Titans' First-Down Offense Keyed Embarrassing OT Loss to Texans

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Mike Vrabel, Tim Kelly and the Titans’ offense threw up their hands in frustration and hopelessness. They had no solutions.

Then they threw their hands together in prayer, trying the same old thing over and over because at times in the past a grind-away run game had ultimately produced fruit.

Will Levis
Will Levis suffers a lower leg injury vs. Houston/ Angie Flatt

That was a ridiculous expectation Sunday at Nissan Stadium when Derrick Henry was never going to be the path to beating the Texans but the Titans kept giving him the ball. He carried 16 times for 9 yards – an astounding 0.6-yard average – in a 19-16 overtime loss as the Titans dropped to 5-9 and their slim playoff dreams were snuffed out.

The Titans handed it to Henry on 71 percent of their 24 first downs, and he turned the 12 carries into zero total yards.


For a team that talks obsessively about the need not to play from behind the sticks and to be in manageable downs and distances, they were Wile E. Coyote, repeatedly allowing the anvil to drop on their heads.

It was not working and it was not going to work. Henry repeatedly ran straight into penetrating defenders, who were winning with ease against the unit that has been the Titans' problem all season long, the offensive line, which also helped open the door for seven sacks of Will Levis. 

Henry wound up with 9 yards on 16 carries, his worst game since he became the team’s full-time starter in 2018. Previous that was a seven-carry, 21-yard game against Baltimore that the Titans lost 21-0. To make matters worse, his team-leading four catches totaled 1 yard.

“We have to be able to establish a run, whether that's with Derrick, whether that's Tyjae (Spears), whether that's Jonathan Ward,” Mike Vrabel said. “So, we've won a lot of football games with that formula. And we've seen where it's been some inefficient runs, and then we break one and turn things around. And that didn't happen.”

At least Tyjae Spears got something on his nine carries -- 30 yards and a 3.3-yard average. And a week removed from six catches for 89 yards in a thrilling win in Miami, the Titans saw fit to target Spears once, for a 7-yard catch.

BryMakThere has to have been more that they could have done because what they did amounted to a white flag.

“As a coaching staff, you definitely evaluate what you do well and what we do not well,” Levis said. “If it’s something not doing well for reasons that can easily be fixed, obviously, we want to fix them so that we can try to do it at a high level.

“You always want to have an idea of what your bread and butter is and what you're good at, but you want to mix it up, too. I thought that Tim (Kelly) had a good game plan and he called it well, and we’ve just got to do a better job executing out there on the field.”

It couldn't be easily fixed. They weren't good at the bread and butter. They don't have a lot of alternative talent, but they were;'t exactly going against the Niners or the Ravens.

The Texans came into the game as the NFL’s eighth-best run defense, but its second-worst pass defense. So what did the Titans have ready for that? DeAndre Hopkins had his worst game in memory, with a deep drop and just two catches for 21 yards on nine targets. He was also the victim of some Levis inaccuracy, particularly on one play where he was crossing and the pass arrived uncatchable, behind him. 

Levis hit Treylon Burks early for 37 yards, but the Titans seemed to feel like he hit his quota early. He added a 20-yarder before halftime and was then targeted once for a 5-yard catch the rest of the way in the passing game.

The defense gave another winning effort. But as long as the offense does so little, even holding opponents to one TD in three red zone possessions isn’t enough when a field goal bombed like Ka'imi Fairbairn gets four field goal chances, including a 54-yarder to win it at the end of overtime.

Levis got them an early touchdown with a 1-yard plunge to top an 11-play, 83-yard drive midway through the first quarter (Nick Folk missed the PAT) and Elijah Molden took a bad through from Case Keenum back 44 yards for a score. The Titans were up 13-0 less than a minute into the second quarter.

And their brain did its thing where it somehow kicks into thinking that’s plenty, they’re fine playing defense, maybe they'll get a couple field goals and they'll just continue to try with Henry.

“We've had times where we weren't having success early, and then once we stuck to it, it eventually would pop for us,” he said. “And I felt like it would have, but it just didn't. I know they try to switch it up every now and then, run to pass on first down. If any changes need be, I'm sure they will look at that to switch it up and give ourselves a better chance on those downs to be able to have success.”

The Texans did some whittling – 13-3, 13-6, 13-9 – and the Titans squeezed out a 45-yard Nick Folk field goal to get back to a touchdown of distance, 16-9 with under 8 minutes left.

Then bad things happened, as they often have to a team not good enough to build a lead against an opponent.

Tre Avery broke up a pass down the deep middle for Xavier Hutchinson only to see a yellow flag ripple through the air for a play that wasn’t worth of a foul. The resulting 20 yards were big, and two plays later Dalton Schultz wrestled a 15-yard pass away from Roger McCreary to put the Texans on the doorstep of the tying TD that would come on a 3-yard pass to Noah Brown, who shined with both Nico Collins and Tank Dell missing due to injuries.

Tennessee managed one first down in two possessions where it could have gone and taken the lead. The Titans won the overtime toss and not only stalled twice but watched Levis suffer a lower left leg injury on his final play.

It was the final play for the Titans’ offense too, but he needed assistance getting off the field. While he said it Kuharsky megaphoneseemed worse in the moment than it was, he also couldn’t offer any assurances about his ability to play in a week against Seattle.

Whoever is at quarterback, with the Titans eliminated, how about they loosen up? Keeping that signal-caller alive is paramount, and the trick play supply has been solid -- though they surprisingly didn’t dig into the bag against the Texans.

But show us some new degree of offensive creativity the rest of the way. Henry admitted he’s thought of the possibility these could be his final three games with the franchise. If he’s getting stopped, the Titans need to think as if post-Henry is on the horizon and play with Plan B or C.

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