NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Tennessee Titans held onto first place in the AFC South in Week 7, defeating the rival Indianapolis Colts, 19-10. As the final score indicates, this was not matchup that featured numerous highlight-reel plays or quarterbacks who threw for 400 yards and multiple touchdowns. This was a defensive grind-it-out matchup that came down to who wanted it more.
Following the game, Titans head coach Mike Vrabel told reporters that the kind of defense his team played vs. Indy is the "formula" that leads the Titans to the win column.
"It's great to get turnovers, and for the most part take care of the football," said Vrabel. "That's going to be the formula, if you guys haven't figured that out. That's how we're going to have to play. And it's a battle. That's a good defense. That's a very good defense. We were close on some things, and we'll have to continue to look and work, but I am just extremely proud of these guys and proud of all three phases."
It's an interesting comment: "That's how we're going to have to play." Maybe it could be taken as a shot fired at the makeup of the roster or how the offense has performed in general, but it's more likely Vrabel meant that these kinds of wins are exactly what he wants. The former linebacker doesn't want to get into a shootout with you; he wants to drag you into the mud and make the fight sloppy. He wants to see if your bite is the same after you get a few teeth knocked out.
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The Titans entered Sunday with what was statistically the second-worst offense in the league. They averaged 278.2 yards of total offense per game in their first five contests and recorded just 254 yards Sunday. Ryan Tannehill led the No. 28 passing offense in the NFL, as the Titans averaged just 175.4 passing yards in their first five games. Tannehill threw for just 132 yards Sunday. Just look at who the Titans had active at the wide receiver position Sunday: Veteran Robert Woods along with Nick Westbrook-Ikhine, Cody Hollister and Mason Kinsey. Hollister had caught just one pass all season coming into this matchup, while this was Kinsey's first game on the active roster.
Tennessee wins games by running the ball and playing aggressive defense. Derrick Henry rushed for 128 yards Sunday, while Matt Ryan threw two interceptions, was sacked thrice and remained under pressure all game long. The Titans offense didn't even score a touchdown in Week 7, as the lone end-zone trip came via a pick-six from Andrew Adams -- a former member of the Pittsburgh Steelers practice squad who was playing in his third game with the Titans.
There wasn't really anything clean about the Titans' win on Sunday. They even saw three of their most important players suffer injuries, as defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons suffered an ankle injury, Tannehill also suffered an ankle injury, , and center Ben Jones played through what appeared to be a leg injury -- leading to an emotional embrace with his head coach in the tunnel after the game. All of this just made Vrabel more proud of his team for the kind of toughness they possess.
"Amazing. Never would have dreamed that given the opportunity to coach -- be a head coach in this league that you'd be able to coach a bunch of guys that are as tough as they are, that care about each other," said Vrabel. "And I know that it's professional football and there's a lot of tough guys, I understand that. But top to bottom, I think it becomes somewhat infectious when guys are peeling themselves off the turf, getting checked out, getting taped up, doing whatever they have to do to be out there. Just extremely proud of their toughness and their resolve. Mental toughness as well."
The Titans have proven to the NFL world over the past few years that they are very live to defeat anyone on any given Sunday. Last year, they defeated the Buffalo Bills on a Monday night, then took down the Kansas City Chiefs six days later. Two weeks after that, the Titans hit the road and destroyed the eventual Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams on the field where they would hoist the Lombardi Trophy just a few months later. The Titans set the NFL record for most players used in a single season due to injuries, and also became the first team in NFL history to record at least eight wins against teams that finished the year with winning records. It was a big reason why Vrabel was named NFL Coach of the Year.
No one is questioning the toughness of this Titans team, but it remains to be seen if its old-school, throwback playing style can win a Super Bowl. Tennessee had a miraculous run in the 2019 postseason that ended in the AFC Championship game, but the Titans have been one-and-done in the playoffs in each of the past two years. It's also possible this Titans team is worse than last year's squad. Star pass-rusher Harold Landry tore his ACL before the beginning of the season, and the electric A.J. Brown is thriving with another team. Plus, we saw what happened earlier this year when Tennessee paid a visit to Buffalo.
In a league that's turned its focus to out-scoring your opponent as opposed to stopping them from scoring, the Titans are one of the teams that operate differently. Will it lead to success this season? Only time will tell. But the kind of formula Vrabel desires is clear.