The Titans Have Become The NFL’s Bad Guys
Updated: Jan 5, 2021
By Tayyib Abu.
Every sport has had its bad boys. Basketball had the Detroit Pistons; Baseball has the Astros, and the NFL has the 2020 Tennessee Titans. The team from Nashville is starting to get on other teams’ nerves. Even worse for them, Tennessee is now beginning to embrace the role. The Astros did it in MLB’s shortened season; it took them to the ALCS. Now, the same attitude could take Tennessee all the way.
The Titans are 7-3, level with the Indianapolis Colts. Today’s game is a crucial clash in the AFC South. However, for the Titans, it might not matter if they lose.
Tennessee ripped through the AFC as the wildcard team in 2019. An incredible run saw them fall short in the AFC title game. But that only came after they had defeated New England and Baltimore. Be in no doubt; the Titans can do that again. Mike Vrabel’s men will fear nothing. Tennessee won’t respect anyone or be in awe of their opponents. That makes them incredibly dangerous. And it all starts with one man.
Mike Vrabel in football terms is a bad man. The man was part of the early Patriots dynasty that was underpinned by him and Tedy Bruschi. Vrabel had severe success in Foxborough. Now, as a head coach, he is carving out an impressive career. Vrabel played football on the edge. He hit hard and often.
He has now taken this aggression into his coaching. We saw last week that the Titans held an intense huddle in the middle of the Ravens’ stadium. It sparked fury amongst the Baltimore coaching staff. It solicited the right response from a Titans perspective.
Tennessee had riled John Harbaugh as well as the Baltimore players. The Titans had gone to their house and sent a message of defiance. It came from Vrabel. The third-year head coach has instilled an attitude in his locker room. It’s an attitude that has a mean streak a mile long. In three years, Coach Vrabel has created a strong culture in Nashville.
Add this to his supreme ability to manage in-game, and the NFL has a mini Belichick on steroids. Vrabel even did it to his former coach in last year’s playoffs. He drew penalty after penalty to kill the clock. Belichick’s face was a mixture of proud dad and anguish that his former player is bending the rules against him.
That kind of move makes players buy what the coach is selling. A lot of coaches would not do that against Belichick. The fact that Vrabel did has made his players want to run through the proverbial brick wall for him. He is a leader of men. There is talk Vrabel still tackles in practice. He is the aggressive general that has won it all. His team will follow him into any battle with zero hesitation.
THE BULLDOZER IN THE BACKFIELD
Derrick Henry is the embodiment of the Titans physical play. The reigning rushing king is starting to get back to his destructive best. Henry’s touchdown run last week displayed how powerful he is. One of the positives of no fans is that you can hear every hit. Henry carries into contact often. And the impacts are brutal. The bruising back is an uncompromising runner. He wears out the defensive linemen over four quarters of relentless hitting. It is no surprise that Henry is at his best in the late stages of games. He wears the opposing team out.
FROM BUST TO MVP CANDIDATE
Henry’s partner in crime is Ryan Tannehill. The veteran was the backup at the start of last year. However, since he replaced Marcus Mariota, Tannehill is playing out of his mind.
He was historically excellent last year, and he has played incredibly well this year. Tannehill has firmly entrenched himself as an elite quarterback.
Tannehill has been playing like a man with a big chip on his shoulder. After his stint at Miami under Adam Gase, the NFL was ready to throw Tannehill into the scrap heap. Yet, Tannehill has flipped the script on everyone. He is now a legitimate franchise quarterback. He is continually making people eat humble pie. Tannehill is the perfect quarterback for this team. He is the underdog that we wrote off. And now what he wants to do is ram it down people’s throats as to how good he is. More importantly, his teammates have complete faith in him and are helping him do that.
We all know we are living in a pandemic. We have all felt that at some point, the virus would impact the NFL. The Titans were the first team to have real trouble. An outbreak at their facility forced them out of the building. It caused real headaches for the league. Pittsburgh got moved into an early bye week.
Meanwhile, Buffalo and Baltimore had to adapt their schedules. The other teams were scathing in their criticism of Tennessee. There were accusations of multiple rule violations, and there was chatter as to how the NFL should punish them.
But, once Tennessee had the outbreak controlled, they took on Buffalo after three practice days out of 16. Buffalo got crushed by a rampant Titans performance. Josh Norman was stiff-armed into oblivion. It was an angry perfect from Tennessee as they adopted a siege mentality. For one night, the Titans had silenced the cynics. The virus outbreak allowed the other teams to paint the Titans as the bad guy. The Titans were more than happy to accept that position.
TENNESSEE IS BUILT FOR JANUARY FOOTBALL
If the NFL were a professional fighting league, the Titans would be that guy who repeatedly clubs other fighters over the head with a bat. It’s an uncomplicated, physical brand of football. And it’s being executed by a team that believes the NFL has wronged them. That is a dangerous combination as we head into winter.
In adverse weather, running the ball becomes key. As does winning the physical battle. The front office at Tennessee has built a team to do that. Throw into the mix a coach that fears nobody and a team that respects no one and this team could very well upset some more NFL teams. They play with an aggressive attitude, and they will think they can beat anyone. We don’t acknowledge the intangibles in elite sport, but we should with the Titans. They possess so much mental strength and self-belief.
Like all great bad guys, the Titans are flawed. The Titans are beatable. But in a one-off game where Tennessee may be the underdog, that is just the perfect arena for these bad guys to play in. What they are saying to the rest of the AFC is this; ’you might beat us, but what are willing to go through to get the win.’ The Titans will push teams into deep waters. It’s like a fighter taking the champ into round 15 of a title fight. And that’s when the champion is most vulnerable.
The AFC needs to beware; the Titans are more than capable of landing a knockout blow.