The Titans’ injury problems are not relenting. Following the report of Ryan Tannehill likely being out for the season, the AFC South leaders are placing center Ben Jones and cornerback Terrance Mitchell on IR.
Jones suffered his second concussion this season, and Mitchell sustained a hamstring injury against the Chargers. Neither player could return until the divisional round of the playoffs, but the Titans’ injury issues overall will present a test to merely qualify for the postseason.
Tennessee will face Houston with Malik Willis under center and its offensive line banged up. Taylor Lewan has been out since September, and guard Nate Davis joins Jones in being sidelined. The Titans ruled out Davis because of an ankle injury. The team also placed tackle Dillon Radunz on IR on Wednesday. The team elevated O-lineman Daniel Munyer from its practice squad Thursday. Lewan is a Pro Bowler, while Pro Football Focus has slotted Jones as a top-10 center and Davis a top-20 guard. The Titans will face the Texans without their three best blockers.
Drawing praise for his toughness this season from Mike Vrabel, Jones has signed three contracts with the Titans. The rare O-lineman to sign four multiyear deals during his career, Jones inked his most recent accord this offseason. Tennessee gave its longtime center a two-year, $14MM pact to return to block for Tannehill and Derrick Henry. Jones, 33, had been an iron man coming into this season, missing just one game over his first 10 years. By the end of this season, he will have missed five contests. The former Texans fourth-round pick has started 151 career games (108 with the Titans).
Tennessee’s draft strategy did not point to Mitchell being required to play a key role this season, but the journeyman cornerback has made five starts. Tennessee’s 2021 first-round pick, Caleb Farley, struggled to carve out a role and is now out for the season with another injury. Regular starter Kristian Fulton, a 2020 second-round pick, has not played since Week 13. The Titans have ruled out Fulton for a third straight game. Slot man Elijah Molden remains on IR, having been placed on the injured list for a second time.
Despite being one of the Patriots’ final cuts in August, Mitchell has played 398 snaps for the Titans this season. The former seventh-round pick has been a regular for most of his career, having seen extensive run as a starter for the Chiefs, Browns and Texans. Of the Titans’ top five corners, only second-round rookie Roger McCreary is healthy.
The Titans have run into rampant injury issues for a second consecutive year. They used an NFL-record 91 players last season and are moving toward that total this year. Tennessee has a league-high 19 players on IR heading into Week 16. Owner Amy Adams Strunk cited the team’s injury problems as one of the reasons GM Jon Robinson was fired. Tennessee has two IR activations left. The team designated linebacker Zach Cunningham for return last week; an activation would leave them with one IR-return move left.
FiveThirtyEight gives the Titans a 46% chance to win the division. Friendlier odds would appear if the Jaguars lose to the Jets on Thursday night. If the Titans miss the playoffs, they would join only the 2021 Ravens as teams to start 7-3 or better and miss out since 2017.