Football Outsiders on the 2013 Titans

Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

Tom Gower, known as NewsToTom around here, wrote the Tennessee Titans chapter for the 2013 Football Outsiders Almanac. He was nice enough to answer some questions for us.

1. What impact will the addition of Gregg Williams have on the defense?

We'll see. He joined the Jaguars and they went from average to below average. He joined the Saints, and they went from bad to good for two years before going bad again. Statistically, his defenses tended to rush 4 relatively infrequently. The Titans in 2012 were about average when it came to rushing 4 after ranking toward the top of the league by that number for years under Jim Schwartz and Chuck Cecil. Expect even more 3-man rushes that tend to be effective and a lot of big blitzes that sometimes work out very well and sometimes result in big gains for opposing offenses.

2. Does the addition of Shonn Greene in and of itself make the run game better (meaning if the offensive line stays constant, does Greene make them better)?

Greene could steal the old Iron Head Heyward line about "If you need two yards, I'll get you three yards. If you need four yards, I'll get you three yards." Outside of an awful stretch the first five weeks or so of last season, he's a consistent between the tackles runner who will get the yards that are there. The downside is there's no explosive element to his game, so he won't rip off long runs even if they're available. While CJ would fluctuate between lines like 14-24 against the Lions in Week 3 and 25-141 in Week 4 against the Texans, Greene would likely be more consistent, putting up lines like 14-50 and 25-102. On the whole, is that a better run game? Maybe, maybe not. I’d say it depends on whether the passing game can take advantage of more third-and-mediums instead of third-and-longs and make up for the lack of long gains.

3. We have been sold on Locker as a guy who throws really well on the run. What was his DVOA on throws outside the pocket? How did that compare to the DVOA in the pocket?

Inside the pocket, Locker had a DVOA of -15.0%, ranking 33rd of 39 quarterbacks. Outside the pocket, he had a DVOA of 18.0%, ranking 16th, so he was much more successful in relative and absolute terms outside the pocket. That comes with a caveat, though-if you take away sacks and scrambles and look only at throws outside the pocket, Locker's DVOA was -3.8%, 23rd. That's still better than he was in the pocket but well below the league average of 14.0%.

4. What is one move the Titans could have made in the offseason that would have drastically improved their postseason odds for 2013?

Kneecapping J.J. Watt. We project the Texans to be the best team in the division by a reasonable margin--1.7 wins, or more than the difference between second-place Indianapolis and fourth-place Jacksonville--and taking away a player who had a year like Watt did in 2012 would have been a good way to bring them back to the pack.

Staying out of the realm of the criminal and looking just at what the Titans could have done to improve the Titans, it's hard to pinpoint a single move that would have had a transformative effect given who was available this offseason. Adding a Peyton Manning-level quarterback would have improved the team, but there wasn't a Peyton Manning-level quarterback out there. I think Cliff Avril would have been a needed upgrade at defensive end, but the Titans could reasonably point out he had fewer combined sacks and hurries than Kamerion Wimbley did the year before they got him and Gregg Williams likes to get pressure from everywhere, not just his ends. Corner was another area where they could have added a player like Sean Smith who might not be transformative but would be an upgrade and prevent them from relying on some combination of Coty Sensabaugh (modest sample size, but the worst Success Rate of any corner in the league with more than 20 targets), Tommie Campbell (68 snaps on defense last year), and Blidi Wreh-Wilson (even high picks at corner tend to struggle a lot as rookies) the half or more of the time they’ll be in nickel.

5. When charting 2012 games, what did you notice about the use of Kendall Wright? Is there anything that suggests to you he will have a breakout year in 2013?

The Kendall Wright we saw at Baylor was an explosive vertical threat who caught a lot of deep seam passes from RG3 and seemed like a natural fit to do the same from Locker. The Wright we saw last year had 55% of his targets come no more than 5 yards downfield and only 10% more than 15 yards downfield. Was that because the Titans don't think Wright can get open deep, or just a function of Chris Palmer calling 97 shallow crosses a game? I think it’s safe to assume Dowell Loggains will call fewer shallow crosses this year, and Wright will catch a smaller percentage of his passes within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage. That said, looking only at Locker passes more than 5 yards downfield, Wright had the worst catch rate and DVOA of any Titans player with at least 20 targets (also included in this group: Britt, Cook, Washington, Williams). That's not a robust sample size by any means, but it supports the idea that we're still waiting to see the vertically explosive Baylor Kendall Wright in the NFL.

The other question is, what would constitute a breakout season by Kendall Wright? He led the team in targets last year and caught 18 more passes than any other Titans wide receiver. We have him projected in FOA13 for a slight increase in production, from 64 receptions to 69 and 9.8 yards per catch to 11.7. I think those are reasonable numbers. The Titans seem to be transitioning away from a high-volume passing offense so unless Jake Locker starts ignoring other receivers and throwing Wright the ball every third play, he's unlikely to see a big increase in volume.

The FO Almanac is a really good read every year. I can't imagine how much work goes into it every year. You can purchase your copy here.

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