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VOL. 43 | NO. 44 | Friday, November 1, 2019

Vrabel can’t keep asking defense to bail him out

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A fake field goal in the fourth quarter against the Bucs is only the latest questionable decision by Titans head coach Mike Vrabel. His defense rescued him twice to secure the win.

-- Photo By James Kenney | Ap Photo

The most interesting aspect of Tennessee Titans games is turning out to be Mike Vrabel’s weekly play-call gamble, which usually backfires, and whether the Titans’ defense can get him off the hook.

It reminds me of the cliffhanger endings in the 1960s “Batman” TV series. Vrabel finds himself in some ridiculous pickle, and when the show returns he has found an equally improbable and amazing escape.

With Batman, of course, it was always the Joker, Riddler or some other villain who controlled his fate. Vrabel seems to be his own arch nemesis.

Sunday marked the second consecutive game in which Vrabel has put the Titans defense behind in a tough spot, only to be rescued.

Against the Chargers, it took a fumble at the 3-inch line to save the Titans after Vrabel gambled on a fourth quarter fourth down at midfield with a failed quarterback sneak.

Sunday, against Tampa Bay, it was a head-scratching fake field goal on fourth down a 2 at the Bucs 28 with punter Brett Kern – a top talent, though not as a running back – taking the snap as the holder and attempting a run toward the left sideline.

He was slammed hard to the ground and appeared to have fumbled, with Bucs’ safety Andrew Adams picking up the ball and sprinting to the end zone for what would have been a go-ahead touchdown with less than four minutes remaining.

A quick whistle from an official negated the touchdown, rescuing Vrabel for the moment from another befuddling move.

Substitute kicker Cody Parker – injured Ryan Succop is expected to return next week – had already hit from 51 and 42 yards, so the kick, which would have given the Titans a seven-point lead, was makeable.

It took a fourth-down stop by Jurrell Casey and later an interception by Logan Ryan to totally get him off the hook.

Once again, thanks to a weird array of circumstances and occurrences, Vrabel lived to tell about it – but only when pressed. In the postgame media availability, he asked the reporter with the first question not to waste it by asking about the fake.

Still, he was asked.

“We want to go win the football game,” he said. “Understand that we practice and we study, we get looks and we feel very confident in the look that we’re going to get. They made a play, just like when we made a play at the end of the game when it was fourth and 1.”

Fair enough, Mike. Teams run fakes when they get a certain look in a certain situation. But there’s more involved – much more. Like the down, the distance and the circumstances of the game itself.

If you get that look in the second quarter, great. Go for it. If you get it with less than four minutes left with a chance to go up by seven, forget the look.

Vrabel has developed a gambler’s mentality, but it might be time to go to Gamblers Anonymous. The Titans can’t keep bailing out his faulty decisions.

It happened this week and it happened last week. It happened three weeks ago when he allowed kicker another substitute kicker, Cairo Santos, to try a 53-yard field goal after he had already missed three shorter kicks.

The rationale then, Vrabel said, was that he still had confidence in Santos and asked if he was ready. What else was Santos, who was waived the next day, going to say?

That’s where Vrabel, who was supremely confident in himself as a player and sometimes still looks like he would rather be playing, has to put his coaching hat on and do what is most prudent for the Titans. He must listen to his head, not his heart.

A players’ first impulse is “I can do this” or “Let’s go for it.” A head coach must be the voice of reason who knows how to walk the fine line between being aggressive and being smart.

For years, Titans fans bemoaned the conservative nature of Jeff Fisher, whose play calls made Rush Limbaugh look liberal.

But Vrabel is headed off the deep end in the opposite direction. It flared up a couple of times last season and continued this year with disdaining a field goal in Atlanta that would have given the Titans a 17-point lead with 13 minutes to play. The Titans won, but Vrabel seems to be spitting in the face of conventional wisdom on a weekly basis.

What will happen the next time – maybe next week in Carolina – when Vrabel goes against the norm?

All we can do is stay tuned. Same Titans time. Same Titans channel.

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