INDIANAPOLIS, IN - DECEMBER 18: Chris Johnson #28 of the Tennessee Titans warms up before the game against the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium on December 18, 2011 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by John Grieshop/Getty Images)
What we saw in 2011 was magical. A team rallied around a new sideline boss and a new on field leader to emerge from the ashes of the Fisher/Young Era like some kind of super badass phoenix or something. They took out traditional powers like the Ravens and came pretty close to de-throning quite a few playoff teams like the Saints, Falcons, and Bengals. On the flip side, we saw a lot of close games played against bad teams like
Carolina Jacksonville, Tampa Bay, and Buffalo. What are we to think after seeing such a display in 2011? For now, I think it's best not to put a lot of stock in what happened last year.
First off, we're not entirely sure who will be playing quarterback. There have been offseason rumblings of an open QB competition in 2012. We all know that Jake Locker is probably the most talented quarterback on the roster, but how much faith does the coaching staff put in Hasselbeck's veteran presence? I can't decide where I sit with intangibles like this. They make me angry because I can't measure them, but at the same time, it sometimes seems as though there just has to be something more to this game than the numbers would have use believe. I think a large part of this decisions is going to come down to how important Munchak and Palmer decide intangibles are for the quarterback. By all accounts, Jake Locker has lots of them, but he's missing maybe the most important one of all; experience. There's definitely something to be said for an NFL quarterback who has experience.
All things considered, I expect Locker to be the starter by no later than week ten this year. Either it will become too apparent that he's the better player or an injury will force Hasselbeck to the sideline. Assume I'm right for a second: how can we possibly know what we're dealing with here? We know that Locker is talented and hard-working, but how well will any of his skills translate to a real live NFL game? Are those accuracy concerns of his legitimate? Nobody can say for sure, and considering how much of a teams' overall success is defined by its' quarterback, I think it's going to be very hard to predict the win total for 2012.
Another major detail that makes 2012 a tough call is the question of whether Jerry Gray can build on a largely successful first year as coordinator. When he finally had the right guys on the field, Gray had his unit playing well. Gone is Barrett Ruud, stepping into his place is the hard nosed, second year player from The U, Colin McCarthy. Playing above his draft position last year, McCarthy came on strong as the starter at middle linebacker after Ruud's ineffectiveness became too much to bear. Remember Stephen Tulloch? Well, for as good as Tulloch was at stopping the run, McCarthy was better, albeit in a limited sample size. A lot of our hopes lie in the hands of two young corners to replace one of the better players in the game as well. Basically, if you put faith in McCourty/Verner, you put faith in our pass coverage, simple enough, right? Also, enter the presumably healthy Derrick Morgan (I know, I know, dangerous words) and Kamerion Wimbley who should help with run and pass defense respectively.
Thirdly, Chris Johnson will have to be better. Truth be told, it'd be hard to be much worse. Now that a few spots have been patched up and he'll have all offseason to work out (with the team this time...) and to be in training camp, I don't think there are any excuses to not have an "up" year. He certainly doesn't lack confidence in himself and that's something I really like to see from a guy coming off of his worst year as a pro.
The bad news is that running back play really doesn't affect the teams' performance all that much. In short, you run so you can maybe have a chance to make passing easier, though even that school of thought has taken some hits lately. In any case, CJ could get right back on track and the Titans would still probably lose 9 games if the defense and passing attack regressed at all. At this point, CJ playing well is more just a consolation for how much money we're paying him. However, if this team somehow comes together and wins the Super Bowl after Johnson goes berserk in the playoffs and runs over teams like it's 2008, it'll be money well spent.
Finally, the reason I wrote this is because of the downright brutal schedule that the Titans will play next year. They've got the AFC East, featuring the AFC champs and the Jets who, for some reason, always seem to have our number, and the NFC North, featuring last years', and probably this years' Super Bowl favorites, the Packers, the high-scoring Lions, and an interesting Bears squad that could be a very dangerous trap game. They also play the Steelers again because Roger Goodell likes watching us never beat them.
What's all this add up to is a that predicting the 2012 win total is going to be a matter of faith, or lack thereof, in certain areas of the team. Mostly it centers around whether #8 or #10 suits up as the starter in week one and just how ready #10 is. These are some of my main points, anyone else have something they feel is going to be a big indicator of how far the Titans can go in 2012?