Again it was the offensive side of the ball that began the snowball. The fumble on the very first play of the day set the tone, and both the players and coaches were unable to pull the team together after that. It's been a point made here and there over the last 12 hours, but Locker's regression after injury is night and day. Only a month ago he took on a tough Jets D and put them to the torch. Sunday, he looked out of his depth against far-and-away the league's worst defensive unit. He was inaccurate early and made several big mistakes, including an ill-advised interception that was reminiscent of his early snaps with the Titans, and a botched hand-off which deep-sixed the team's best chance to start turning the game around. I am a huge Locker fan, but he was outplayed by Fitzpatrick yesterday...that should never ever happen at a real NFL caliber QB. His (likely) season-ending injury is the nail in the coffin for this team. We spoke ad nauseum earlier this year about how this team will only go as far as Locker can take them, good or bad. This is the latter, and as a fan, it stings.
One of only a handful of bright spots on the day was Kendall Wright, who continues to blossom. He has proven he can make some tough catches and is a weapon in open space. That aside, the team has needed to expand on his role down the field, and they have not done that. Wright could be so much more than drag routes, screens, and a couple of slants. So far, there's no way to know. Nate Washington looked to be getting going in the 2nd quarter, but had only a so-so day despite a couple of nice grabs. Justin Hunter proved yet again that he should be getting used more often. He hauled in a couple of third down passes and notched an impressive 40 yarder that showcased his athleticism and range. He is yet another example of the ineptitude of this coaching staff. At this point, Hunter should be fully integrated into the offense. It was a waste to trade up for him and have him sit the bench most of the day. It's baffling.
Chris Johnson was thrown to the wolves after his first run of the day. The usually non-fumbling back was met in the backfield time and time again, and by the second quarter, I was already having flashbacks to New England last year...This offensive line should be a shining point of this team after three years and $100's of millions of dollars of investment under not one, but TWO HOF lineman, yet they got out muscled by one of the league's most woeful units. There is little excuse for that. Chance Warmack looked lost, and Schwenke leaving with an injury just worsened things. His backup, Chris Spencer, was a human turnstile. Shonn Greene actually managed to eke out some yards, but that was more due to his sheer strength than any sort of effective blocking. The line's final failure at the end of the day; letting the rush get the Fitz and strip the ball, was a microcosm of the failure this season has become under Munchak and co.
I have been really happy with the growth on this side of the ball this year, and I attribute that to Gregg Williams and his aggressive influence on the unit. It has allowed guys like Verner (who leads the league with 5 INTs) and Casey (leads the league in DT sacks) to shine. They have also had solid contribution from McCourty, Pollard, and even Sensabaugh in the secondary. The players on this defense deserve criticism for what went down yesterday, but I blame the coaches more. We saw yet more soft coverage, and worse, schemes that left the entire middle of the field underneath wide open, and I mean WIDE OPEN. The Jags were happy to simply dunk the ball into that gaping void vacated mysteriously by all Titan defenders for 15 yards in every direction. On top of that, a couple of calls against Pollard further aggravated things. For the record, there is not a chance that Pollard's second penalty should have been called. That was due to reputation alone.
On the line, Morgan showed up again. Sammy Hill also proved a lot to Titans fans in the game. He played with aggression and power, and was constantly in the Jags backfield causing problems along with Casey. That said, that counted for little when the team was allowing Henne to drop the ball into the middle of the field on every other down.
The linebackers may be the second biggest disappointment of the year for me. Brown and Ayers should have been difference makers for Tennessee. Despite an early season (and late last season) approach of using Zach Brown as a biltzer and as a cover guy for opposing TEs, he has been taken out of that role and used as a traditional linebacker. This change has made him entirely invisible. Ayers and his supposed skills as an edge rusher haven't shown up much either, and I put a lot of that on him, but on the coaches as well. They clearly don't know how to get the best out of the players they have. That's a shame, because there are tools on this unit to have a great defense.
Damian Williams must have called up his old friend Darius before Sunday's debacle, because he exhibited the same reckless abandon that had the Titans in trouble before. My biggest ire came on the coverage unit however, who showed little if any ability to close down opposing returners. Tennessee lost in a lot of phases yesterday, but field position is a glaring one. It makes one wonder if the special teams coaches know what they're doing.
I hate to be gloom and doom, but what hopes Titans fans held of postseason play went down the tubes when Locker left the game. Despite his struggles the last two weeks, he has the ability to bring the offense to a higher level than Fitz ever will. At this point, I am looking to see what direction the new Team owner takes, and I think it would be unwise to keep Munchak past this year. Don't get me wrong, I like him and Bruce as players, but they are not getting it done as coaches. They have been afforded more time than most staffs in today's NFL as well, and the result has been disturbingly similar year after year. I hope the Titans hold on to some of their coaches; Rocker, Jefferson, and Williams come to mind as well as Webster, who I think has done a fine job. I want these guys to stay, even though they might not, because they are great at what they do. Their attitudes are reflected in the players they coach. But even they can't right the ship right now. At this point the team would do well to finish at 8-8. And for me, after enduring the late Fisher years, mediocrity is not enough, especially not with the talent that is on the roster right now. Another wasted year in Tennessee, and a step into the unknowns of the future.