After three games, I think I can pretty much sum up the 2012 Tennessee Titans in one sentence: fun when they're on, dumpster fire when they're not. I don't think it's possible that anything definitive can be said of this team so far at all. They were shellacked in their first two showings, but this win over Detroit, however wacky and lucky it may have been, might be just what the doctor ordered to set these guys off on another streak like last year's. The thing about the NFL is that sample sizes are small and weird outliers like the 2011 Titans are allowed to happen because of that. What's the word on 2012? I'll just throw some numbers your way and let you decide.
Starting with Derrick Morgan. I've got a weird fascination with Derrick Morgan. Since being drafted 16th overall out of Georgia Tech as the reigning conference player of the year, I've expected some big things. As is the case with too many young, talented players, injuries are the name of the game and he hasn't lived up to the hype that he came in with. We saw a small stretch of improved play over the last few games of 2011, but that all seemed like grasping at straws for me. Yes, Derrick Morgan led the Titans in QB pressures for a certain stretch of games, but the Titans were pretty awful at rushing the passer. Insert lame world's tallest midget joke here. In 2012 though, he's still chugging along, hinting that maybe 2011 wasn't just a flash in the pan. We knew Morgan was probably destined to be a better run defender than pass rusher in the NFL, though he did post some pretty gaudy sack totals in his final year as a Yellow Jacket. Point is, Morgan is third in the league among his peers in tackles for loss (which is really a seven-way tie, but I'm not complaining) and second in solo tackles with ten. He also rates very highly in tackle factor (11th) and in success count (5th).
This is a small sample size, but that's the nature of the NFL, and besides, that doesn't fit the narrative, Derrick Morgan is kicking ass this year.
Out of all running backs with 16+ carries, Chris Johnson has the second lowest DVOA. The only back who has been worse has been Ryan Williams of the Arizona Cardinals and 12th round draft pick of your's truly's fantasy football team. But you know what? I also want to smack the offensive line in its' collective mouth with a freshly caught sea bass. Far be it for the 6', 180 pound white dude to criticize these mountainous gentlemen, but compared to the other guys at their position, they kinda suck this year. According to Football Outsiders, NFL teams run a successful power run 64% of the time it's called. The Titans run them 0% of the time. That's right guys, running between the tackles is basically a death wish this year. Again. The only team whose backs who get more consistently stuffed than ours this year reside in Indianapolis. That's when you know it's gotten bad, "Hey, at least we aren't as bad as Indianapolis is at something." Rock. Bottom. Steve Hutchinson is not the savior some thought he might be, this thing is broken.
That is, unless the team runs from shotgun. SuperHorn stole a little bit of my thunder on this one, but the team is markedly better running the ball from out of the shotgun. Terry McCormick tweeted that the Titans plan to run the offense through Jake and the receivers as opposed to CJ and the run game. I can handle that. It's time we all got over the fact that CJ is making big bucks. It was a calculated risk and it failed, but the fact is that it happened and no amount of getting all hot and bothered will change that. I suggest we all accept that he's making more money than any of us combined will and try to look for ways to exploit his skill set. Can't wait for the sarcastic, passive-aggressive comments that come after I mention "CJ" and "skill set" in relation to each other.
One more thing before I wrap this up: Jake Locker is a goddamn wizard. He does wizardly things that a wizard would do. Harry Potter ain't got nothing on Jake Locker. Detractors point to the lack of accuracy, but they don't know bout Jake's spells and stuff.
Well that about settles that, doesn't it? Jake Locker is out-accuracy-ing two former number one overall picks so far. Deal with it, Fisher.
I lied earlier, SuperHorn actually stole all of my minimal amount of thunder, I was going to point to Jake's impressive start to the season and extrapolate it, but I'll just blockquote him and move along.
Throw in 67 rushing yards for good measure.There will be many things that I will hate about the Titans this year. I'm pretty sure Jake Locker isn't physically able to be one of those things. Don't expect it all to play out exactly like that, but so far it's hard to argue with the results. One area you'd like to see him improve is in the red zone, where he has a very poor completion percentage of 45.5%. Of course, he's only attempted 11 passes in the red zone this year, so expect that number to catch up and even out, hopefully regressing to the mean. Over his career, Jake Locker's line is such: 59.4% completions, 1,323 passing yards, 8 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions. Just for fun, let's compare his first 5 starts to Steve McNair's. McNair through his first five starts looks like this: 52.2% completions, 1,041 passing yards, 6 touchdowns, 2 interceptions.
This is oversimplifying QB play over an, even by NFL standards, small sample size, but the results have been encouraging so far.
2012 has been a little bit more down than up so far and I don't think I'm quite ready to proclaim these guys 9 win territory candidates, but I'm also a little less certain that we'll end up with a top 5 pick this year than I was this time last week. In the end, I see this team's role as spoiler. I think Jake Locker might be good enough to keep us in enough games that we could easily wreck the dreams of a team that sleeps on us, such as Detroit. Basically, I don't think this team is ready for primetime, playoff football, but there are a few beams of light shining through. Week 4 symbolizes the continuation of "the gauntlet" as the Titans take on division rivals and, so far, undefeated Houston Texans.