Week 14 of the 2023 NFL regular season comes to a close with a pair of Monday Night Football games. With plenty of playoff implications on the line, the Miami Dolphins are hosting the Tennessee Titans in one of the games tonight, with the Green Bay Packers visiting the New York Giants in the other. The Dolphins and Titans are two teams on opposite sides of the AFC playoff picture this season and tonight’s game could have huge postseason implications for Miami.
A win moves the Dolphins back into the top spot in the AFC standings, sliding ahead of the Baltimore Ravens based on tiebreaks. The Sunday games went fairly well for Miami’s playoff chances and seeding positions this season, with the third-place Kansas City Chiefs and fourth-place Jacksonville Jaguars both losing. The Ravens snuck past the Los Angeles Rams in an overtime win, keeping the week from being a perfect one for the Dolphins, but Miami visits Baltimore in Week 17, a game that could decide who finishes the season with the top spot in the AFC side of the playoff bracket.
Before that can happen, however, Miami needs to continue to take care of business this week. Who are the Titans in 2023? Sitting at 4-8, Tennessee is in the 15th position in the AFC, a game ahead of the New England Patriots. A loss on Monday could move the Titans into the top five in picks during the 2024 NFL Draft.
It has not been the year the Titans and their fans expected. But what has been going on in Tennessee? To get a closer look at the Titans, I turned to Jimmy Morris from Music City Miracles for an insider take on rookie quarterback Will Levis, former Dolphins quaterback Ryan Tannehill’s legacy, and the future of head coach Mike Vrabel.
You can check out my side of the conversation as I answered questions about the Dolphins here:
Second-round draft pick Will Levis has taken over as the starting quarterback for the Titans. What have you seen from him? What are his strengths and weaknesses as he works his way through his rookie season?
Levis has been up and down since he took over as the starter. He came out and threw four touchdowns in his first start which was such a big deal because Ryan Tannehill had only thrown two touchdowns in the first six games. He showed his biggest strength in that game which is his arm strength. There isn’t a throw on the field that he can’t make, and he isn’t afraid to let it rip. That is sometimes a weakness because he tries to push the ball downfield to a guy who is covered instead of taking an underneath throw that is open, but he has improved on that a little as he has played.
In some ways, it isn’t fair to judge the results too much because he is playing behind a terrible offensive line. To his credit, he has proven really tough because he is willing to stand in there and take a hit - and he gets hit A LOT. One question we had about him coming out of college was his pocket awareness. That has not been a problem here through his first six starts. He has been good at finding ways to move in the pocket to keep a play alive, and in case I didn’t mention it, he has to do that A LOT because of how bad the offensive line is.
Levis taking over as the starter pushed former Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill out of the top spot on the depth chart. How is Tannehill viewed by the fan based and how will his time with the Titans be remembered?
That’s a complicated question. Most of the fanbase at this point only remembers that Ryan Tannehill threw three interceptions in the divisional round of the playoffs against the Cincinnati Bengals two years ago. The Titans were the number one seed and Tannehill pretty much single-handedly lost that game for them. It’s not fair to remember him just for that game. He was really good here for a few years and should be remembered as the guy who helped Mike Vrabel turn this franchise around and get them on the right track.
Derrick Henry will reach 200 carries for the season during Monday’s game, his sixth-straight season with at least 200 rushing attempts. He is fourth in carries thus far in 2023 and the offense for the Titans still goes through Henry. Tyjee Spears appears to be lurking in the shadows however, ready to take over if Henry ever loses a step, though it does not appear that is happening any time soon. Is Henry still a dominant player? Is Spears in position to take over the top spot on the depth chart? Is this the last year Henry is in Tennessee?
Henry is still playing at a very high level. It is hard for anyone to do much behind this offensive line, but you can still see flashes of what Derrick Henry can do when they do give him a crease to run through. The thing that hasn’t been there in the last year or so is the back-breaking long touchdown run that he was breaking off so often before. That could be because he has lost a step, or it could be because the league has learned how fast he is and they are taking better pursuit angles.
Spears has been great in the role he has been asked to play. He is so shifty and his acceleration is crazy good. That’s the one thing he really has over Henry. It takes Henry a minute to get to top speed. Spears can get there in the flash of an eye. He looked ready to take over last week when Henry was ruled out.
As for what happens next year, that’s a good question. Henry’s contract is up after the year. The market isn’t going to crazy for his services. He’s so valuable to this franchise just based on what he has done for this team and off the field during his time here. He will be in the Ring of Honor one day. Will he be willing to come back and play a lesser role for significantly less money than he has been making? Time will tell.
What would you do if you were designing an offense to attack the Titans’ defense? How would you gameplan a defense to stop the Titans’ offense?
The Titans’ secondary is bad. The guy we all thought was going to be their best corner, Kristian Fulton, is hurt and when not hurt he’s been bad. They traded Kevin Byard to the Philadelphia Eagles at the trade deadline. Byard was not the elite guy he had been earlier in his career but was still a valuable veteran leader in that group. The pass rush is usually pretty good but without Jeffery Simmons playing in this game they are going to have trouble getting home. If the Dolphins can give Tua time, and I expect that they will be able to, there will be plays to be had down the field.
Stopping the Titans really isn’t very hard. Do you have pass rushers with a pulse? If the answer is yes, and I suspect it is for the Dolphins, you just have to tell them to try to sack the quarterback. They won’t have any problem doing that against a starting line that is, yep you guessed it, terrible. They probably only have one player in that group, rookie left guard Peter Skoronski, who is a quality NFL starter. It’s tough to do much on offense when that is the case. They are also deficient when it comes to pass catchers. DeAndre Hopkins can still play. The rest of the group is pedestrian at best.
How are the fans feeling about Mike Vrabel? Whenever a coordinator gets fired during the season, it is not a good sign for the head coach during the offseason, but there seemed to be a lot of question marks about the Titans before the season started and now they are starting a rookie quarterback. Is Vrabel’s job in jeopardy? Have there been enough flashes of potential for the team to stick with Vrabel through this season, with the hope that 2024 will be a better year?
Fans have started to turn on Vrabel for sure. The thing about Vrabel early in his time here was that he could find a way to rally the team to get a win when no one expected them to be able to win. The perfect example of that was back in 2021. Derrick Henry broke his foot in week 8 against the Indianapolis Colts. They went to LA to play the Rams on Sunday Night Football the following week. No one gave them a chance without Henry, but the Titans won the game 28-16. There was a lot of that in 2021 because the Titans were decimated by injuries. The problem is that magic is gone at this point. They ended the 2022 season on a seven-game losing streak and are 4-8 to start this season. They haven’t won a road game in over a year.
All of that is not on Vrabel. The talent on this team just isn’t good enough. It’s the reason general manager Jon Robinson was fired during the year last year. The Titans will have close to $100 million in cap space this offseason, so Vrabel will get a chance to be here for the roster rebuild, but if there isn’t improvement next year I’d expect them to move on.
I am still trying to get used to the Dolphins being heavy favorites in games - after 20 years of disappointment, it feels odd. According to DraftKings Sportsbook, the Dolphins are 13-point favorites on Monday night, the largest line in the league in Week 14. Do you think that is an accurate mark? How do you see this game playing out?
It’s not high enough. I don’t see a scenario where the Titans can stay within 4 scores of the Dolphins. They will probably come out and try to establish Derrick Henry early, but after two 3 and outs, it will be 14-0 because this defense isn’t stopping Tua and company. At that point, they will be forced to open it up a little bit. Levis will make some nice plays but will be sacked a few times and turn it over once or twice. Miami ends up winning this one something like 42-17.