Josh Dobbs, lost to Cowboys, shows he’s Titans’ best QB option to win AFC South

NASHVILLE, Tenn. –Josh Dobbs joined the Titans eight days ago, signed the Lions practice squad on Tennessee’s 53-man roster. He had a new playbook and a new terminology to learn, on the fly at the end of the season, at the most difficult position in football: the quarterback. And ahead of Thursday’s game against the Cowboys, he hadn’t taken an NFL regular-season shot since January 2021. Nearly two year.

Dobbs hadn’t started an NFL game in…ever.

Despite all that, and a 27-13 loss to Dallas, it seems like a fair conclusion: Dobbs gives the Titans (7-9) the best chance to beat the ascendant Jaguars (7-8) in the AFC South title game. of the next week. Rookie Malik Willis is expected to remain on the bench.

Thursday essentially served as a tryout for Dobbs, a backup journeyman who was a 2017 fourth-round pick from Tennessee. Starter Ryan Tannehill is officially out for the rest of the regular season (he was placed on the injured reserve earlier Thursday). And Willis, a 2022 Liberty third-round pick, has struggled a lot in Tannehill’s absence.

The Titans had to be 100% sure that Dobbs couldn’t give them a better chance than Willis of reaching the playoffs. After Tennessee’s sixth straight loss, coach Mike Vrabel did not commit to who would get the green light to start next week in Jacksonville. But after just four quarters at Nissan Stadium, Dobbs seems like the better option.

“It’s a unique situation and a wonderful opportunity that I really took and had a lot of fun with,” Dobbs, 27, said.

In Thursday’s loss — a meaningless game for Tennessee’s playoff stakes, and with the team down by multiple starters — Dobbs was able to move the offense better than Willis all year. The veteran completed 51.3% of his passes (20 of 39) for 232 yards, including 143 at halftime, and his first career touchdown against a Cowboys defense playing all their best guys. Willis has not passed for 100 yards or scored a passing touchdown in any of his three starts.

At times Thursday, Dobbs looked quite like a flagman who hadn’t played meaningful football in a while. He threw a bad interception in the fourth quarter. He had two near-interceptions and two fumbles, including one loss, in the first half. But his operation of an offense he’s still learning looked relatively clean. He made some great throws on the move. He showed the quick decision-making and processing in the pocket that Willis struggled with. His numbers would have been even better had it not been for a few drops from the Titans receivers as well.

“There are little situational things that I’m already aware of and that I know I can improve on. [at]”Said Dobbs. “Of course that comes with more reps and being out there and getting hit for the first time in a while. So I’m not too worried about those. I know I will clean them. Excited to dive into the strip with the coaches and continue to grow and improve as quickly as possible to give the team the best chance we have of winning.”

Dobbs showed his ability to bounce back early in the second quarter. He dodged and averted disaster on the same play, picking up the ball after being stripped, then nearly getting picked up on a throwaway. Two plays later, he connected on a 39-yard shot to wide receiver Racey McMath.

Just before halftime, Dobbs hit rookie Treylon Burks for an impressive 30-yard sideline reception that set up a short field goal from Randy Bullock, which cut Tennessee’s deficit to 10. -6 in a game no one expected to be close.

Overall, Dobbs had three passing plays for at least 30 yards. Willis has had just one of those passes in the six games he attempted a pass.

“[Dobbs] played his game,” said Robert Woods, who had five receptions for 39 yards and a touchdown. “Was able to give us chances to make plays.

Willis is clearly the more physically gifted player, possessing dynamic running ability and a knack for off-platform throws. But Hobbs appears to be the best quarterback today to lead this version of the Titans offense, which hasn’t found consistency all season amid issues with pass protection, pass catching and execution in the second half.

“Shoot, we’re throwing routes on the pitch that we haven’t even thrown in practice because of a short week,” Dobbs said. “Being able to make those plays throughout the game hopefully will propel us into the week ahead where we actually have a full week to prepare for the game.”

With everything that has gone wrong this year, the Titans are still in control of their destiny. It’s “win-and-in” next week in Jacksonville.

That fate should be in Dobbs’ hands.

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Ben Arthur is the AFC South reporter for FOX Sports. He previously worked for The Tennessean/USA TODAY Network, where he wrote Titans beats for a year and a half. He covered the Seattle Seahawks for for three seasons (2018-20) before moving to Tennessee. You can follow Ben on Twitter at @benyarthur.

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