NASHVILLE – With four games remaining, there is now a clear favorite for who will be the most penalized Tennessee Titans player of 2020.
Inside linebacker Rashaan Evans took firm control of the race during Sunday’s loss to Cleveland, when he was flagged three times, once each for roughing the passer, unnecessary roughness and defensive holding. It was the first time this season he was penalized more than once but it gave him seven for the year, at least three more than any of his teammates.
“There’s a fine line between playing hard and everything that we preach – the aggressiveness, the attacking mentality, full-tilt to the tackle, all playing through the whistle – all that stuff,” outside linebackers coach/defensive play-caller Shane Bowen said. “And then there’s the extra stuff, the stuff where you might lose your composure, you become a little undisciplined and really, ultimately … doing dumb stuff that hurts the team.
“That’s where you’re trying to draw the line where we can’t have that stuff.”
Of the seven flags that have been thrown against Evans, five cost the defense more than 10 yards, including two of the three against the Browns. The roughing-the-passer call (it was actually wide receiver Jarvis Landry who attempted the pass) gave Cleveland 12 additional yards and led to a touchdown five plays later. Fourteen yards were marked off for the unnecessary roughness, and once again, five plays later the Browns scored a touchdown.
Similarly, a face mask violation in Week 2 meant an additional 15 yards for Jacksonville, which got to the end zone nine plays later. Likewise, a face mask against the Colts in Week 10 led to a touchdown after just four more plays.
“It affects you and ultimately, those penalties hurt you,” Bowen said. “They end up resulting in touchdowns. Right? You get those big chunk penalties on drives, you’re giving offenses first downs. They’re harmful for the team. They’re harmful for defenses. They’re tough to recover from.”
Evans actually signaled what was to come in the season-opener at Denver. He was tossed out of that one after he punched Broncos tight end Jake Butt after a play. That was late in the first quarter and – predictably – Denver took a 7-0 lead less than a minute later.
Left tackle Taylor Lewan came into the season as the unquestioned king of Titans penalties. He drew more flags than any of his teammates in each of the previous five seasons, including a whopping 14 in 2016.
However, Lewan’s offseason commitment to cut down on violations combined with a knee injury that cut short his season created an opportunity.
Evans was not the most likely candidate to seize it. In his first two NFL seasons, the 2018 first-round pick was just flagged three times. Based on last Sunday, that is now a game’s worth for him.
“Penalties are part of this game, they’re going to happen, but I do think that some of them are avoidable, and we just have to not do things that hurt the football team,” coach Mike Vrabel said this week. “… That’s what I tell them all the time about penalties, is that we can make sure that we line up onsides and that we don’t jump offsides or don’t hold. But at the end of the day, you can’t do dumb stuff that hurts the team.
“We can’t do stuff after the whistle or do things that are going to hurt the team.”