Titans' Edge? No Sign of It In London And It May Not All Be Correctable

LONDON – The NFL transforms the international venues that host its games, so the home locker room at Tottenham Hotspur has plenty of light blue and Titans logos and even a new twist on their themes.

A couple of long signs running atop a string of lockers read: “Our Edge: Effort, Finish, Details, Technique, Fundamentals.”

Oct 15, 2023; London, United Kingdom; Fireworks mark the start of the first half of an NFL International Series game at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Peter van den Berg-USA TODAY Sports
  Fireworks over Tottenham Hotspur Stadium before kickoff/ © Peter van den Berg-USA TODAY Sports

"Our team message is on the board,” Jeffery Simmons said, his eyes gesturing up to the words. “And that’s our edge. Apparently, we didn’t play with the Tennessee Titans’ edge today.”

No, not close. The result of the Titans' big game at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium was a 24-16 loss to the Ravens on a grand stage with a terrific environment.

Frankly, they haven’t played with this alleged edge very often. They now stand at 2-4 and some of the issues make it entirely fair to question their identity beyond Mike Vrabel’s calling-card effort. [Unlocked]

Their finish included a continued inability to score touchdowns when they got close to the end zone, scoring a touchdown once in four chances and a 50 percent third-down conversion rate for Baltimore (eight for 16). The details included a punt returner who saw fit to try to catch a punt with 1 second remaining in the first half when letting it bounce dead was the obvious play. He muffed it and the Ravens recovered it and got a free field goal. 

The pass blocking returned as a major bugaboo with technique up front that allowed two sacks of Ryan Tannehill – one of which left him with an ankle injury that ultimately knocked him out of the game -- as well as four of Malik Willis who looks incapable of using an internal clock. The two took 10 hits.

Fundamentals? Well, let’s start with Nick Westbrook-Ikhine, who told me Ryan Tannehill’s first-quarter pass to him into the end zone was one he should have caught, so it amounted to a drop. It would have given Tennessee a 7-3 lead. And we can go to Nichola Petit-Frere. Before he replaced Andre Dillard at left tackle, he came into the play for a snap as a tackle eligible but was called for an illegal formation.

BryMakHe said he understood the details but wasn’t really convincing.

That takes me to coaching.

Philips said the punt decision was left up to him by Vrabel and Craig Aukerman? How and why? Players are reminded of things constantly, and as he is getting ready to take the field there he needs to be told not to touch the ball.

“I’d expect us to catch the punt and make a great decision back there and again we’ve got a lot of faith in Kyle,” Vrabel said. “But we can’t make that mistake there at the end. We have to figure out why.

"But also there’s expectations that when we’re going to catch them, we’re going to catch them. Probably the best play is to let that one go and I’ll figure out why and make sure the communication is there.”

And Petit-Frere needs to be reminded he cannot cover the tight end.

Even when a coach knows things are going badly, he’s going to maintain faith and get back to work and get his guys back to work. And that’s what he’s got to do. Vrabel said he and his staff will evaluate if they are better going forward with Petit-Frere or Dillard and what’s best at every spot going forward after next Sunday off.

It could also include a quarterback decision. Tannehill needs an MRI for the necessary info on his right ankle the same one he hurt last year that cost him two games the first time but limited him after his return, then cost him the final three after he injured it further.

Would Vrabel consider Malik Willis or Will Levis regardless of Tannehill’s health?

“I would consider anything that could help us win right now, quarterback, everything,” he said. “I would say that would be something, let’s find out what’s going on with Ryan.”

And here is another giant takeaway: After Vrabel said he was frustrated with losing I asked if the corrections he has talked about so often if some things may be unable to be corrected given what he has.

“Probably,” he said. “Maybe. We’ll see. I’m not going to stop trying, not going to stop trying to prepare them and teach them fundamentals and execution. There’ll be some good plays in there and certainly ones in there we have to eliminate that are getting us beat.”

"Just speaking for myself, there are things that I can do better, 100 percent, and I think that everybody can say that, across the board," Kevin Byard said. "So it's going to be a tough film room session (Tuesday).

"But the sense of urgency for this team, it was already at an all-time high and all we can try to do is get back to work. The guys that we have on this team and the guys that we have on this roster, these are the guys we're going to have. We have to figure out a way to continue to come closer and do whatever we have to do to try to get a win."

Some issues are just baked in.

Tannehill was going to be standing in an NFL locker room on crutches this season. Vrabel and Ran Carthon could have been as hopeful as possible that Jason Houghtaling’s coaching and Tim Kelly’s scheme and the play of a line with three or four new guys on it would be better and hold up.

But if they were honest with themselves about the roster, they knew a 35-year-old quarterback with shrinking mobility operating behind uncertain pass protection was bound to take a hit that knocked him out of a game, and probably more. Justin Madubuike rolled Tannehill's ankle on a sack in the third quarter after beating Dillard.

Willis showed offseason and preseason gains. But even with a game plan, his game-feel is insufficient and his stay as a starter won’t be a long one if Tannehill is out long, or out for good.

So maybe we’re soon to see the start of the Will Levis Titans.

The runway for a new quarterback is not usually smooth, but it’s not like he’d be entering something that has been.

While preternaturally calm DeAndre Hopkins said everyone should stay calm, Jeffery Simmons thinks there are some guys who may not be all in.

“We need to figure out the guys who are going to fight,” Simmons said. “We need to figure out the guys who want to be out there not the guys who don’t want to be out there, that’s where they need to be. We need to re-evaluate our team. And figure it out. That’s the message, figure it out. Who wants to play football for the Titans.”

Who wants to play football for the Titans with edge? With effort, finish, details, technique, fundamentals.

The thing is, there is no one of quality waiting in line to replace any culprit Simmons or anyone else may identify.

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