Tennessee Titans coach Mike Vrabel is standing by new offensive coordinator Todd Downing after a frustrating offensive performance resulted in a 19-16 home loss to the Cincinnati Bengals in the Divisional Round on Saturday. Tennessee generated 353 yards of total offense, but mustered only 16 points thanks largely to turnovers and two missed chances in the red zone.
"He's a great coach. I think he's a hard worker. (There are) always gonna be calls you'd like to have back and plays you like to have back but I don't evaluate things," Vrabel said of Downing on Monday. "Try to see how guys communicate with each other, the players, are we all on the same page? Is there good communication? How do we do on third down? How do we do in the red zone? Things have to better in all three phases each and every year. But, I love the relationship that Todd has with the assistant coaches and the players and we'll all continue to improve."
Downing, promoted to offensive coordinator a year ago after two seasons as the club's tight ends coach, piloted the Titans offense under difficult circumstances this season, as star running back Derrick Henry was lost to a foot injury after Week 8, and did not return until the playoff loss to the Bengals. Starting wide receivers Julio Jones and A.J. Brown missed action with injuries, as well. Still the Titans managed to maintain a solid rushing attack with D’Onta Foreman in the backfield, and hung on to earn the AFC's No. 1 seed with a 12-5 regular-season mark.
The Titans finished the regular season ranked a middling 17th in the NFL in yards per game (342.5). In his only other experience as an NFL OC, with the Oakland Raiders in 2017, Downing's unit ranked 18th at 324.1 yards per game.
Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill's play was erratic at times this season, particularly in Henry's absence. Against the Bengals, with Henry finally back, Tannehill threw three interceptions -- one on his first pass of the game and another that killed a potential game-winning touchdown drive. He threw 14 interceptions on the year, the second-highest total of his career, and just 21 touchdown passes, his fewest since his last year with the Miami Dolphins in 2018.
Asked if Tannehill suffered from the transition of former offensive coordinator Arthur Smith, now head coach of the Atlanta Falcons, to Downing, Vrabel dismissed the notion.
"Arthur coaches for the Falcons," he said before answering with a resolute "no."
Most of the Titans' key free agents are on the defensive side of the ball, but retaining center Ben Jones, among the best in the NFL at his position, would certainly help Downing's offense for 2022. Vrabel described the team as a whole as "not very close" to being good enough to win a Super Bowl. Clearly, however, the job Downing did is good enough for Vrabel.