Titans trying to back up aggressive rookie coach Mike Vrabel
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Mike Vrabel has made it very clear he wants the Tennessee Titans to play fast and aggressive, and that's exactly how the rookie head coach operates.
Now he just needs the Titans to do a better job of having their coach's back.
Tennessee (3-4) blew a strong 3-1 start with a three-game skid going into this week's bye that also cost them the lead in the AFC South. The Titans are struggling with too many mistakes this franchise just can't afford with six games decided by a touchdown or less, including a pair by a single point.
"It's our fault you know what I'm saying?" All-Pro safety Kevin Byard said. "We're the reason we're not having a great record because we're not being consistent enough. We're not doing the right things to win these games, and we have to find ways to turn that around."
Titans controlling owner Amy Adams Strunk and general manager Jon Robinson gambled in January firing Mike Mularkey after the franchise's first playoff victory in 14 seasons. They hired Vrabel, the man with 14 years as an NFL linebacker and three Super Bowl rings with New England, to make his debut as a head coach this season.
With his background playing for Bill Cowher, Bill Belichick and Andy Reid to coaching for Urban Meyer and Bill O'Brien, Vrabel is trying to live up to the expectation that he would be a star once someone made him a head coach. Vrabel brought in Matt LaFleur, who also interviewed for the same job, as offensive coordinator to teach Marcus Mariota the quarterback's third different offense going into his fourth NFL season.
The Titans have loved Vrabel's hands-on approach, picking up blocking pads to work with everyone. His enthusiasm rubbed off quickly as the Titans shook off injuries to Mariota, their two-time Pro Bowl left tackle and three-time Pro Bowl tight end Delanie Walker in the season opener to beat Houston and Jacksonville.
Vrabel and Tennessee has yet to find someone to replace Walker's production as Mariota's favorite receiver the past three seasons with the tight end on injured reserve with a broken right ankle. They also lost their most veteran wide receiver when Rishard Matthews asked to be cut, unhappy at having only three catches for 11 yards.
The rookie head coach has been aggressive, suggesting LaFleur mix in some wildcat plays to help out the offense with Mariota against Houston. Vrabel also decided to go for it on three different fourth downs in overtime against Philadelphia, and Mariota and the Titans came through with a 16-play drive for the winning touchdown.
Then the Titans turned the ball over three times and a receiver dropped a TD pass that cost them a 13-12 loss in Buffalo. Baltimore handed the Titans the franchise's first shutout in Tennessee, and then they lost 20-19 last weekend in London after a 2-point conversion failed with 31 seconds left.
Linebacker Brian Orakpo, who's still looking for his first sack this season, said they love how Vrabel attacks.
"That's the risk you take when you do things like that, but we love the aggressiveness," Orakpo said. "He's not playing for ties. The guy believes we should've won this game, and he went for it and we all had his back."
Offense has the most room for improvement ranked 30th in total yards, points scored per game and passing yards.
The young wide receiver group with Tajae Sharpe, the oldest veteran in his third season, has dropped the second-highest percentage of pa sses this season behind only Cleveland. Mariota has been at his best in the fourth quarter with a 112.6 passer rating, but he's thrown for only 1,030 yards with three TDs and five interceptions.
The defense is the NFL's third-stingiest giving up 18.1 points a game. The Titans need to limit big pass plays that have been an issue in almost every game this season, and they could use a few more turnovers and sacks.
The Titans face a tough stretch after their bye. They visit Dallas on Nov. 5 before hosting New England on a short week in their lone home game in November.
Then it's back on the road to Indianapolis and Houston. If the Titans can execute the way Vrabel asks, that would set them up to finish the season with four of their final five at home.
"We have to get more out of everybody, including me," Vrabel said.
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