Titans coach Mike Vrabel doubling down after 0-2 start, rout
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee coach Mike Vrabel has two-time NFL rushing champ Derrick Henry, and the reigning AP NFL Coach of the Year is doubling down.
Yes, despite the Titans’ first 0-2 start in a decade and coming off the ugliest loss of his tenure in a 41-7 loss to Buffalo on Monday night.
Vrabel is focusing on what his Titans can do rather than listening to the rising chorus of fans eager to fire second-year offensive coordinator Todd Downing or even general manager Jon Robinson’s recent draft failures after six straight winning seasons and three straight playoff berths.
“This isn’t all of a sudden the time for wholesale changes,” Vrabel said Tuesday. “This is about getting back to the basics and what we believe in, what we’ve had success in, and making sure that that everybody sees it the same way that I do.”
That means trimming what the Titans are trying to do and do it better. Vrabel said he wants to get back to fundamentals and technique, making sure everyone understands what they’re being asked to do.
The Titans have gone from being the AFC’s No. 1 seed with a 12-5 record last season to being among the NFL’s five remaining 0-2 teams. That number will decrease with the Titans hosting the Las Vegas Raiders (0-2) on Sunday.
Henry was on his way to leading the NFL in rushing a third straight season when he broke his right foot last October. Now he has just 107 yards rushing through two games and was held to 25 yards on 13 carries by Buffalo. Henry said he prides himself on being a playmaker for Tennessee, which he didn’t do.
“We just weren’t good enough. At all,” Henry said.
The opening drive of the game. The Titans have scored on each drive of their first two games, showing the type of offense that Vrabel wants and Tennessee needs much more of as the two-time defending AFC South champs.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
The offense. Since scoring 13 points in the first 30 minutes of the season, the Titans have managed just 14 points in the past six quarters. Worse, the man they’ve built their offense around in Henry has an offensive line struggling to open holes. Sticking with the same approach doesn’t mean no changes.
“I think we would consider everything at this point in time with every position group,” Vrabel said.
Ryan Stonehouse. The undrafted rookie punter from Colorado State leads the NFL with an average of 56.2 yards per punt, and he’s tied for the league lead with 12 punts already this season.
Stonehouse ranks sixth in net average, and only three other punters have landed more than his five punts inside the opponents 20-yard line.
Kyle Philips. The rookie had a 46-yard return early in his NFL debut, but now the fifth-round pick out of UCLA has fumbled a punt in each of the first two games near his own goal line. Even when the Titans went to safety Amani Hooker for a punt return, the safety also fumbled a punt though Tennessee recovered that one.
The Titans’ thin offensive line depth took a major hit when three-time Pro Bowl left tackle Taylor Lewan hurt his right knee on Tennessee’s opening offensive play and was carted off the sideline.
Vrabel said Lewan still was being evaluated Tuesday. That was the same knee Lewan tore his ACL in October 2020.
They may have gotten better news with starting outside linebacker Bud Dupree. He hurt a hip after 11 snaps, but Vrabel said he didn’t think it would be anything long term.
A total of 30 teams have started 0-2 since 1990 in the NFL and still reached the playoffs out of 265 teams. The Titans started 1-4 in 2002 and made the AFC championship game in Oakland — losing to the Raiders.
Try to avoid the first 0-3 start for this franchise since 2009 when the Titans lost their first six. After hosting the Raiders, the Titans will play four of the next five on the road. Two of the next three are wrapped around their bye.
After the Raiders, two of the next three games are against Indy, the popular pick to win the AFC South, with the Colts slightly ahead of the Titans with an 0-1-1 start this season.
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By TERESA M. WALKER
AP Pro Football Writer