WR 28 1 year $790k Link  
  Anthony Firkser TE 24 2 year $990k Link  
  Kenny Vaccaro SS 28 1 year $1.5 million Link  

Dion Lewis and Malcolm Butler were huge signings for the team, not just from a talent perspective but it also felt like it put the team “on the map” with two bigger free agency signings. Without looking into the contract much, the Butler contract can look very expensive (and it is). However, it has only $6m, then $4m and then $2m in dead money for the final 3 years of the deal, giving the team an out if Butler were to struggle (we’ll talk later about his performance). Pamphile was a good backup signing, as was Gabbert. Will Compton and Kendrick Lewis primarily played Special Teams and were rarely used on defense. Nick Williams was cut after the worst dropped TD I’ve seen in a long time against the Bills, which could have won us the game. Bennie Logan was a rotational DT/NT for us who played pretty solid in his usage. I put Firkser here because he had some playing time and showed a lot of promise, and I expect that he will continue to see time in the offense. Vaccaro was probably the biggest signing of all. After losing Johnathan Cyprien in the Preseason, our options at SS were Kenrick Lewis and Dane Cruikshank. Vaccaro stepped in and played lights out (when not hurt). We’ll go into more detail on his play later as well.

Trades

The Titans acquired EDGE Kamalei Correa from Baltimore for their 2019 6th Round Pick (now #191). Derrick Morgan was going to miss some time at the beginning of the year due to injury, and Landry and Evans were not fully healthy either. That left us with Brian Orakpo and Sharif Finch. The addition of Correa, who Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees was familiar with from his time in Baltimore, gave us a much needed boost at the EDGE. This time, Pees didn’t try to shoehorn Correa into the ILB position like he did in Baltimore and instead let him play at EDGE, where he shined. Going forward I expect that he will continue to have a god place on the team and was well worth pick #191.

Upcoming Free Agents

  Player Pos. Age (now) Future Spotrac Link
  Rishard Matthews WR 29 Cut Midseason Link  
  Brian Orakpo 3-4 OLB 33 Retired Link  
  Derrick Morgan 3-4 OLB 30 - Link  
  Bennie Logan 3-3 NT 30 - Link  
  Brynden Trawick S/ST 30 - Link  
  Quinton Spain LG 28 - Link  
  Kevin Pamphile LG 29 - Link  
  Will Compton ILB 30 - Link  
  Nate Palmer ILB 30 - Link  
  Kenny Vaccaro SS 28 - Link  
  Luke Stocker TE/FB 31 - Link  
  Kendrick Lewis FS 31 - Link  
  David Fluellen RB 27 - Link  
  Tye Smith CB 26 - Link  
  Johnathan Cyprien SS 29 Cut (unconfirmed) Link  
  • Orakpo served his time with the Titans and gave it his all over the years. He will forever be a loved member of the Titans community. Unfortunately, we lost him to his cupcake shop.
  • Morgan is past his prime and still gets injured constantly, and he most likely needs to retire.
  • As stated above, Logan was a solid rotational guy. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him back for training camp.
  • Trawick was signed to be a special teams guy, and that is exactly what he has been. I would not be surprised to see him come back.
  • Quinton Spain has been our starting LG for 3.5 seasons now. This is his first year not as a restricted free agent, and I don’t image he will be very cheap.
  • Kevin Pamphile was a solid backup OT/OG for us, as he started the Week 2 Texans game at RT when Conklin was recovering and Kelly had the flu. However, at 29 and coming off an injury I would not be surprised if he is on a new team next year.
  • Compton was a good special teamer but was hardly used on defense. I don’t expect him back next year.
  • Nate Palmer was a great special teamer with us. Unfortunately, he is recovering from a leg injury that put him on IR in training camp. I don’t expect him to be back.
  • Kenny Vaccaro was a godsend at SS after Cyprien went down. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to stay healthy all year either (as has been the story his whole career). But, Jon Robinson has made it clear that he is an important piece to bring back for next year.
  • Stocker was brought on last year as a TE/FB hybrid, but without the ability to run as a FB. He is a solid blocker, he isn’t the world’s worst pass catcher, but he isn’t anything special, no matter what PFF thinks.
  • Kendrick Lewis has to be one of the worst safeties I have ever had the displeasure of seeing on the football field. Not only can he not cover, he can’t tackle either! If he comes back next year I will cry.
  • It was Flu season for a few drives this season, and it looked like he took his time with Demarco Murray and decided to play identically, almost like seeing 2016 Murray-lite. Unfortunately, Flu had a non-contact knee injury that was obvious the moment he started running. Hopefully he can come back to be RB3 for the Titans another year, but hopes aren’t high.
  • Tye Smith was a solid CB4 for us in 2017. However, he went to IR in Training Camp. The injury wasn’t disclosed.
  • Johnathan Cyprien is a solid in the box safety that should never be put in a zone 10 or more yards past the line of scrimmage. His cap hit this year was $6.25m, while only being $1.5m in dead cap for being cut. It has been rumored that he is getting cut, but it hasn’t been confirmed yet.

Positions of Need, Possible Free Agent and Draft Targets

Position of Need: Interior Defensive Line

Possible Free Agents: Gerald McCoy, Sheldon Richardson

Possible Draft Targets: Christian Wilkins, Jeffrey Tillery, Jeffrey Simmons

The Titans need to get some help next to Casey, whether it is a replacement for DaQuan Jones or finally filling the Nose Tackle position. This should be a high level need for the Titans if they want to finally get a pass rush that matches the intensity of the run defense.


Position of Need: Interior Offensive Line

Possible Free Agents: Mitch Morse (Center), Matt Paradis (Center)

Possible Draft Targets: Cody Ford (Guard/Tackle), Chris Lindstrom (Guard), Erik McCoy (Center/Guard), Garrett Bradbury (Center)

2 years removed from one of the best offensive lines, the Titans iOL is struggling to say the least. With a decent FA class and a good deep draft class Titans very well could find some new players to come in, start and have an impact, in a positive way, in Mariota’s make or break year.


Position of Need: EDGE

Possible Free Agents: Ziggy Ansah, Dante Fowler Jr., Za’Darius Smith, Justin Houston

Possible Draft Targets: Brian Burns, Jachai Polite, Montez Sweat

With Brian Orakpo retiring and Derrick Morgan most likely not getting re-signed Titans need to look for someone to pair with 2018 2nd round pick Harold Landry. With only 11 combined sacks from all Titans edge rushers last season, they need to get a playmaker to get after the quarterback and help solidify a top tier defense.


Position of Need: WR

Possible Free Agents: Golden Tate, Tyrell Williams, Adam Humphries

Possible Draft Targets: D.K Metcalf, N’Keal Harry, Kelvin Harmon

The last 1000 yard reciever was back in 2015 but that was TE Delanie Walker. Go back to 2013 to find the last WR who went for 1000, Kendall Wright. This is a passing league, and while 2017 5th overall WR Corey Davis is starting to look like a 1st round selection and producing he needs some help. With a decent 2nd WR Titans could look to make a real run at the post season.


Position of Need: Punt Returner

You might think PR is a plug and play position but with poor special teams play regarding punt returns, the Titans need to address it. Titans fans can attest to fear of seeing 2017 18th overall pick, and starting CB, Adoree Jackson returning. He’s was injured twice on returns last year. The one time they tried to switch it up, this happened , so it is obvious the answer to this hole is not already on the team.

Weekly Game Recaps

This is, quite honestly, one of the worst games I have ever seen for the Titans. Not only was the game over 7 hours long, the locker rooms were cold and 3 starters got hurt. The delays couldn't have come at worse times either as they came after momentum plays for the Titans. Needless to say, at some point the NFL needs to learn to stop scheduling week 1 games in Miami.

The Titans were without Marcus Mariota, Taylor Lewan, Dennis Kelly, Delanie Walker, and Jack Conklin. The game ran through the defense, special teams, trick plays and King-Cat. #KB2DC

The Toilet Bowl didn't happen on Thursday night this year. Gabbert left the game early with a concussion, meaning the Titans had to play a QB that could barely throw the football.

Nobody expected this. The final drive had: a huge drop, and three 4th down conversions (1 2 3. Corey Davis had a MONSTER game, including catching the game winner.

Nick Williams can't catch. Lesean McCoy showed he still had it. Pees refused to blitz the rookie QB. The Bills have a good run defense.

The Ravens just killed the interior Offensive Line with blitzs. All 3 parts of the game couldn't get the ball moving.

Heartbreak of a game. The second half team was completely different than the first half team. A terrible 2 point conversion call to throw a slant into the middle of the field to Taywan Taylor didn't pan out, and the Titans took the L in their first game across the pond.

The first quarter looked like a #32 overall team, but the team picked up from there on and the Titans rolled through on MNF. Kevin Byard imitating T.O. on the Dallas Star was a fantastic little addition.

This game made us look like we could be fighting for top dogs in the AFC South. Marcus was throwing well, the defense was swarming to the ball, and the running game had improved.

Dean Pees left pregame with a health issue, leaving Mike Vrabel to call the defense with a gameplan he didn't prepare. Combine that with the constant inability this team has to get to the passer, TY Hilton burning everyone, and Mariota getting hit a ton and we have a game most Titans fans choose to forget.

Mariota was 19 for 19 to start the game, but it doesn't matter if the defense can't stop the opposing team's offense. The Titans run defense broke down, and obviously was selling out to stop the pass. Then there was a FB dive with a TE that had never had a rush attempt

The Jets did Jets things and let the Titans come back in a game they had no business coming back in. However, it lit a fire under the team and began the win streak.

Derrick "El Tractorcito" Henry began his record breaking December by adding to the growing list of times the Titans have dominated the Jaguars in the running game. It made us all quite happy.

Henry just kept running and running and running and running. 40 degrees, rain and wind makes throwing the football a terrible time. Luckily, the Tractor was full of gas and ready to carry the rock for the win. The defense did their part by holding OROY Saquan Barkley to 31 yards on 14 carries, 17 of which came on one run.

Mariota got spun around and hit his hand hard on the ground, re-aggravating his previous nerve injury. This was effectively the end of the season as Yo Gabba Gabba had to come finish the game and Jurrell Casey ended his season with a strained MCL

The Titans first Sunday Night Football game in in 9 seasons, and our starting QB was out, the star of the defense out, and a Colts QB that refuses to lose to the Titans. I think most people knew that the game was over when Gabbert started, but it didn't make it any easier.

Expectations in 2019

Going into 2019, this is a Make it or Break it year for Marcus Mariota to show that he can be a franchise QB every week. The wide receiver core and offensive line need to show up and give Marcus a chance this year as well, and a strong running game will certainly help that. Staying healthy and getting back to his 2016 form is the most important thing for this team to succeed. The pass rush also needs to improve next year in order to make the defense move from Top tier to Elite tier.