Why the Tennessee Titans Simply Don't Have the Pieces to Make the Playoffs
As the Tennessee Titans fight down the stretch for the final AFC playoff spot, the odds are against them over the final weeks of the regular season.
Tennessee has lost three of its past five games by a combined 13 points. The Titans have lost starting quarterback Jake Locker for the season, allow 114 yards per game on the ground and don't exactly have a favorable schedule.
After a summer of spending, the Titans were built to contend in the AFC South. At 5-7, there's no guarantee they'll even eclipse the 6-10 record they closed out last season with.
Ahead, you'll see six reasons why the Titans simply don't have the pieces to make the playoffs.
*All stats via ESPN.com.
Questions at Tight End
Concussions can be tricky, and if Delanie Walker misses a significant amount of time, quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick will be in trouble.
The veteran quarterback has looked to Walker and second-year wide receiver Kendall Wright to shoulder the load in the passing game, and it was a struggle for reserve tight end Taylor Thompson to get open, much less catch the ball.
Against a Indianapolis Colts defense that ranks No. 17 in the NFL as of Week 13 versus the pass, the tight end duo of Walker and Thompson combined for five targets but just one reception for five yards. Craig Stevens, the other backup tight end and only other feasible pass-catcher, has appeared in 11 games this season, missing the previous two with a concussion as well.
Tennessee has matchups against poor pass defenses over the next four weeks, but it will be a test for the offense to get rolling without one of Fitzpatrick's favorite targets, Walker, possibly not in the lineup.
Inability to Stop the Run
Other than a solid outing on opening day against the Pittsburgh Steelers sans Le'Veon Bell and a nice effort against then-winless Jacksonville Jaguars, the Titans have allowed at least 90 yards rushing against every other team this season.
More than just an inability to stop opposing offenses throughout the game, it's the backbreaking drives that simply crush Tennessee.
After holding the Colts run game in check for most of the afternoon, it was the last drive that pushed Indy over the top last Sunday. With 8:08 remaining in the game, Donald Brown helped suck the life out of any Titans comeback. He rushed the ball six times for 46 yards and a touchdown, while Indy bled 6:12 off the clock, leaving just 1:56 for Tennessee. Seventy-six of the Colts' total 104 rush yardage came in that final sequence of plays.
Tennessee's upcoming schedule likely won't help things.
Over the next four weeks, the Titans will face off against the AFC-leading Denver Broncos and their uptempo offense, the Arizona Cardinals and a revitalized Carson Palmer, and two division rivals in the Jacksonville Jaguars and Houston Texans.
Peyton Manning's arsenal is loaded, and Knowshon Moreno should have a field day on the porous Tennessee run defense. Arizona has a strong pass game and one of the stingiest run defenses in the league today.
The Titans did a great job of keeping Jacksonville's run game in check throughout their last meeting, but Locker's early interception and fumble lost doomed Tennessee's afternoon. Early in the year, the Titans dropped an overtime loss to the Texans in Houston and will look to avenge that miserable performance in their regular-season finale.
Locker was unstoppable over the first four games of the year, throwing for six touchdowns and rushing for one before injuring his hip and knee in a big win over the New York Jets in Week 4.
Fitzpatrick had four interceptions in the next two games, both losses. Locker returned early for a loss to the San Francisco 49ers before the bye week and simply looked dreadful moving forward.
He had four turnovers and no touchdown passes over the next two weeks before suffering a season-ending foot injury against the Jags. Fitzpatrick again took the reins and has looked anything but stable.
After two strong games, throwing three touchdown passes while splitting the games with one loss and one win, the veteran fell apart against Indianapolis in Week 13. His four turnovers were a season high, and he single-handedly worked Tennessee out of any potential comeback with a timely interception late in the fourth.
Locker, one of the more injury-prone starting quarterbacks in the league, and Fitzpatrick, a supremely streaky quarterback, haven't done enough to lead this Titans team toward the postseason. It's unlikely that will change moving forward.
It might be Darius Reynaud kneeling a kickoff in the end zone, which to be fair, is a game they won. Or it could be the most recent boneheaded play, Moise Fokou shoving a player in the back to set up a field goal to extend the division-leading Indianapolis Colts' lead going into the half.
Tennessee has simply been undisciplined this year, at various times giving up the big play, fumbling the ball or earning a penalty to put the team out of contention in the waning moments of a contest.
Backbreaking plays are sometimes fluky and other times are a result of the coaching staff. In my opinion, it's a little of both for the Titans.
Mike Munchak entered the season with high expectations. The roster was filled with capable offensive linemen and a stingy, revamped defense.
Instead, the Titans have lost every game against a division opponent this year, and Chris Johnson is averaging a career-low yards per attempt and yards per game.
The offensive scheme has been all over the place this year, with or without Locker under center. While a spread offense seemed to benefit both quarterbacks, whether Locker or Fitzpatrick was taking the snap, Munchak and the coaching staff have seemed firmly focused on sticking with the run game and two-receiver sets.
With the signing of Shonn Greene, Munchak and the coaches have been firm to include the backup running back in the game, even if he seems out of place. Instead of using Greene in short yardage or as a change-of-pace back, he's put on the field almost at random, trying to get the blistering back his touches even if that sacrifices shying away from the hot hand.
Only recently has Walker emerged as a serious threat in the receiving game, and it took until Week 11 for the coaching staff to implement more of the short crossing routes into the game plan, much more suited for a quarterback lacking serious arm strength.
The current head coach hasn't had the answers for why his team hasn't been successful, and his generic responses don't take any sort of responsibility for some tough losses.
Whether Tennessee has enough left in the tank to contend for the playoffs is yet to be seen. If the Titans somehow manage to be in contention over the final few weeks, another loss should result in a change at head coach during the offseason.