South Asia Reporter
One of the Tennessee Titans’ biggest problems was evident in their Sunday football loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.
Start with the second quarter, the third and 9th Titans of 40 with 2:09 left before the break. Rookie quarterback Malik Willis threw a perfect pass down the sideline into the lap of veteran receiver Chris Conley, in a one-on-one cover encounter. Conley dropped the pass. The ball bounced off his arm.
Then look at the fourth quadrant. Titans again with the ball, facing second and ninth leaders 38. Willis gave another receiver, Nick Westbrook-Eaken, a chance down the sideline, this time for a first and a goal. But Westbrook-Ikhine, who faced tight coverage but with a clean chance of catching the ball, dribbled the pass as he jumped to catch it. incomplete.
“I know (Willis) made some really nice balls that got up and up and hopefully we can find a way to catch them and go down with them,” coach Mike Frabel said after the game.
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Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs needed overtime to defeat Derek Henry of the Tennessee Titans in Week 9.
But these were two examples, among many others this season, of why the Titans (5-3) have missed AJ Brown this season. Why they got haunted by swapping it away for the Philadelphia Eagles during the holiday season.
Tennessee employees have not proven that they are consistently able to play plays overseas. With a strong running game led by Derek Henry and an elite defense, the receiver’s broad concerns are shaped in the Achilles’ heel of the Titans’ hopes for a deep playoff.
The Titans’ wide receivers had no catches on five goals against the Chiefs, making Tennessee only the fourth team in the past six seasons to not have a wide receiver record in a game, according to Next Generation stats.
“We’re back in business,” Westbrook Eaken said.
But the issues go well beyond the Kansas City game. Entering week 10, the Titans’ wide receivers this season have 658 combined yards–fewer than seven NFL pass hunters, including six wide receivers: The Dolphins’ Tyreek Hill (1,104), Vikings’ Justin Jefferson (867), Bills’ Stefon Diggs (857), Rams Cooper Cope (813), Dolphin’s Jalen Waddell (812), Brown (718) and Chiefs’ Travis Kelsey (659).
Sure, the Titans boast a first-run offense—they’ve shot the run or jog on 58.5% of their plays this season (249 of 425)—but their recipients haven’t been great at taking advantage of their chances either. Combined, they have a catch rate of just 58%, which is the fifth worst NFL receiving room (just above the Panthers, Bears, Broncos and Cowboys), according to Next Generation stats.
major issue? Hunters of the Titans struggle to create the disconnect, making it difficult to take advantage of the individual opportunities that have come – and will continue – with Henry getting so much attention in the box. Tennessee’s wide receivers and tight ends this season averaged just 2.8 yards from the nearest defender in catch or completion time, tied with the Cleveland for worst in the NFL, according to Next Generation stats.
In fact, the Titans (WRs, TEs and RBs combined) hold three of the four worst games of 2022 in the league in terms of season average, per NGS: Week 5 vs. Leaders (2.2 yards), Week 7 vs. Colts (2.3) and Week 9 vs. Chiefs (2.3).
Related: The talent is there for Titans QB Malik Willis
Injuries didn’t help the Titans’ less brownish reception room. They have three of the top seven wide players in the injured reserve: rookie Trillon Berks (toe) and Kyle Phillips (hamstring), and pro sophomore Rasy McMath. However, Borks is set to return to training on Wednesday and could be back as soon as Sunday against the Broncos. It’s good news.
A Tennessee pick in the first round, Borks has 10 catches for 129 yards in four games.
“That’s the plan,” Birx said Wednesday of playing against Denver. “We’ll see how this week goes.”
But what difference can Birx realistically make in the last nine games of the regular season? While the former Arkansas player was definitely a rookie before his injury, he averaged just 32.3 yards per game in four games. Philips (hamstrings) cannot return until Week 12. Coach Mike Vrabel indicated earlier in the season that McMath may have a chance to return later in the season.
Banking on these three, including a fifth-round pick (Philips) and a sophomore who had a reception last season (McMath), to raise the NFL’s second-worst passing attack (136.3 yards/game) brings out a nearly grieving state Spacious reception room.
Even if the Titans planned to trade one by the deadline earlier this month, it’s not clear how they could have made the numbers work. They only had $1.5 million in cap space in the days leading up to the deadline.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this for titans. After trading for veteran Robert Woods in March, on paper they had a No. 2 receiver and it looks like the perfect complement for Brown. And there’s still a feeling there’s a good chance Tennessee will draft an early receiver, too.
Then came the shock trade for Brown, who was entering the final year of his start-up deal, during the first day of the draft. There was no general expectation that he would be dealt with until this happened. Tennessee sent the stellar receiver to Philadelphia on the 18th—which became Birx—and the 101st overall pick in the 2022 draft.
Extension negotiations had gone awry. There was a gap between the two sides. Brown later told ESPN that the Giants gave him a “low-key offer.” Meanwhile, Tennessee felt Brown’s camp played hard in the negotiations. He stopped contacting the team for weeks and vowed to stay off the field until a new contract was reached.
As the No. 1 Eagles receiver, Brown thrives. He has 43 receptions for 718 yards and six touchdowns in eight games. He is on his way to achieving his highest professional levels in all areas.
According to general manager John Robinson, the decision to trade Brown was “difficult.”
“We got to a place where it’s going to be difficult to close a deal and the commercial thing is sort of unfolding from[there],” Robinson said in April.
For the Titans this season, what emerges in the future game are missed opportunities.
Ben Arthur is the AFC South reporter for FOX Sports. He previously worked for the Tennessee/USA Today Network, where he was a writer for Beat the Titans for a year and a half. He covered the Seattle Seahawks for SeattlePI.com for three seasons (2018-20) before moving to Tennessee. You can follow Ben on Twitter at Tweet embed.
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