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This summer, the Titans and their newly-signed Hall of Fame receiver, Julio Jones, were the talk of the town. The offense was supposed to be unstoppable, and the Titans were supposed to cruise through a weak AFC South with relative ease.
Funny how a blowout home loss can change the narrative really quickly.
Since arriving in Nashville, Jones has enjoyed total carte blanche with the organization and in the media. Nobody has dared criticize him publicly, even when he pulled the oldest veteran trick in the book, developing a “nagging” preseason injury to avoid practicing. That’s not to say Jones wasn’t actually injured, but even Vrabel made it clear that the Titans were intentionally going to be “cautious” with their new receiver.
Then the Cardinals rolled into town, embarrassed the Titans in front of their own fans 38-13, and exposed the entire organization as ill-prepared. Jones’ poor stat line (3 catches for 29 yards) was made significantly worse when he took a swing at cornerback Byron Murphy and drew a totally unacceptable unsportsmanlike conduct foul.
“Critical mistake,” Vrabel said, no longer shielding his players. “That is absolutely nothing that we coach or teach, so that would fall into the category of doing dumb shit that hurts the team, right there in bold letters.”
No mincing words, there. And the rightful criticism was just beginning.
“We had some drops – (Jones) dropped some passes,” Vrabel said during his postgame press conference. “Those are contested catches, but those are the ones that we have to come up with.”
According to NFL Next Gen Stats, Jones’ woes weren’t just attributable to a couple drops and a hot-head moment; he simply wasn’t able to get open. Jones averaged just 2.16 yards of separation when targeted against the Cardinals, more than a half yard below the league’s Week One average of 2.87 yards.
All told, the day was Arizona’s, but the NFL season is nothing if not long and grueling, so hopefully Tennessee can take the gut-punch in stride and be better for it. When a team acquires an elite talent at any position on the field late in his career, all the team can do is hope for health and motivation. The season is young, and Julio Jones should be healthy right now, so all that remains is the question of proper motivation. Maybe some tough love in the public eye from his no-nonsense head coach will light a fire in Jones’ belly, and Titans fans will get to see why he’s a Hall of Famer in the making.