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Mike Vrabel is one of the NFL’s best coaches but he’s going to have the first losing season of his career. His team has lost six consecutive games to slip from Super Bowl contender to possibly missing the playoffs altogether.
And Vrabel went home in defeat late Thursday night after his team lost to the Dallas Cowboys, 27-13.
But that was one heck of a good week Mike Vrabel just had.
Titans’ Mike Vrabel Had Quite A Week
“It was a different week, you know, the whole circumstance with next week and trying to prepare a team,” Vrabel told reporters. “And I guess I’m proud of the way they fought. I’m sure everybody expected us to just lay down and I know we didn’t do that.”
There are no moral victories in the NFL but Vrabel is correct thinking good thoughts. Because his team did what seemed unthinkable when the lineups for this game were announced. And what seemed like a grand plan to set the team up for success in two weeks seemed to have worked.
The Cowboys? They came to Thursday’s game stocked. Their stars started and finished.
The Titans? They’re beat up. They placed starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill, edge rusher Bud Dupree and linebacker Zach Cunningham on injured reserve earlier in the day, meaning the three are done playing this season.
(Tannehill, whose ankle is a mess now, tried to debate Vrabel about the decision because he thought he could somehow be back for the playoffs).
Titans Sat Starters Against Cowboys
The Titans also sat star running back Derrick Henry because of a hip injury. And starting safety Amani Hooker, starting defensive lineman Jeffrey Simmons, starting defensive lineman Denico Autry, starting right tackle Nicholas Petit-Frere and starting cornerback Kristian Fulton also were inactive.
The Titans then turned the offense over to journeyman quarterback Josh Dobbs. A fourth-round pick out of Tennessee in 2017, Dobbs showed up in Nashville nine days ago to join the practice squad.
Dobbs hadn’t been on a roster since being cut by Cleveland in late November. He hadn’t seen action in a game since the preseason. And although he’s got six seasons of experience, he’d never started a regular season game.
That’s the dude Vrabel put out there Thursday night.
And that’s the dude Vrabel will put out there Jan. 8 in the season-finale against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Mike Vrabel Set Titans Up For Jaguars
So, yeah, as the coach said this was a different week. But it was also a week in which a tactical coach to be at his tactical best.
The Titans, you see, holding a terrible injury report and inexperienced quarterback who had to throw passes he’d never thrown in practice, knew their season wasn’t going to be decided Thursday.
They knew that win or lose on Thursday, their season will come down to Jan. 8 when they visit the Jacksonville Jaguars. Despite their months-long losing skid, the Titans still win the AFC South if they beat Jacksonville.
A win Thursday wouldn’t have improved that scenario.
A loss didn’t change the scenario.
Titans Didn’t Match Up Well Against Cowboys
So, Vrabel breathed deep, put a backup-filled lineup on the field and took what was almost certainly going to be an L. He did it so he could put his team in the best position it could be in for the big game Jan. 8.
Vrabel fell on a sword Thursday so he could maybe have a rested, stronger team next week, and possibly play another day in the playoffs.
“We’ll have to eliminate big plays on defense,” Vrabel said, looking ahead to that season-deciding game at Jacksonville. “We’ll run the football. Take care of it. Same thing we always say.
“And I’m excited. Excited to watch these guys walk back in the building next week energized, recovered, rested. I’m excited.”
Next week after the Titans enjoy what is effectively a mini-bye, they will begin preparing for the Jaguars with Henry all but certain to play. Autry, nursing a biceps injury, has told associates he’s going to try to be available.
Perhaps more importantly, Vrabel is going to start next week’s preparation without a quarterback change. Vrabel didn’t confirm Dobbs will be his starter again two Sundays from now.
But Dobbs will be the Titans starter again two Sundays from now.
That’s a better situation than the coach faced last Sunday when Tennessee coaches asked Dobbs to come to the facility to start digesting the Cowboys’ game plan. On Monday, Vrabel told both Malik Willis and Dobbs of the QB change against Dallas.
Crazy? Like a fox.
Mike Vrabel Will Start Josh Dobbs Jan. 8
Willis, a rookie, is simply not ready to play. He’s been averaging 78 passing yards per game the last three weeks.
That’s not a formula for facing Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott because the Cowboys have the No. 3 scoring offense in the NFL. But, more importantly, it is no way to match up against the Jaguars and Trevor Lawrence, because that guy has raised his game to full elite mode of late.
So Dobbs was an experiment in a game that didn’t matter. Vrabel played him to see if he could be a spark.
“It was a great opportunity to evaluate Josh and then we’ll make a decision going forward,” Vrabel said. “I thought he did some good things. Certainly he’d like to have a couple of throws back.”
Dobbs completed only 20 of 39 passes. But there were a couple of dubious moments with Robert Woods failing him and an obvious penalty against Treylon Burks that was not called.
Dobbs finished with 232 passing yards, 1 touchdown and 1 interception. Not good.
But better than Willis. And considering Dobbs did this with eight days on the team, well, he’s the guy going forward.
“I mean, I think we’re excited about having Malik. We are,” Vrabel said. “We’re excited about some of the things he’s done and we’ll continue to digest this over the weekend and make a decision. Malik has worked hard.
“But then we just have to see where we are at the quarterback position going down to the last week of the season.”
We all see where Vrabel is. He’s carrying a meaningless loss, but he’s positioned for the biggest game of the season with a quarterback that gives him a better chance to win.