When the Tennessee Titans traded A.J. Brown on draft day to the Philadelphia Eagles, everyone knew the offense would sorely miss his production.
But even the most pessimistic couldn’t have predicted the Titans would miss his production this much.
In Sunday night’s valiant, short-handed effort in Kansas City, Titans wide receivers did not catch a single pass.
Yes, some of that was due to the fact that Malik Willis was under center – Ryan Tannehill was still nursing an ankle injury from two weeks prior – and completed only five throws all night. But the wide receivers certainly had their share of culpability as Nick Westbrook-Ikhine and newcomer Chris Conley both dropped catchable passes from the rookie quarterback.
A reception by either player in either instance would likely have led to at least three points and could have helped the Titans escape an overtime loss at Arrowhead Stadium.
Much has been made of how Willis has struggled to complete passes while filling in for Tannehill. He has just 11 completions in two weeks. And it is certainly smart to try and keep the ball in Derrick Henry’s hands and out of harm’s way as much as possible.
But when the passing game can’t complement the run game with some sort of contribution, it leaves the offense hamstrung and one-dimensional. It also creates an excessive burden for the defense, as we saw Sunday night.
As well as the defense played in Kansas City, it wasn’t enough to prevail against a Chiefs offense that sputtered all night but found enough firepower in the fourth quarter to send the game to overtime and win in the end.
The Titans loss Sunday night cannot be pinned entirely on Willis. This lack of a threat in the passing game has been magnified by his greenness, but it has been there all along. And unless something changes, it will again be a big reason the Titans come up short in the postseason.
Tannehill has done a really good job this season of protecting the football. Other than the complete offensive meltdown in Buffalo in week two, Tannehill has performed well, even though his numbers (six touchdowns and three interceptions) won’t exactly pop off the page in the way, say, as Patrick Mahomes’ numbers.
But given the situation at receiver, and the early struggles for Willis, Tannehill is the least of the Titans’ problems and, no doubt, will be a welcome sight back in the huddle when he is healthy enough to play again.
Thus far, veteran receiver Robert Woods has been the most productive with all of 22 catches for 256 yards this season. Those numbers aren’t exactly keeping opposing defensive coordinators awake at night, but they’re downright Randy Moss-like when compared to the rest of the receiving stats.
The next three top pass catchers for the Titans are not even receivers by trade. They are running backs Henry and Dontrell Hilliard with 14 catches each, followed by tight end Austin Hooper with 12 receptions.
The second most productive receiver for the Titans has been rookie Treylon Burks with 10 catches. And he has been on injured reserve since Oct. 8 with a toe injury.
All the other Titans receivers on the roster are in single digits.
The trade deadline has passed, and unless Burks or Racey McMath comes off injured reserve and gives the Titans a playmaking threat on the outside, the formula won’t change this season.
It will get a little better when Tannehill returns. But with receivers not creating separation and not winning enough of their battles, the Titans are likely to still be too limited and one-dimensional on offense to make a deep postseason run.
Terry McCormick covers the Titans for TitanInsider.com, a part of Main Street Media.