NASHVILLE, Tenn. ⏤ So far in 2021, the Tennessee Titans‘ offense hasn’t exactly been the explosive, high-flying unit everyone expected.

Tennessee ranks just 15th in the NFL in terms of points scored, and the Titans have only scored at least 30 points in just one of their four games.

While injuries to key players like receivers A.J. Brown and Julio Jones have certainly played a role in the unit’s underwhelming output, three other problems have held it back more significantly.

1. Too Many Sacks

Let’s start with the obvious problem.

Defenses have sacked QB Ryan Tannehill a whopping 17 times, making him the NFL’s most-sacked signal-caller over the first four weeks of the 2021 season.

And, of course, scoring points in the NFL is nearly impossible when you’re losing yards at such a rapid pace.

And while the Titans’ offensive line has struggled mightily, they aren’t the only ones to blame for this phenomenon.

“There are three processes to a passing game,” head coach Mike Vrabel said. “It is about getting open, recognizing man and zone, running the correct route, it is about protection holding up, and it is about the quarterback getting rid of the football and getting it to someone quickly.”

Too often, Tannehill hasn’t done a good enough job of getting rid of the football to avoid sacks.

Sure, he’s been under siege most of the time thanks to poor pass protection, but there have been plenty of occasions where Tannehill had an opportunity to throw the ball away and, instead, stayed in the pocket and took a needless sack.

Tannehill admitted that while recapping the Titans’ recent loss to the Jets, in which he took seven sacks.

“Every group had a role in that,” Tannehill said. “There were certainly plays I could have helped, there were plays the O-line could have helped, there were played that receivers could have helped.”

2. Red-Zone Failures

The Jets’ first two offensive drives in their win over the Titans ended in punts, and their third ended with QB Zach Wilson throwing an interception. That gave the Titans three early opportunities to pounce and build a big lead.

What did the Titans do with those opportunities? They settled for field goals on all three drives.

Instead of going up 21-0, they went up 9-0.

While it’s unfair to expect an NFL team to convert every red zone trip into a touchdown, the best offenses score six points on the vast majority of drives that veer inside the 20-yard line.

The 2021 Titans, on the other hand, have scored touchdowns on just 50% of their red zone opportunities, tied for the 26th-worst mark in the NFL.

For Tennessee’s offense to reach its full potential, that percentage must go up.

“You’ve got to score in the NFL. If you don’t score and keep going for threes⏤bad teams, good teams, whatever⏤it’s going to come back to haunt you,” WR Chester Rogers said.

How can the Titans reverse course in that department?

“We can keep working at it, keep understanding it, keep giving ourselves positive plays,” Vrabel said.

“I think if we just stay and do what we have been doing, when we have successful drives, it is being efficient.”

3. No Help From Special Teams

The third problem holding the Titans’ offense back is something totally out of the unit’s control: starting field position.

Eighteen of the Titans’ offensive drives so far in 2021 have started inside the 20-yard line, tied for the most in the NFL.

It’s hard to expect an offense to have success when it’s constantly behind the eight-ball before even taking the field by no fault of its own.

The biggest culprit behind this phenomenon is the Titans’ kickoff return unit, which has been dreadful so far in 2021.

It’s been so bad that Rogers, the Titans’ primary kickoff returner at the start of the season, has been relieved of that duty because the team felt he was getting hit too often.

Why is this such a problem for the Titans?

“It could be a little bit of everything,” special teams coordinator Craig Aukerman said. “Whether we’re not getting our double team blocks, whether we’re not getting the right leverage on one key block. It’s not really one thing, it’s things here and there that we need to clean up.”

Two weeks in a row, now, Aukerman has mentioned that alleviating kickoff return problems would be an emphasis in practice for the ailing Titans.

Yet, the problem persists.

If that pattern continues, it could be a long season for the Titans’ offense.

Cover image: Kevin R. Wexler-Nort/USA Today