NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Six things standing out for the Titans after Sunday's loss to the Colts, and heading into this week's game against the Texans on Monday Night Football.
How can the Titans look so good in wins over the Cowboys and Patriots, and then look so terrible against the Colts? How can the Titans jump out to a 3-1 start, and then fall flat in a loss to the Bills? What the heck happened in that clunker against the Ravens? Yes, those are all legitimate questions centered on a team that's proven to be very good on some Sundays, and very bad on others.
Titans coach Mike Vrabel has been consistent taking the blame when things have gone wrong, and course it's not all his fault. He hasn't dropped a pass, jumped offsides or thrown an interception yet. What the head coach has done is try to shift the blame away from his players. "Put it all on me. I've lost five games and the players have won five," Vrabel said Monday. "So, I have to do a better job of not losing them and they have to do a better job of winning them."
AFC playoff race
The Titans certainly haven't made it easy on themselves. As a result of Houston's seven-game winning streak – and their own failures – the Titans (5-5) are now two games behind the Texans (7-3) in the AFC South. I think it's safe to say Monday's game is a must-win as far as division title hopes go. No one else in the building is thinking about this but me, but I see a bunch of teams in a logjam for a Wild Card spot. Behind the L.A. Chargers, who currently hold one Wild Card spot with a 7-3 mark, the Dolphins, Ravens, Bengals, Colts and Titans are all 5-5. Of course it doesn't help that the Titans lose head-to-head tiebreakers with losses to a bunch of those teams, and their AFC record is 3-5.
Titans second-year linebacker Jayon Brown has already eclipsed all his numbers from his rookie season. Brown leads the Titans with 4.5 sacks (up from 1.5 last year) and he's second on the team in tackles with 69 (up from 67 last year in 16 games). He's doubled his quarterback pressures (16/9) and tackles for loss (5/2) already. Brown continues to play at a high level, while offering optimism about what's ahead for him.
Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota is dealing with another injury, and it's unfortunate. It hasn't helped matters that he's getting hit – and sacked – a lot more frequently this season. After being sacked four times in the first half on Sunday, Mariota has now been sacked 29 times in nine games this season. He missed one game, and parts of three others. Mariota was sack just 27 times in 15 games in 2017, and 23 times in 15 games in 2016. He was sacked 38 times in 12 games during his rookie season.
The Titans need to be more consistent across the board from a pass-catching standpoint, but one player has emerged in recent weeks – tight end Jonnu Smith. After catching just five passes in the first seven games, Smith has now caught 11 in the past three, including six catches on Sunday at Indianapolis. He's scored two touchdowns in the past three games. Smith now has 16 catches for 166 yards and two touchdowns.