No, Caleb Farley isn't a bust — plus 12 other Tennessee Titans observations after a big win | Estes
Don't label cornerback Caleb Farley a bust just because Isaiah Wilson was one.
Those two players aren’t any more related than Farley would be to, say, Jeffery Simmons. In knocking Tennessee Titans GM Jon Robinson for whiffing on first-round draft picks, one must also credit his home run in 2019 with Simmons, who made the play to beat the Buffalo Bills on Monday night.
But Wilson in 2020? As bad a bust as could be imagined, which makes it tempting – given the season-ending knee injury Farley suffered against the Bills – to fallaciously apply Wilson’s failure to Farley’s stock as a Titans player.
It’s too soon. Farley hasn’t had a chance yet. We can’t pass long-term judgment on a first-round pick who has barely been able to play.
We can, however, pass short-term judgment on Robinson’s decision to risk the Titans’ 2021 hopes on a first-round pick who has barely been able to play. We don't know that Robinson missed on Farley, but we can criticize a draft choice that was always a likely project, incapable of giving the Titans immediate help they needed.
Drafting Farley was always a gamble – I wrote it then – for a franchise in win-now mode and with a pressing need at cornerback. While undeniably talented and a hard worker with great intangibles (again, he's not Wilson), Farley was dealing with health concerns, had just sat out the 2020 season and had limited experience at cornerback.
He badly needed practice reps. But he wasn't sure to be healthy enough to get them.
That combination all but guaranteed Farley's rookie season would be a work in progress. And it has been – when he was actually on the field, which hasn't been often. All of Farley's ability hasn’t mattered because of his availability. There was his back injury from the draft buildup. Then he hurt his shoulder.
To then start an important game and tear an ACL (as an MRI has confirmed, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter) is horrible luck. Could've happened to anyone.
"I'm confident that he'll be back better, stronger," Titans coach Mike Vrabel said Tuesday. "But it is unfortunate."
Indeed, the knee injury is a brutal blow, because it’ll keep Farley off the practice field and set back his growth even more.
Thankfully, the Titans had Kristian Fulton step up earlier this season. But now with Fulton hurt, the Titans are back where they were a season ago, desperate for cornerback help and having to rely on a journeyman like Breon Borders or a seventh-round pick like Chris Jackson against top-two receivers.
Takeaways from Titans-Bills
1. OK, now here's something for Titans fans to savor: The Titans' defense had three sacks Monday night. The Bills' defense had none.
The Titans were able to win the trenches on both sides, and that won this game. Derrick Henry's rushing heroics boosted the offense, of course, going along with big plays defensively. The Titans' pass rush and interior push were game-changers on several occasions (when have we been able to say that?).
There was the early interception forced by Denico Autry. A first-down sack on the Bills' next-to-last possession put them in second-and-17, causing them to have to punt it back to the Titans with a 31-27 lead. And then you had Simmons whipping his man to stuff Josh Allen on the fourth-down play that decided it.
2. Simmons walked into the postgame news conference carrying a football, though he said it wasn't a game ball awarded by Vrabel but the actual ball from his stop of Allen.
"I don’t know how he got the ball, but K.B. (Kevin Byard) actually gave me the ball," Simmons said. "He was like, 'Who made the tackle?' and I was like, 'Who do you think?'"
3. It's a good thing for Chipotle's business in Nashville that receiver A.J. Brown was able to play – and play well – through a bout of food poisoning that he said he got from eating at the chain restaurant.
"It has been a rough 48 hours," said Brown, who got multiple IVs on game day. "... I didn't know if I was going to play or not."
4. You saw the difference Brown made when the Titans' passing offense – taking advantage of space in the middle of the field created by the run game – got rolling in the second half. It was huge for Brown's season. His nine catches against Buffalo accounted for more than half of his 17 thus far in 2021.
Ryan Tannehill had definitely been sharing the touches to this point. Seven different Titans players have at least 10 receptions this season – and yet none of them have more than 17 (Brown and Jeremy McNichols). No one has more than one receiving touchdown, either, while Henry has 10 rushing TDs.
5. Grumbles about offensive coordinator Todd Downing have died down the past couple of weeks. How was this for in-game adjustments? After opening with two punts and an interception on their first three possessions, the Titans scored on six drives in a row to end the night. One was set up by Byard's interception, but the five others traveled at least 54 yards. Scoring drives in the second half went for 12, 9 and 8 plays.
I'm guessing here, but that offensive dominance may have had something to do with Bills coach Sean McDermott's decision to gamble late for the win instead of kicking a field goal and settling for overtime.
6. One of many overlooked moments in this game was the Titans' 14-yard pass to Brown on fourth-and-2. It continued a third-quarter drive that ended with a touchdown to go ahead 24-23. Good execution, good call and a great decision to go for it at that point in the game.
7. It speaks to kicker Randy Bullock's effectiveness in Tennessee that we've hardly mentioned him. But the Titans – as usual – have played some close games with some important kicks, and Bullock has made nearly all of them. To this point, he's 11-of-13 on field goals and 14-of-15 on extra points. That's quite solid for a guy who was an emergency add just before the first game. Don't want to jinx it, but you wonder if the Titans have finally lucked into a kicker they can keep around for a while.
8. Bud Dupree played 48 snaps (62% on defense), which was a positive sign for an edge rusher who's still recovering from last season's knee injury. Also a positive sign: Dupree spoke afterward to reporters and said he was feeling good. (Dupree looked sharp, too, while wearing a Steve McNair Houston Oilers jersey)
9. Rookie cornerback Elijah Molden played 72 snaps (94% of them) and was on the field during crunch time. His role has continued to increase this season, but honestly, the Titans don't have much of a choice with all the injuries at cornerback. They're going to need Molden in the slot.
10. An ankle injury to McNichols on his only play Monday night – along with Mekhi Sargent being inactive – meant an increased role for the fullbacks. Khari Blasingame was used at times as the third-down back. More often, though, Henry just didn't leave the field. He was out there for 81% percent of the offensive snaps, which is a high number for him.
11. Remember when Anthony Firkser was supposed to be the breakout star at tight end this season? Not so much to this point. Firkser, who has battled injuries, had one catch for 11 yards Monday night. Geoff Swaim and MyCole Pruitt each played more offensive snaps.
I also expected much more from Josh Reynolds, who was inactive Monday night and presumably a healthy scratch.
12. One final note: Newly signed linebacker Avery Williamson was active for this game, though he didn't play.
Reach Gentry Estes at email@example.com and on Twitter @Gentry_Estes.