The ebb and flow of the rookie quarterback. That’s the world in which the Tennessee Titans find themselves.
Will Levis opened the possibilities for the future with his four-touchdown performance against the Atlanta Falcons in his debut, but crashed back to Earth with a rookie-like outing against the Pittsburgh Steelers on "Thursday Night Football." That’s fine as no one should be expecting a second-round rookie to immediately be a team’s savior, no matter how elite his arm talent is.
The post-Ryan Tannehill era has started for the Titans now that Levis has started a couple games. Levis deserves a long leash for the rest of the season, but at the same time, the Titans need him to show some progress toward 2024 by the time this season wraps up. Having at least the possibility of a franchise quarterback in the fold would free them up to use their assets to plug some of the other holes on their roster, of which they have a ton.
If it wasn’t already obvious, the Titans' 20-16 loss to the Steelers officially revealed the major flaws in their current roster setup. The most glaring position group that the Titans need to shore up is their offensive line. There’s no shame in getting beat by the likes of T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith, two of the best edge defenders in the league, but there’s no excuse to get beat as badly as the Titans did on Thursday night. According to the NFL’s Next Gen Stats, Levis was under pressure on a whopping 45% of his dropbacks.
Quarterback play can invite pressure, and that should be accounted for when looking at their egregious pressure percentage, but watching the game made it clear the Titans had no shot of blocking the talent that the Steelers have on the edge. The offensive tackle combination of Andre Dillard and Nicholas Petit-Frere isn’t getting the job done and they don’t look to have much long-term hope on the offensive line outside of rookie left guard Peter Skoronski.
The skill position situation is dire as well, outside of running back. The Titans have one of the best one-two combos at running back with superstar Derrick Henry and rookie Tyjae Spears being the only source of consistent positive plays for the Titans' offense. DeAndre Hopkins is still a talented wide receiver, but the structure of Tennessee's offense makes it difficult for passing plays to get off the ground from time to time. Outside of Hopkins, the team is still waiting on Treylon Burks to live up to his lofty expectations as a first-round draft pick. The wide receiver options outside of Burks haven’t been able to be consistent performers on this offense either.
Levis is in a situation where most young quarterbacks would struggle, but that doesn’t change what the Titans need to happen here as far as his development is concerned. As disadvantageous as the system around Levis currently is, they still need him to break through and show enough progress so they can start fixing the offensive line and skill position players to make life easier for him. The need to replace Levis in the offseason would put another quarterback in the same situation that Levis is currently in.
There are worse places for a team to start than seeing what a highly talented quarterback can do if he’s given the opportunity to play. The next step is creating an infrastructure where he has the opportunity to succeed. Unfortunately for Levis, he’s going to need to play well enough to create that reality for himself. In two games, Levis has shown some extreme highs and low lows, but there’s something here to start building on.
If Levis can get to the offseason as the projected starter in 2024, the Titans can start doing the hard work to get back to being a playoff-contending team.