The Titans have made the NFL playoffs four of the past five seasons and were the AFC’s No. 1 seed last season, so few people expected them to start this year 0-2.
What’s more surprising is that they were pushed around by the Giants in the season opener and then the Bills, who embarrassed them 41-7 on “Monday Night Football.”
But Raiders coach Josh McDaniels, whose team — also 0-2 — plays at Tennessee on Sunday, knows it’s only a matter of time before the Titans find their identity.
“They are always prepared; nothing’s easy,” McDaniels said. “They don’t concede 1 yard on defense. I don’t care what play it is, what game it is, they’re not going to give you anything. They want to control and dominate the line of scrimmage on both sides.”
That has been the Titans’ mantra for some time, which is why their first 0-2 start in a decade has been so surprising.
The Titans have allowed 808 total yards to the Giants and Bills, 339 of them on the ground on 6.1 yards per attempt. They have run for 173 yards and are averaging 3.3 YPA.
It’s a complete reversal of what the Titans normally do, with dynamic running back Derrick Henry bludgeoning opponents with his bully-ball running style that eventually wears down opponents.
But Tennessee no longer is imposing its will on opponents. The Titans rank 31st in the NFL in points allowed (62) and 29th in points scored (27).
Henry has 107 yards rushing on 34 carries, pedestrian for a back who averages 4.8 yards an attempt for his career. His longest run is 18 yards. To put that in perspective, in the past five seasons, Henry has runs of 99, 94, 76, 75 and 74 yards.
Some of it can be attributed to Henry coming off a foot injury that caused him to miss nine games last season. But the Titans also lost offensive line anchor Rodger Saffold to free agency and Pro Bowl tackle Taylor Lewan to a knee injury on their first offensive snap against the Bills.
The watered-down running game has affected the passing game, as Ryan Tannehill has thrown for only 383 yards and is completing just 58.5 percent of his 53 pass attempts. He hasn’t completed less than 65 percent of his passes since joining the Titans in 2019.
Fans are calling for offensive coordinator Todd Downing to be fired, but coach Mike Vrabel doesn’t want to hear it.
“This isn’t all of a sudden the time for wholesale changes,” Vrabel said. “This is about getting back to the basics and what we believe in, what we’ve had success in, and making sure that everybody sees it the same way that I do.”
Defensively, the Titans miss edge rusher Harold Landry, who was lost for the season to a knee injury last month. And star outside linebacker Bud Dupree will miss Sunday’s game because of a hip injury, furthering affecting the pass rush.
The Titans are a proud bunch, though, and believe the key to getting back on track begins with themselves.
“There’s a lot of belief within our locker room, and that’s where it all starts,” Tannehill said in a story on the Titans’ website. “We know what we’re capable of. We haven’t put that on the field so far, but we have the guys we need and the belief that we need to go out and do it.”