Dropped passes. Little separation from defenders. A decisive lack of yards after the catch.
All of those things have plagued the Tennessee Titans receivers through the first seven games of the season.
The drops cost them potential big gains to Taywan Taylor and Corey Davis in Sunday’s 20-19 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers in London. In addition to that, Taylor had just one catch for eight yards, while Davis had 10 yards on three catches.
Davis has been stymied by opposing defenses since his nine-catch, 161-yard game against the Eagles on Sept. 30. In the three game since then, he has just eight catches for 83 yards.
Taylor, who had a breakout game against the Eagles as well with seven catches for 77 yards, has just five catches for 51 yards in the three loss since that win over Philadelphia. He was unable to haul in the two-point conversion pass at the end of the game as the Titans gambled and lost in regulation.
By contrast, Tajae Sharpe, who had just seven catches in six games before Sunday, proved to be reliable on Sunday, hauling in seven catches for 101 yards and moving the sticks five different times on third down with his receptions.
On Sunday, the Titans two biggest pass plays – both for 21 yards – were from running backs Dion Lewis and Derrick Henry.
But the Titans receiving corps inconsistencies and issues stretch far beyond Sunday in London. There was Nick Williams – since released and picked up by the Rams – with an egregious drop of a touchdown pass that could have turned a loss in Buffalo into a win. And there was one from Darius Jennings against the Eagles that fortunately the Titans overcame.
On Monday, Titans coach Mike Vrabel said some of the receivers’ problems come from not being as polished as route runners as they need to be. And that some of that can only come with experience.
“I think that one thing that you can always look to improve on, is where you’re route running. Your route craft, how you set up a route based on what type of coverage you’re getting,” Vrabel said. “You get off coverage, and you get bump coverage. How are you able to get into that route, and still get to the depth of the route with creativity? Setting the route up, leaning into the guy, pushing off on the guy, whatever it may be, so that you’re running good routes and they’re not always the same.
“You’re mixing speeds in. I think – talking to other receivers that were successful in this league, they didn’t always run the route at the same exact speed. They were able to play with different speeds, and tempos, and slow up and then burst, and then do different things. They continued to work on the route craft that young receivers may not have. They’re concentrating on where they’re supposed to be and what exact route they’re supposed to have. Then, eventually building toward having some savvy and some route craft.”
As for the drops that have plagued the Titans, Vrabel said the receivers must keep working, trying to simulate as close to game situations as they can in practice. He added that receivers must adjust to account for things like pressure on the quarterback and defenders in the way when they are in game situations.
“Sometimes when the game happens, the quarterback doesn’t always have the chance to put the ball right here. You want players who have great catch radius and go catch the ball wherever it may be,” Vrabel said.
Vrabel seemed to point more to the receivers needing to step up than placing the pass game issues from Sunday on quarterback Marcus Mariota.
“We’re going to try to get the receivers that you pointed out not in the right spot, or dropping the ball, to catch it better and more effectively. That’s kind of how it goes.,” Vrabel said. “Marcus (Mariota) got the ball to the checkdowns, and those guys were able to run when those guys were dropping back. We always want to make sure that every time we catch the ball we’re taking care of it, we’re giving the quarterback a good target, and we’re where we’re supposed to be, so that he can confidently step back and use the pocket when it’s there and step up. There were times when the pocket was great. I think it was good to see Marcus take some shots when it wasn’t great and deliver the football.”