Winners and Losers from Titans 20 Tennessee Titans Womens Hoodie , Texans 17 It’s hard to overstate how important this win was for the 2018 Titans.  In addition to staying out of an 0-2 hole, the Titans got a critical division win despite being without their starting left tackle, starting right tackle, backup swing tackle, starting tight end, and starting quarterback. This team showed incredible grit and toughness in the face of adversity coming off one of the most soul-crushing losses in recent memory. It would have been easy to make excuses and feel sorry for themselves in this one, but they didn’t do that, even when the Texans put up 17 unanswered to take the lead in the 4th quarter. They remained composed and fought their way back to get the win. Titans fans should be proud of the way this team responded to a tough week.Without further ado, here are the winners and losers from Titans 20, Texans 17: WinnersMike VrabelThis one is easy. Vrabel stole a game his team had no business winning today with great coaching. First, he made the right call sitting Marcus Mariota. While we certainly don’t know everything about how close he might have been today, I’d say the fact that he was in uniform as the backup quarterback tells us he was close. However, with reports Saturday night and Sunday morning that Mariota was still struggling to grip the ball, it’s safe to say that he probably wasn’t going to be his normal self if he did play and another week of rest without putting himself in harm’s way could do him a lot of good from a long term perspective. Players from both teams heaped credit upon Vrabel after the game with center Ben Jones giving his coach the game ball. The gameplan included some wrinkles too. A fake punt and an out-of-nowhere appearance from the wildcat package among the most prominent. The Titans coaching staff managed the game perfectly, protecting their backup tackles and coaxing a largely mistake-free performance from their backup quarterback. Things got a little bumpy in the second half when the offense turned in three consecutive three and outs Womens Customized Tennessee Titans Jerseys , but they were able to move the ball effectively when it mattered the most without asking too much of Blaine Gabbert. Vrabel was aggressive with the fake punt call and converting two 4th downs (including one at their own 32-yard line). The Titans have never had an aggressive head coach so seeing some of the gutsy calls that Vrabel made against Houston was a welcome change from the Mularkey Era. It was just a fantastic job of coaching by Mike Vrabel and his staff this week.Blaine GabbertGabbert’s stats weren’t great in this game. He finished 13 of 20 for 117 yards and a touchdown, but he played turnover-free football and made a few clutch plays when the team needed it late. There is no quarterback controversy to be sure. Marcus Mariota gives this team the best chance to win, but Gabbert was able to get his job done today in a huge spot against a quality defense. Corey Davis and Taywan TaylorThe Titans two second year receivers made a big impact against the Texans. Davis was the team’s target leader for a second straight week and turned his 7 targets in to 5 catches for 55 yards. That may not sound that impressive, but he had two huge catches on the Titans game winning drive and is starting to look the part of a No. 1 receiver. A week after getting just 9 snaps on offense, Taywan Taylor was a much bigger part of the gameplan against Houston. The former 3rd round pick from Western Kentucky caught 3 passes for 32 yards and a touchdown. The touchdown was a thing of beauty as Taylor took a simple screen and made multiple Texans miss on a weaving run to the endzone.I’m a big believer in Taylor’s talent and I think plays like this will make it harder and harder for the coaches to keep him off the field. Taylor needs to be getting 5+ touches every game.Jurrell Casey, Kamalei Correa, and Harold LandryThe Titans pass rush did a nice job most of the game keeping Deshaun Watson from getting comfortable in the pocket. They ended up collecting 4 sacks and adding 9 QB hits along with pressures on other snaps. Casey led the group with 2 sacks and added another hit and a tackle for loss in what was an excellent game for the Titans star defensive tackle. We are used to Casey being great at this point, but that doesn’t mean should stop appreciating it. Kamalei Correa followed up a good Titans debut in Miami with another good performance this week. He got a sack for a second straight game and added 2 tackles for loss and 2 QB hits. Correa has already been worth the 2019 6th round pick that Jon Robinson gave up for him just before roster cut down day, but based on the early returns I think he has a chance to turn in to a long term piece for the Titans at outside linebacker.Speaking of long term pieces, Harold Landry made his debut today and despite finishing the game without a tackle or sack, it was hard not to notice him out there. He did have 2 QB hits and was constantly in the Texans backfield helping make plays like this.Landry made such an impact that the Texans were actively chipping against him on almost every snap by the end of the game. This guy is going to be a stud and if the Titans can continue to develop him, Correa and undrafted rookie Sharif Finch, they could be set at this position for years to come. (Speaking of Finch, he was active over Aaron Wallace against Houston and that gives us an idea of how much they like their UDFA find.)Offensive Line Coach Keith Carter and Offensive Coordinator Matt LaFleurThe Titans are two games in to the 2018 season and the offensive line has allowed just 1 sack despite being without star tackles Taylor Lewan and Jack Conklin for the majority of snaps. Credit is certainly due to reserve tackles Kevin Pamphile, Dennis Kelly , and Tyler Marz for coming through when called upon, but when an entire unit is playing at this level, their coaches are doing something right.The Titans running game never really got on track against Houston, but they were able to grind out a semi-effective ground attack despite the fact that the Texans clearly did not fear Gabbert beating them over the top. Carter is doing a fantastic job getting his offensive linemen ready and LaFleur is putting his players in a position to succeed with his offensive gameplans. Dane CruikshankCruikshank was billed as a potential special teams ace when the Titans drafted him in the 5th round and he is already showing flashes of that just two games in to his NFL career. Obviously, he made the catch on the beautiful fake punt pass from Kevin Byard that resulted in a tone-setting touchdown early in the game, but he also added a fantastic tackle on punt coverage later in the game.LosersMalcolm ButlerIt’s hard to have many losers after a win like that, but Butler gave up a long touchdown catch for the second straight week, only this time he didn’t get the big interception to balance out his ledger. His reputation as a boom or bust corner has been lived up to early on, but I’m sure the Titans would like to limit the busts to less than one per week. Rashaan EvansEvans didn’t do anything wrong against the Texans, he just didn’t do anything at all. I’ll have to wait for the official snap counts to come out, but I was looking for No. 54 all day and never saw him step between the lines despite being one of the 46 active players. It will be interesting to see why Evans never got on the field. Maybe the Titans wanted to be extra careful with his hamstring or maybe they just didn’t feel like he was ready. Whatever the reason, Evans’ development seems like it isn’t where the Titans would like it to be at this point. Jadeveon ClowneyClowney was inactive today as he deals with back and elbow issues, but he still managed to get called for a key penalty. Clowney taunted Titans tight end Luke Stocker after he got knocked down near the Texans sideline, drawing a 15-yard penalty that set the Titans on their way to the game tying field goal. This comes less than a year after he talked trash to LeShaun Sims moments before the Titans corner made the game-clinching interception. Maybe Clowney should try doing more walking and less talking when he visits Nashville. On second thought, keep doing you Clowney.The Titans officially have a tight end problem Five weeks in to the 2018 NFL season Tennessee Titans T-Shirt , the Titans top receiving tight end is Luke Stocker with 5 catches for 63 yards. Delanie Walker — who was injured midway through the opening game in Miami and is unlikely to return any time soon — is second with 4 catches and 52 yards. The guy that everyone expected to step up when Walker went down, second year tight end Jonnu Smith, has just 2 catches for 21 yards for the entire season. The Titans entire tight end room has been blanked in the box score two weeks in a row and has just 4 catches for 35 yards combined over the last four weeks. The problem extends far beyond catching passes though. The Titans aren’t getting much from their tight ends as run blockers either. Luke Stocker ranks 30th among tight ends in run blocking on PFF, while Jonnu Smith checks in at 42nd. The Tennessee running game is being hurt by missed blocks from this position group far too often right now.The fallout from the tight end struggles ripples through the rest of the roster as well. The lack of a viable receiving threat out of this group puts more pressure on the young receivers and depth receivers like Darius Jennings and Nick Williams. We’ve seen how that has worked out to this point. The blocking failures have virtually crippled the play that should be the staple of this rushing offense, the outside zone. That’s been reflected in Derrick Henry and Dion Lewis’ statistics through five weeks. Bad tight end play is hampering virtually every aspect of this offense right now.Jonnu Smith played pretty well during his rookie season as the No. 2 to Walker’s No. 1, leaving most to believe that he could prove to eventually be become the team’s top option at the position. He followed that up with a great offseason, finishing a close runner up to Derrick Henry for the coaching staff’s offseason recognition. By all accounts — including my own — Smith looked like a player poised to take the next step in 2018. All that build up makes his performance over the last four weeks that much more frustrating. His blocking has been a problem and he’s not offsetting it with any production in the passing game. Worse, it seems as if he may have lost some of Marcus Mariota’s trust when he dropped that easy 3rd down pass against the Eagles. Since that drop, there have been multiple plays where Mariota has seemingly passed up an open Smith to throw elsewhere, including the ill-fated throw to Nick Williams in Buffalo. The coaches may be losing some faith in their young tight end as well. Smith’s snap count dropped to 78% of snaps against the Bills, marking the first time it’s been under 90% since Walker got injured. Stocker was the primary beneficiary, jumping from 35% in Week 4 to 59% in Week 5. It’s not as if Stocker has been tearing it up this season either. He’s clearly a better blocker than Smith, but even on his best day he’s not a serious threat as a receiving option. Playing Stocker more and Smith less could yield more consistency at least, but it certainly lowers the ceiling of what the offense can be. The only other options on the roster currently are MyCole Pruitt and Anthony Firkser who was just promoted from the practice squad. Pruitt has gotten a little playing time over the last couple weeks, primarily as a blocker Tennessee Titans Hats , but he entered the league as a big time athlete who was quite productive as a receiver in college. Firkser may be the best receiving tight end on the roster right now given what we’ve seen from Smith to this point. He’s not strong enough to hold up as a point of attack blocker though which limits what the team can do with him on the field. The free agent market is pretty barren at tight end. The two options that have performed at the level of a TE1 previously in the NFL are Coby Fleener and Martellus Bennett. Fleener was last seen being released by the Saints after failing to be medically cleared to return from a concussion. Bennett has recently tweeted that he won’t be planning on returning to the NFL because he can’t pass a drug test. Neither of those guys are realistic options. There isn’t a Kenny Vaccaro type free agent tight end that can come to the rescue. A trade for a tight end could be possible in theory, though midseason player trades are pretty rare in the NFL. Cameron Brate would make the most sense in my opinion. O.J. Howard has supplanted him as the top tight end in Tampa Bay which makes him somewhat expendable. He also has ties with Titans GM Jon Robinson who was part of the front office that brought Brate to Tampa as an undrafted free agent in 2014. We’ve seen Robinson come back to guys he has connections with before so that model fits here. The problem is that Brate just signed a 6 year, $41M contract extension earlier this offseason so it would appear that the Bucs see him as a part of their long term future, even if he’s not the top tight end. As the Titans are proving right now, a second tight end can be pretty important. That’s also a big contract for the Titans to take on considering they just handed out an expensive extension to Walker earlier this offseason and will have possible extensions to discuss with Mariota and Kevin Byard this spring. I just don’t see how a Brate deal gets done realistically and there isn’t another deal out there that makes a ton of sense for both sides.So what do the Titans do to make it better?Obviously, the Titans were never going to replace Delanie Walker. You don’t just lose a 3-time Pro Bowler and rattle right along like nothing happened. This was always going to be a team effort to pick up the large amount of slack left by his injury. Wide receivers like Corey Davis, Taywan Taylor, and Tajae Sharpe must continue to improve. The Titans need their offensive tackles to get healthy and stay healthy so the tight ends don’t have to chip and help in pass protection so often. However, Tennessee is going to need to find a way to get something out of the tight end spot. The most optimistic solution would be to stay the course with Smith and continue to coach him up and that’s ultimately what I expect they’ll do. He’s a young player with plenty of physical ability. It’s just about getting the mental side of the game to slow down for him. If I was Matt LaFleur or Marcus Mariota, I would be trying to find a way to get Smith an easy catch or two early on in the Ravens game to try to get him jump started and build a little confidence. Another option is to elevate Stocker to the TE1 role. That at least improves the team from a blocking standpoint. They could then bring Smith on for certain packages or even take a look at Pruitt or Firkser in a potential “3rd down tight end” role if Smith continues to struggle. It’s a less than ideal solution because it limits how multiple you can be out of the same personnel package, but being multiple may not be a luxury the Titans have right now.Tight end is one of the toughest positions on the field to play. You have to know the route tree as well as pass protections. You have to run like a receiver one play and then block like an offensive lineman the next. Right now Smith is offering neither and it’s really hurting this offense. I don’t think it’s time to give up on him altogether, but it is time for the Titans to admit that there is a problem at this position and start addressing it one way or another.

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