By making the move to acquire Julio Jones from the Atlanta Falcons, Titans general manager Jon Robinson is going all in.
Robinson believes that Jones, and what he hopes is an improved defense (Honestly, how much worse could it be than 2020's edition?) when put with Ryan Tannehill, Derrick Henry and A.J. Brown is enough to put the Titans on the same level as the Kansas City Chiefs and to finally deliver a championship.
That window of opportunity began in earnest in 2019 when a surprising Titans team advanced to the AFC Championship Game only to fall to the Chiefs one step shy of the Super Bowl. Last year, thanks in large part to a terrible defense, the Titans took a step back in losing to the Baltimore Ravens in the wild-card round of the playoffs.
But as bad as the defense was last season, it actually held up OK in that playoff loss. Tennessee allowed just 20 points and really only one backbreaking run to Lamar Jackson, a 48-yard touchdown scamper.
A Titans offense that has been prolific all season long should have been able to overcome 20 points. But it didn't. And it didn't because the Ravens sold out to stop Derrick Henry, holding him to a season-low 40 yards and dared the Titans to beat them consistently in the passing game.
And that's where one Titans flaw was exposed. Yes, A.J. Brown showed up that day with 83 yards receiving and a touchdown on six catches.
Two weapons that Titans fans worried about losing all off-season – Jonnu Smith and Corey Davis – were complete non-factors in that playoff game. Smith managed two catches for nine yards. Davis was completely shut out, leaving the game early with an injury - something that plagued him throughout his Titans career.
And while both players made sizable contributions to the Titans' success in 2020, their performances in that game must have made Robinson feel that if he lost them in free agency that they could be replaced.
On Sunday, Robinson replaced them in a big way – acquiring Jones from the Falcons and mortgaging some of the future for a shot at the brass ring now.
What the Ravens did last January may have opened Robinson's eyes that two reliable weapons in Henry and Brown were not going to be enough for the Titans to take the next step, especially if Smith and Davis could not be counted on to produce consistently in clutch situations. And with all due respect to Davis and Smith, who found riches with the Jets and Patriots, respectively, at times last season, their production disappeared. For most of the season, the Titans masked that inconsistency, much like they did in covering for their suspect defense. But when it counted most, they could not.
Derrick Henry being held to 40 yards rushing by a sold out Ravens defense in the playoffs would quality as the clutchest of situations.
Now, if the Ravens or some other defense, wants to stop Henry at all costs, the presence of both Brown and Jones on outside should be enough to make them pay for that.
“We're trying to do our best to put all of our playmakers in position to make big plays. Derrick has been a big part of our offense, and that's not gonna change. The more pieces we can add around to try and make defensive coordinators' jobs harder, I think that's part of our charge as a personnel staff, to try to have players that put stress on the defense,” Robinson said Sunday afternoon.
Sports and winning are all about moves and counter moves. The Ravens' formula to stop Henry, and ultimately stop the Titans that day, was the move. On Sunday, Robinson countered it with a big one of his own.