The Tennessee Titans went over a decade without reaching the playoffs in back-to-back years. That run finally ended in 2020 with the team posting an 11-5 record and earning the AFC South crown. Veteran signal-caller Ryan Tannehill delivered a fine campaign, setting a career high in touchdown passes (33) while tossing just seven picks. Wide receiver A.J. Brown became a bona fide star, catching 70 passes for 1,075 yards and 11 touchdowns. Even more impressively, Titans running back Derrick Henry became just the eighth player in NFL history to rush for 2,000 yards.
But despite the dynamic offense, the Tennessee defense struggled throughout the year. The unit finished 29th in overall DVOA and 30th against the pass by the same metric. When the offense failed to show up in the wild-card round, the Titans fell 20-13 to the Baltimore Ravens.
Even so, the Titans’ offensive success resulted in play-caller Arthur Smith securing the Atlanta Falcons’ head-coaching position. That led to a series of moves, including the promotion of Todd Downing to offensive coordinator and the acquisition of future Hall of Fame wide receiver Julio Jones.
Tennessee Super Bowl 56 odds: +2800
The trade to land Jones has received most of the attention, but the promotion of Downing to offensive coordinator will have a greater impact on the Titans’ 2021 title hopes. Smith’s use of heavier personnel packages and play-action shots made the offense one of the most efficient in the league. Downing took a different approach the last time he called plays in the NFL, a stint that lasted just one season.
For the Titans to make a title run, Downing will likely have to change his approach to something similar to that of his predecessor. The system will still have to evolve to account for Jones as well as the departure of tight end Jonnu Smith and wideout Corey Davis, but keeping the core tenets in place will reduce the risk of a major regression.
For any of that to matter, the defense needs to show considerable improvement over last season. The additions of edge rusher Bud Dupree and rookie corner Caleb Farley should help once both recover from their respective injuries, but the unit will also need players like Harold Landry and Jeffery Simmons to take the leap. Tennessee doesn’t need a dominant defense to make a title run, but it does need competency.
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