NASHVILLE – The Titans turned in a sub-par performance in the season opener against the Cardinals, losing 38-13 in a contest that really wasn't very competitive.
Let's take a look at six things that stood out from the contest …
Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill was sacked six times, including five times by Cardinals linebacker Chandler Jones. Twice Tannehill lost the ball on sacks, and the Cardinals recovered the football. Plenty of Titans shared the blame in this one, and left tackle Taylor Lewan was certainly among the culprits. Lewan, in fact, took ownership on social media immediately after the game. "Got my ass kicked today, no way around that," Lewan posted on Twitter. "I let the team and the fans down. Thank you (Chandler Jones) for exposing me. It will only force me to get better." The Titans need to get this cleaned up fast if they want to keep Tannehill healthy this season.
Some of the problems that plagued the Titans in 2020 were back on full display on Sunday – the defense couldn't get off the field on third down (the Cardinals converted 7-of-13, including some long ones), and the Titans couldn't get stops when it mattered most (the Cardinals were 4-of-5 in red zone efficiency). Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray threw for 289 yards and four touchdowns, and he ran for another score. He kept plays alive with his feet. Cardinals receiver DeAndre Hopkins also had a day, catching six passes for 83 yards and two touchdowns as the Titans had issues covering, and containing.
The Titans did a few things to create a spark – a successful flea-flicker, and a successful fake punt. Safety Kevin Byard intercepted a pass, and defensive lineman Jeffery Simmons and outside linebacker Harold Landry came up with sacks. But the Titans just couldn't sustain any momentum, as their surges were short-lived. The Titans seemed tense and uptight at the beginning, and I think it contributed to the 17-0 deficit at the start. In the end, there just weren't nearly enough plays made, as the team missed one opportunity after the next. "Tomorrow we are starting over, tomorrow is a new week," linebacker Bud Dupree said. "We have to point the finger at ourselves. We didn't play as best as we should, nobody played a good game, good enough to win. Everyone goes through adversity, and it is about how you come back after and control it."
Kick in the Pants
The Titans thought they had their kicking problem fixed – until kicker Sam Ficken suffered a groin injury in Friday's practice. It forced the team to sign Michael Badgley to the roster while placing Ficken on Injured Reserve. The Titans added kicker Randy Bullock to the practice squad as insurance. Badgley warmed up well before the game, making kicks short and long, including a 58-yarder. But he misfired on his first extra point, and he was wide left on a 46-yarder at the end of the first half. The Titans didn't lose because of Badgley's shaky Titans debut, but it was certainly a source of frustration for fans on a rough day all around. "You've got to be ready to adjust and make some decisions," Titans coach Mike Vrabel said of the developments at kicker. "We put Sam on IR. Michael was here. We'll reevaluate that position here in the morning."
Henry Running Room
The truth is Henry didn't have much running room early. At the half, Henry had just eight yards rushing on nine carries. He was tackled for a three-yard loss on the game's opening play, and hit in the backfield time and again. Henry had some nice runs in the second half, including a long of 19 yards. He finished the contest with 58 yards on 17 carries, good for a 3.4-yard average. But let's face it – Henry did most of his damage when the game was one-sided, and the Cardinals were more concerned with the pass. The Titans are going to have to run it a lot better moving forward. "It takes all 11," Henry said. "We all have to be tied in, locked in. … We just have to be better for us to have success in the run game. When we call a play, we have to execute."
"A Great Atmosphere"
Nissan Stadium was buzzing early, as Titans fans jumped at the chance to pack the stadium again. Despite the slow start, the fans – the paid attendance was 67,216 – stayed in it throughout, doing their best to give the sluggish Titans a jumpstart. It was a great atmosphere, and it reminded me just how much I missed the excitement after covering games in empty stadiums and limited capacity venues a year ago. Yes, there was clearly some frustration at the end, but safety Kevin Byard said it was understandable. "It was a great atmosphere," Byard said. "The fans were there. They showed up. They showed out. But if you put a bad performance out there, you're gonna get boos. Rightfully so, honestly. … I think our fanbase wants us to be a great team and we want to be a great team. We didn't show it today."