NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Tennessee Titans reach the halfway point of the NFL season unable to win away from home or close out close games.
One thing is clear: Rookie Will Levis has shown enough in his first two NFL starts to be their quarterback because he gives the Titans their best chance to win now and in the future.
The 33rd pick overall out of Kentucky has twice as many touchdown passes (four) as veteran Ryan Tannehill who started the first six games. Levis' first turnover came Thursday night throwing into the end zone of a 20-16 loss at Pittsburgh, while Tannehill has six interceptions with two TD passes.
Coach Mike Vrabel said Friday he isn't ready to name Levis the starting quarterback yet, wanting to see Tannehill healthy first. Vrabel also wants to check the health of his team after four of his five starting offensive linemen went down with injuries, along with a banged-up secondary.
The Titans (3-5) sit at the bottom of the AFC South with the weekend off and nine games remaining. Vrabel said there will be talks about the depth chart, while the focus remains trying to win now.
“Winning is critical ...,” Vrabel said. "I think that that’s what you have to focus on today and what’s best for us today. And then obviously, on the other hand, there is a long-term implications for decisions that we make.”
Of the Titans' losses this season, four have been by one score with only one blowout.
“We got some ground to make up, but you do it one game at a time to do it, you do it one practice at a time," Vrabel said. "I’m confident that we’ll do that and figure out a way to win on the road, which has avoided us up until this point for a number of reasons.”
The trade for veteran kicker Nick Folk was helpful. That fixed an area that has been a major issue for the Titans since the start of the 2019 season. Not only has Folk made all 19 field goals and 13 extra points this season, he leads the team with 70 points. Folk set an NFL record for most consecutive field goals made under 40 yards or less at 72.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
The Titans' last road victory was Nov. 17 in Green Bay. They have lost seven straight, eight if counting the “home” loss against Baltimore on Oct. 15 in London. Only two of those losses were blowouts, with the other six all by one score or a combined 31 points.
The NFL's best run defense in 2022 also must figure out how to tackle again. The Titans have allowed at least 139 yards rushing in four straight games.
DeAndre Hopkins has produced. The three-time All-Pro wide receiver already has more yards receiving (564) and more touchdown catches (three) through eight games on just 35 receptions than the Titans' top receiver last season. Robert Woods had 527 yards receiving on 53 catches and only two TD receptions in 2022.
LT Andre Dillard needs more production. A key free agent signee by new general manager Ran Carthon in March was benched Oct. 15 during a loss in London. An injury to his replacement Nicholas Petit-Frere forced him back on the field against Pittsburgh. Dillard wound up allowing nine quarterback pressures to Pittsburgh’s Alex Highsmith, according to Next Gen Stats.
Vrabel said WR Treylon Burks is in the concussion protocol and briefly lost consciousness after trying to make a catch on the sideline with 2:06 left. Burks was carted off the field but caught a bus home with the team. Vrabel said RG Daniel Brunskill missed only one snap after getting his right ankle heavily taped.
Petit-Frere returned but was limited to 14 snaps by an injured shoulder. LG Peter Skoronski missed seven snaps. CB Sean Murphy-Bunting's injured thumb limited him to eight snaps, and CB Roger McCreary missed a second straight game with an injured hamstring.
31 — The number of undrafted players used by the Titans, which is most in the NFL as they pay the price for the personnel missteps by the general manager who was fired in December. They lead the league with 13 of those starting, and also with seven starting six or more games. No other team has started more than four undrafted players.
Name Levis the starter and visit Tampa Bay on Nov. 12 before wrapping up a three-game road swing at defending AFC South champ Jacksonville. Tennessee finishes with five of seven at home and still has five divisional games remaining for a chance at a strong finish.
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