The difficulty level increased for Will Levis’s second career NFL start.
The Titans’ rookie quarterback had to deal with edge rushers T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith in Pittsburgh four days after his sensational debut against the Falcons.
Levis had two weeks to prepare for a home game against the Falcons, who didn’t know what to expect from the 2023 second-round pick. Also, Atlanta doesn’t boast the type of pass rushers that the Steelers possess.
Levis saw frequent pressure in the 20–16 loss against the Steelers, but he made many impressive plays during Thursday Night Football. He often displayed awareness, toughness and decisiveness against the Steelers’ constant pressure.
Levis also showed off his arm strength throughout the night, which might have made some teams regret passing on him in the first round of the draft. He finished 22-of-39 for 262 yards, no touchdowns and one interception.
Most of Levis’s best moments occurred in the first half, but he had an opportunity to orchestrate a game-winning drive twice with a four-point deficit and less than four minutes left in regulation. On the first of those possessions, the Titans made the head-scratching decision to run on three consecutive plays before Levis misfired on fourth-and-4 to give the Steelers the ball back.
Tennessee allowed Levis to throw downfield on the final drive, but Levis showed his inexperience by throwing an interception to Kwon Alexander to seal the win for the Steelers.
Here’s what else we learned about Levis in his second career start.
- Levis gave the Titans a chance to complete the comeback after he connected with wide receiver Chris Moore for 29 yards to put them on the Steelers’ 36-yard line with 44 seconds left in regulation.
- Late in the third quarter, the TV broadcast highlighted how Levis recognized a blitz from the Steelers and made a last-second change at the line of scrimmage before quickly throwing a two-yard pass to wide receiver Treylon Burks. Levis also showed awareness earlier in the drive by finding Derrick Henry open to his left while taking hits from multiple Steelers defenders. The dump-off led to a 23-yard gain that eventually led to a 48-yard field goal that gave Tennessee a 16–13 lead with 19 seconds left in the third quarter.
- Levis flashed his arm strength with two downfield completions to wide receiver Kyle Philips during a two-minute drill before halftime—the throws went for 24 yards and 21 yards. The Titans added a field goal and went to the locker room with a 13–10 advantage thanks to Levis’s downfield throws on a drive that started on the Titans’ 25-yard line with 1:16 left before halftime. Levis went 11-for-16 for 153 yards in the first half. Tony Gonzalez raved on the Amazon Prime broadcast about Levis’s ability to rifle throws without having to set his feet. That arm strength allowed Levis to make plays without a clean pocket.
- The Kentucky product showed his toughness and awareness when he stood in the pocket to connect with wide receiver Nick Westbrook-Ikhine for 23 yards on third-and-13 during the second quarter. That ignited the Titans’ first touchdown drive, which ended with a Henry two-yard rushing score to give Tennessee a 10–7 advantage. At this point, Levis was 8-of-11 for 97 yards.
- The Titans didn’t get too far on their second drive, but Levis had an impressive 29-yard completion to DeAndre Hopkins on first-and-23 from their own 5-yard line. It was Levis’s first completion that didn’t go to a running back. Levis leaned on RBs Henry and Tyjae Spears for quick dump-offs to produce a field goal on the opening drive. (The Steelers helped with five penalties.)
- There were a few times that Levis made it obvious he was going to throw to Hopkins. The rookie signal-caller forced a pass to the former All-Pro that was nearly intercepted on the final drive. Earlier in the game, Patrick Peterson broke up a pass intended for Hopkins on third-and-8 to start the second half.
- After taking a hit in the second quarter, Levis tried to throw the ball to the sideline to avoid a sack, but it could have easily been picked off or perhaps ruled a fumble.
- Titans offensive coordinator Tim Kelly fooled the Steelers into thinking they were going to run the ball on the first play of the third drive of the game with a jumbo package and a running back behind Levis. But Kelly called a play-action pass that led to Levis throwing a 17-yard pass to Hopkins. That’s when the Steelers probably realized the Titans weren’t going to be one-dimensional Thursday night.
- In the fourth quarter with Steelers fans waving their towels, the Titans again went to a 12-personnel look with Henry in the backfield and two tight ends deep in their own territory. But Kelly had Levis pass—a 21-yard pass to Burks to quiet the crowd in Pittsburgh.
Final thoughts on Levis
It might have been upsetting for Steelers fans to watch Levis have a productive performance while Kenny Pickett again struggled to move the Steelers upfield for most of the game.
Levis used his arm strength to avoid the constant pressure from Watt and Highsmith. Once Levis earned some respect from the Steelers, they stopped sending extra defenders at a frequent rate.
Also, the presence of Henry and Hopkins made it difficult for Pittsburgh to defend play-action plays. The combination of Levis’s skill set, standout playmakers and savvy play-calling (for three quarters) allowed the Titans to hold a lead in the fourth quarter. Kelly might be kicking himself for calling three straight runs on Tennessee’s penultimate drive.
It’s only been two games, but the high ceiling Levis has flashed should make Titans fans excited for the future.