'It is a wakeup call for us': Titans offensive line can't keep getting outmuscled

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Suffering a 38-13 season-opening loss was already frustrating for the Tennessee Titans. But the way in which they got beat by the Arizona Cardinals made it sting all the more.

The Titans have carved out a physical, hard-nosed identity in their three seasons under coach Mike Vrabel. But the Cardinals' defense came into Nissan Stadium on Sunday and bullied the Titans' offensive line.

"It is disappointing. There was no other way to put it," Vrabel said after the game. "It sucks when you lose, sucks when you get your ass kicked."

Outside linebacker Chandler Jones set the tone on the first play when he violently brushed left tackle Taylor Lewan aside and tackled running back Derrick Henry for a loss of three yards.

Long-time Titans nemesis J.J. Watt joined the party on the first play of the next series when he put a swim move on right tackle David Quessenberry and ran through tight end Geoff Swaim en route to tackling Henry for a loss of a yard. Then Jones was unblocked on the next play and walloped Ryan Tannehill, causing him to fumble. The Cardinals recovered and took over on the Titans' 1-yard line.

Jones finished with a career-high five sacks, four tackles for loss, six QB hits and two forced fumbles that led to 14 points for the Cardinals.

"I mean, that's what this game comes down to, one-on-one," Vrabel said. "Chandler Jones has been a problem for a lot of years and he's a good player."

As a unit, the Cardinals sacked Tannehill six times and registered nine QB hits.

Titans' offensive coordinator Todd Downing tried to punch back behind Henry's physical running, but it failed because Arizona's defensive line consistently reset the line of scrimmage into the backfield. Henry was hit at or behind the line of scrimmage eight times in the first half alone, according to ESPN Stats & Info.

Frustration mounted for Henry because he felt the Titans weren't playing their style of physical football. Henry let the offense know about it when they gathered on the bench after one of their failed drives in the first quarter.

"We’ve just got to play better," Henry said. "Looking lackadaisical, just walking around, not playing how we play. Not playing up to the standard we all talk about that we try to do each and every day."

Outside of a series in the third quarter when Henry gained 38 yards on five carries, the rushing attack wasn't a factor. Henry finished with 17 carries for 58 yards.

Most of the damage came because the Cardinals' defensive linemen simply beat whoever was in front of them and the players at the second level of the defense quickly tracked down whoever had the football.

The Cardinals didn't do anything special with their scheme upfront other than using stunts a few times to get into the backfield. Arizona stacked eight in the box at times, allowing them to wall off the gaps.

The offensive line didn't get much time to work together as a unit throughout training camp due to Lewan working his way back from an injury and veteran maintenance days for guard Rodger Saffold and center Ben Jones. Jones and right guard Nate Davis also missed practice time due to being on the reserve/COVID-19 list.

Saffold said he was confident the line would get back to its dominant ways from last season. One game shouldn't shake that confidence, but a poor outing like Sunday should put each of them on notice.

"Take a look in the mirror and come back ready to work and ready to put more out there," Saffold said. "It is a wakeup call for us. You can’t just show up and win a game, so I am hoping we take this and we come out with our hair on fire next week."