The Tennessee Titans in 2021 pulled off their best regular season since 2008, going 12-5. Additionally, they also picked up the AFC’s No. 1 playoff seed, as well as a first-round bye just as they did in 2008 as well. Just like that 2008 Titans, squad, this year’s edition only lasted one game in the postseason. Despite regaining the services of Derrick Henry, Ryan Tannehill picked the absolute worst time for what may have been his worst game as a Titan. He threw three interceptions on the day, one happening on his first, then later his final snap. A brutal way to end things in what was a very winnable game against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Now to switch up the tone, Tennessee did a lot of good in 2021. In free agency they lost the likes of Jonnu Smith, Corey Davis, and Jadeveon Clowney, just to name a few. In addition, they faced an uphill battle for most of the regular season with injuries/COVID. Julio Jones, Bud Dupree, A.J. Brown, Caleb Farley, Jayon Brown, Taylor Lewan, and of course Henry, all missed at least some time. Despite all of that, Mike Vrabel got the most out of his roster and despite all odds, secure a 12-5 record. Which may get him Coach of the Year honors.
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What Went Right
When the Titans lost Henry in their Week 8 matchup against the Indianapolis Colts, it felt as if it was going to be a devastating blow to their rushing attack. Surprisingly, that was not the case. In the seven games, Henry played a full role in, Tennessee averaged a hair over 155 yards per game. In the nine games after the Colts matchup, the average only dropped 20 yards. While that number is helped by a 270 yard game against the New England Patriots, the Titans were still a good rushing team even without the league’s top runner. Full credit to D’Onta Foreman, Dontrell Hilliard, and the Titans offensive line for getting the team a top-five finish in team rushing yards in the NFL.
What Went Wrong
The main reason you won’t be seeing the Titans playing this weekend is simply missed opportunities. Feels hard to poke holes in their regular season since they still managed to top the AFC so here we are. Looking at the numbers, the Titans felt better than the Bengals on the whole last weekend. They gained more total yards, gave up eight fewer sacks, and had four fewer penalties. Tennessee also went 1-8 on third down, failed to convert on an oddly timed two-point conversion, and allowed a pair of field goals on the first and third interceptions by Tannehill. The latter of which ended the Titans season. Hard to fathom that the Titans got to Joe Burrow nine times and still managed to lose.
Team Award Winners
MVP – Kevin Byard
The now veteran mainstay of this Titans secondary had another banner year, good enough for First-Team All-Pro honors. Outside of an outing in New England where got targeted repeatedly and effectively by Mac Jones, there was a lot to like about the Safety’s 2021. Byard raked up five picks for the second time in the last three seasons, one for his first career pick-six. Additionally, the coverage numbers were significantly better than a year ago as well. His allowed completion percentage went from 73.3 to 51.7 percent. In addition to his allowed passer rating going from 112.6 to 68.7. Byard was also the only Titan to get either a Pro Bowl or First-Team All-Pro nod as well, making this an easy pick.
Offensive Rookie of the Year – Dillon Radunz
Not a whole lot to choose from on this side of the ball, so the big fella from North Dakota State it is. Radunz only got one start all season, but it was against Nick Bosa and the San Fransisco 49ers in a pivotal late-season matchup. Despite being called for two penalties and allowing a sack, Radunz played in every single Titan offensive snap on the night. Even more impressive was that he played a part in holding Bosa at bay. Not too shabby for an emergency start in a national TV game. It’s never a bad idea to have a stockpile of good offensive linemen, and hopefully, Radunz can factor more into the Titans’ plans moving forward.
Defensive Rookie of the Year – Elijah Molden
Would like to think Titans fans expected Farley to be in the spot entering the preseason last summer. With injuries holding the Virginia Tech product to just three games in 2021, an opportunity arose for the UW product. Molden came up with a gift-wrapped pick-six against Carson Wentz and the Colts in Week 8, good for his only of the season. Outside of that, it was a very solid opening year as a pro for the cornerback. Molden took his lumps in coverage as you could imagine, but only surrendered three scores on the season. With the corner situation in Tennessee changing like is has these last few years, Molden appears to be a building block for the future.
Biggest Surprise – Denico Autry
Coming over from Indianapolis on a three-year deal, Autry was as good as the Titans could have hoped. He fit like a glove working with Harold Landry and Jeffery Simmons in the Tennessee front seven, contributing nine sacks on the season. Additionally, the veteran had one of his best years outside of his sack production. Autry put up 18 quarterback hits, 10 tackles for loss, along with 33 total tackles and six passes broken up. Considering the Titans shelled out big money to lure Dupree from the Pittsburgh Steelers, Autry may have been their best free-agent move. Speaking of whom
Biggest Disappointment – Bud Dupree
Somewhat hard to get on Dupree considering he tore his ACL late in the 2020 season. However, the production and availability simply weren’t there. Although he missed a half dozen regular-season games, what was alarming was the snap percentage for Dupree. Taking his one snap game against the New Orleans Saints out of the picture, Dupree played in just 60 percent of the Titans’ defensive snaps this season. That is the worst of his career-saving his rookie year. Additionally, that also includes a pair of 70-plus percent outings to begin this season for context. Given that his average annual value is 16.5 million dollars next season, the Titans are probably hoping for more than three sacks.
One Burning Question
End of the Line for Tannehill?
2021 felt like a very good chance for not only the Titans to make it to the Super Bowl for the first time since 1999, but also win it. Three brutal throws by Tennessee’s signal-caller ended those hopes last Saturday. This now begs the question, is this as far Tannehill can take the Titans? With the mind-numbingly good crop of young quarterbacks in the AFC, the answer feels like yes. The problem then becomes how can you move on from Tannehill? Cutting him would create a 60-million-dollar dead cap charge, and his cap hit is at 38.6 million. Even if Tennessee wants to move on, they would have to likely get creative with the cap. Then again that never stopped Micky Loomis and the New Orleans Saints.
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