Why trading star receiver AJ Brown is chasing the Titans

One of the Tennessee Titans’ biggest problems became clear when they lost Sunday Night Football to the Kansas City Chiefs.

Start with the second quarter, a third- and ninth-place finish for the Titans from their own 40 with 2:09 to go at halftime. Rookie quarterback Malik Willis threw a perfect pass from the sideline into the lap of veteran receiver Chris Conley, who faced a single-man coverage. Conley dropped the pass. The ball bounced off his arm.

Then look at the fourth quarter. The Titans were back on the ball, ahead of the Chiefs 38 in second and ninth place. Willis gave another receiver, Nick Westbrook-Ikhine, a chance on the touchline, this time for a first hit and a goal. But Westbrook-Ikhine, facing tight cover but with a clean shot at a catch, bobbled the pass as he leapt to grab. Incomplete.

“I know (Willis) made some really nice balls that went up and down and hopefully we can find a way to catch them and come back down,” said coach Mike Vrabel after the game.

Patrick Mahomes, Chiefs def. Titans in OT, KC 1st in AFC West | The important things first

Patrick Mahomes, Chiefs def. Titans in OT, KC 1st in AFC West |  The important things first

Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs needed overtime to defeat the Derrick Henry-led Tennessee Titans in Week 9.

But those were two examples, among many others this season, of why the Titans (5-3) missed out on AJ Brown this season. Why they were hounded when they traded him to the Philadelphia Eagles in the offseason.

The Tennessee staff haven’t proven they can play outside consistently. With strong running play led by Derrick Henry and an elite defense, wide receiver concerns are becoming an Achilles heel for the Titans’ hopes of a deep playoff run.

The Titans’ wide receivers had zero catches on five goals against the Chiefs, making Tennessee the fourth team in the last six seasons not to have a catch in a game by a wide receiver, according to Next Gen Stats.

“We’re just getting back to work,” Westbrook-Ikhine said of the receivers’ struggles after the game.

But the problems extend well beyond the Kansas City game. As of Week 10, the Titans’ wide receivers have 658 total receiving yards this season – fewer than seven NFL pass catchers, including six wide receivers: Dolphins’ Tyreek Hill (1,104), Vikings’ Justin Jefferson (867), Stefon Diggs of Bills (857), Cooper Kupp of Rams (813), Jaylen Waddle of Dolphins (812), Brown (718) and Travis Kelce of the Chiefs (659).

Sure, the Titans boast a run-first offense — they’ve called or messed up a run play on 58.5% of their plays this season (249 of 425) — but their receivers haven’t been good at it, either Opportunities to capitalize . Combined, they have a catch rate of just 58%, the fifth-worst among NFL receivers (just above the Panthers, Bears, Broncos, and Cowboys), according to next-gen stats.

A big problem? Titan’s pass catchers are struggling to create a breakup, making it difficult to take the one-on-one chances that have arisen – and will continue to come – with Henry receiving so much attention in the box. Tennessee wide receivers and tight ends are averaging just 2.8 yards from the nearest defender at the time of a catch or close this season, which is the worst spot in the NFL with Cleveland, according to Next Gen Stats.

In fact, the Titans passers (WRs, TEs, RBs combined) are holding three of the four worst games in 2022 across the league in terms of average separation, per NGS: Week 5 vs. the Commanders (2.2 yards), Week 7 versus. the Colts (3/2) and Week 9 vs. the Chiefs (3/2).

TIED TOGETHER: TALENT IS FOR TITANS QB MALIK WILLIS

Injuries didn’t help the Brown-less Titans’ receiver room. They have three of their top-7 wideouts on injured reserve: rookies Treylon Burks (toe) and Kyle Philips (hamstring), and sophomore Racey McMath. However, Burks was scheduled to return to practice Wednesday and could return Sunday against the Broncos. That is good news.

Burks, Tennessee’s first-round pick, has 10 catches for 129 yards in four games.

“That’s the plan,” Burks said Wednesday of the game against Denver. “We’ll see how this week goes.”

But how much difference can Burks realistically make in the last nine games of the regular season? While the former Arkansas player was certainly rising before his injury, he has averaged just 32.3 yards per game in four appearances. Philips (hamstring) may not return until week 12. Coach Mike Vrabel hinted earlier in the season that McMath could have a chance to come back later this season.

Relying on those three, including a fifth-round pick (Philips) and a sophomore who had two receptions last season (McMath) to lift the NFL’s second-worst passing attack (136.3 passing yards/game). , almost accentuates the sadness state of the wide receiver room.

Even if the Titans planned to trade for one by the deadline earlier this month, it’s not clear how they would have made the numbers work. They only had $1.5 million in cap space in the days leading up to the deadline.

It wasn’t meant to be that way for the Titans. After trading for veteran Robert Woods in March, they had a No. 2 receiver on paper and a seemingly perfect match to Brown. And it still felt like Tennessee would pull in a receiver early on, too.

Then came Brown’s shocking trade on day one of the draft, entering the final year of his rookie deal. There was no public expectation that he would be treated until it happened. Tennessee sent the star receiver to Philadelphia for the 18th – who became Burks – and the 101st overall pick in the 2022 draft.

Extension negotiations had gone wrong. There was a gap between the pages. Brown later told ESPN the Titans made him a “low offer.” Meanwhile, Tennessee felt Brown’s camp was playing hardball in the negotiations. He cut communication with the team for weeks and vowed to stay off the field until a new contract was finalized.

As the Eagles’ No. 1 receiver, Brown is thriving. He has 43 receptions for 718 yards and six touchdowns in eight games. He’s on his way to career highs across the board.

According to general manager Jon Robinson, the decision to trade Brown was a “tough decision.”

“We got to a point where it was going to be difficult to close a deal and the trade thing manifested from there,” Robinson said in April.

What’s manifesting in the welcome game for the Titans this season is missed opportunities.

Ben Arthur is the AFC South reporter for FOX Sports. He previously worked for The Tennessean/USA TODAY Network, where he was the Titans beatwriter for a year and a half. He covered the Seattle Seahawks for SeattlePI.com for three seasons (2018-20) before moving to Tennessee. You can follow Ben on Twitter at @benyarthur.


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