Finally, after over a month of expecting the emergence of the mythical Titans running game it finally happened. CJ looked like his former self and was consistently ripping off big runs including a few nifty plays from the gun. He showed quick decision-making and decisiveness in hitting the hole, and the same craftiness he is known for in open spaces to the tune of 150 yards and 2 TDs. Shonn Greene also made an impact on his quasi-debut for the team, running hard for 39 yards and a score. It was a refreshing change to see the team able to move the ball on the ground effectively. This is what I expected from them in Pittsburgh week 1. Whatever the case, the Titans Smash and Dash 2.0 has (hopefully) arrived.
Let me say before I dive into the subject that I am a huge Jake Locker fan, and give him more credit than most as a football player in this league. That aside, this was not a good day for the former Husky QB. Locker was inaccurate for stretches of the day, which has been unusual for him this season so far. The Wideouts did him no favors in getting open aside from Kendall Wright. While it was not the ugliest performance I have ever seen and he did make some very nice throws, it was disappointing to see him struggle like he did Sunday. He was noticeably better when the protection picked up the slack, but the first INT was bad. You just have to know where the corner is before you cut a ball loose like that. The second pick wasn't able to be reviewed due to the excellent CBS game coverage crew, but there was an egregious foul missed on the play with the defender hanging off of Nate Washington. That said, it still wasn't a good throw. Locker will need to pick up his game again on this upcoming stretch where there is little to no margin of error for the team if it hopes to keep playoff dreams alive.
The offensive line was night and day. They were dominant all day long in the run-blocking department, and on the back foot against the pass rush. This could not be a bigger 180 on their part. You have to like what we are seeing out of Schwenke and Warmack, but Otto making a surprise appearance was a fact that resulted in Locker getting banged around far too much. As with any good QB in the league, Locker is simply a different player without defenders in his face and with a pocket that offers him better use of his mobility.
Jurrel Casey is a top 3 DT in the NFL right now. His quickness off the snap coupled with his agility and strength have made him a weapon against both the run and the pass. His strip sack was the difference against the Rams, and his ability to get quick penetration in opposing backfields helps oil the wheels of this Titans defense. That said, he and the rest of the defensive line had a poor day against the run. The tackling by the backers was not ideal either, and it allowed Zac Stacy to run wild early and often. This defense is at its best when it forces QBs into passing downs, and they were not able to do that Sunday. This defense will need to perform better in the coming weeks to ensure that the Titans come away with the wins they should.
On top of that, the coaches have some work to do themselves. They were slow to adapt against the Rams, and their soft zone coverages on defense killed any chances at stopping the Rams on third down. This in, turn, snowballed in the first half to keep the Titans offense off the field and prevent them from getting in any kind of rythym. With the personnel talent the Titans have on defense at this point, there is no reason not to play more physical, aggressive schemes.
Damian Williams showed some consistency returning kicks. If he had been back there all year, we might actually have another win to add to the record books. Not a perfect day from him, but a solid first pro KR/PR debut, and miles beyond what we have had to deal with as Titans fans up to this point. The kick coverage was decent, but the decision to punt to Austin in the 4th when the Rams has no timeouts was foolish, and warrants some criticism. That mistake almost forced overtime.
The Titans had a rough day through the air, but in the end, if you put up 28 points you should win the game. The defense was a huge letdown, and will need to return to their more aggressive style of early in the season over the coming weeks so that the team can mount a real playoff run. Locker needs to be better than he was Sunday, and I'm confident he will be. There is no better chance for this team to fix it's mistakes than next week against the Jags.