The Tennessee Titans are in the midst of a three game losing streak, and while only one of those losses has been by double digits, the teams offense hsa struggled to produce points in two of the three losses.
The debates began following Sunday's come-from-behind 14-13 win by the Buffalo Bills at Nissam Stadium as to what was the cause of the Titans struggles.Those struggles have been so noticeable that the Buffalo media felt compelled to write about it, and even going so far as to suggest that Rex Ryan and company send Titans head coach Ken Whisenhunt a thiank you card for his mismanagement of the game.
Let's be clear, I'm not pinning all the blame on Whisenhunt, though he took responsibility for some gaffs in the play calling on Monday.
"When you don’t win, there are a lot of things you don’t do right. What I say is, I took a shot there. We still had a lot of time left in the game. In thinking about it, because it was a turnover, I wish that I would have done something a little bit more conservative and given us a chance to get moving. I think sometimes, as a play-caller, you’ve got to go with your gut," said Whisenhunt. "There is merit to being aggressive at times. But in that situation, and I said this with Marcus (Mariota) last night because we talked about it, in that situation, especially after the week before against Indianapolis when we went down the field with him, you don’t anticipate an interception, but maybe something a little bit more conservative would get it going."
Jay Skurski of the Buffalo News penned the following in response to what he termed as Whisenhunt's "overly conservative play-calling on fourth down," whick Skurski said "is a major reason the Bills escaped Nashville with a 14-13 win."
Pat of that conservative play-calling Skurski listed was the fact that the Titans punted three times inside Buffalo territory, once from their own 45-yard line, when trailing in the fourth quarter with just 3 minutes remaining and also attempted field goals on fourth and 3 from the Bills’ 2-yard line in the second quarter and fourth and 3 from the 23-yard line in the fourth quarter.
WHisenhunt has taken heat from both media and and fans this week in the wake of these stats and the fact the team is not getting big plays.
The Titans as an offense have completed just two passes that covered more than 20 yards downfield -not including run after catch yardage-this season. That's not a lot for an offense that is designed in part to have chunk yardage plays.
So what are some of the factors leading to the conservative play calling?
One is that the Titans offensive line has struggled to protect quarterback Marcus Mariota at times in blitz situations. Remember Cleveland, where the Browns sacked him seven times and hit him fove others. That's not acceptable and Whisenhunt has been conservative to protect the franchise in Mariota.
Secondly, the wide receivers have not exactly gotten a lot down on the outside. Justin Hunter showed up for four receptions against the Bills, but his route running mistake on the last offensive play of the game allowed Buffalo's Stephon Gilmore to intercept Mariota's pass intended for Kendall Wright.
That leads to another question. Wright stated following Sunday's loss that he was frustrated byt what he termed as not feeling "relevent" in the offense- which is interesting considering Wright is the teams leader in receptions and targets so far this season- even though he was the intended receiver on a key play late in the contest with the game on the line.
With all due respect to Wright, who has been great so far this season, but why in the world was he even the target on that play? Was it to deceive the defense? Was it because Wright has been the only reliable receiver this season?
Regardless, the question must still be asked as to why Wright, all 5'10" of him- that's being generous- was the target on that downfield play and not the 6'5" Dorial Green-Beckham or the 6'4" Hunter.
I know all about the "DGB is a rookie" line, and the "Hunter has not been consistant" saga. They are valid considerations, but when you throw a jump ball up in basketball you don't have your point guard jump center.
Is it really that hard to tell a talented rookie like DGB to run down the sideline and use his superior athletic ability to go catch a ball in the air? It wasn't a complicated route that took a lof of practice.
While that coaching decision is certainly questionable, there were many more in the first half that helped Buffalo win. After all, the Titans held the football for 20:54 seconds of the first half, yet managed to score only three points.
Usually, analysis of fourth downs in this space is restricted to decisions made by Buffalo Bills coach Rex Ryan.
But when an opposing coach so amazingly bungles what to do in that situation, it demands attention here.
With that in mind, the Bills might want to consider sending Tennessee Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt a thank-you note after Sunday’s game. His overly conservative play-calling on fourth down is a major reason the Bills escaped Nashville with a 14-13 win.
The Titans punted three times inside Buffalo territory, once from their own 45-yard line, when trailing in the fourth quarter with just 3 minutes remaining and also attempted field goals on fourth and 3 from the Bills’ 2-yard line in the second quarter and fourth and 3 from the 23-yard line in the fourth quarter.
The New York Times’ “4th Down Bot,” which The Buffalo News references in its analysis, disagreed with three of those decisions. To put that in context, the Bot has yet to disagree with a decision made by the Bills in five games.
Whisenhunt was at his worst when punting on fourth and 2 from the Bills’ 39-yard line with 3:01 remaining in the first half and his team leading, 3-0. A successful conversion in that situation, which happens 56 percent of the time, according to the Times, would have increased Tennessee’s chances of winning from 54 to 57 percent.
Also at issue for the Times was Whisenhunt’s decision to try the field goal in the second quarter from the Bills’ 2-yard line and his punt on fourth and 2 from the Bills’ 36-yard line on Tennessee’s first drive.
We’d take things a step further, saying his field-goal attempt in the fourth quarter and decision to punt with just over 3 minutes left also greatly hurt the Titans’ chances. The field goal gave Tennessee just a six-point lead, which meant a touchdown could beat them – which it did – and the punt meant the Titans’ defense would have to stop the Bills’ offense from getting a first down to even get the ball back. That happened, but the Bills forced Tennessee to use their final timeout, ran 1:07 off the clock and the Titans lost a yard of field position on the exchange of possessions.
The defense is not without blame to be sure, but even with the two offensive plays made by Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor on the third-and-23 run and the 46 yard pass to Chris Hogan on the game winning drive, the defense performed well enough to have won, if the offense had been less conservative and been able to take advantage of one more possession in that first half where the Titans defense domiated Buffalo.
Whisenhunt and the Titans return to practice on Wednesday in preparation for Sunday's visit from the Miami Dolphins to Nissan Stadium. The Titans are in an almost must-win situation and we will see if the conservative nature continues with the play calling on offense and the gambling on defense. .