W This may be part of a series I end up doing every week. The intent is to look at the bigger picture of what I think I saw in the games, and use that to judge the upcoming game.
The Big Picture:
Week 1 in the NFL concluded yesterday. Feels exciting, doesn't it?
It wasn't that long ago that we wanted to clean house. Blow up the roster. Fire everyone.
The team had a better idea, it seems. Spend money. Draft well. Build an identity. Win games.
Bud Adams is 90 years old, turning 91 in January. He doesn't have the time to watch his prized time go through another rebuild. He wants to see wins, and he wants to see them now.
The members of this organization understand that. That's why Bud Adams stayed so in-house. He wants coaches that understand his desire for this team to be seen as an NFL powerhouse. He wants them to understand how much it means to him and the vision of the team he created.
After old age takes our owner, we're going to see a serious change in this team and in the culture of the organization. And when that happens, the feel of the franchise that we love is going to change, for the first time ever. For the first time in its existence, it will not be controlled by Bud Adams. Good or bad, that much is true.
That's part of why it's so important for this to work now. Bud Adams wants this franchise to have the ultimate success in his era, and that era is near its end.
The first step on the path to ultimate success was beating the hated Steelers.
Week 1: Titans @ Steelers
This was a game that a lot of us felt confident in, but there were some doubters, and different levels of them. Compared to the result we had, even I turned out to be a doubter. I thought the game would be much closer, and competitive until the end.
I was going off my perception of last year's game, which was similarly close and competitive, right up until the end. I was in the stadium watching that game, one of two games I've ever been able to attend at LP Field.
Surrounded by a sea of Steelers fans, when the Titans defense was on the field, my ears were still being assaulted by countless loud and screaming Titans fans. I couldn't help but chime in with them. My voice was hoarse and my ears were stinging by the third quarter.
People may say that place doesn't provide much home-field advantage anymore, but on that night, I certainly couldn't tell. Mike Keith on the radio after the game on the drive home said that it was the loudest he'd heard the stadium in 5 seasons, so maybe it was an anomaly. I'd like to think it wasn't, though.
That game ended with a last-minute miss by the Steelers kicker, which came up one yard short. Jared Cook took a Matt Hasselbeck pass for about 30 yards, setting up Rob Bironas for a 40-yard game winner. I knew that he would make it, and the Steelers fans around me seemed to know it too, by the expressions they had on their beer and sweat ridden faces.
I can only imagine what those faces looked like this past Sunday up in Pittsburgh, but I imagine it was glorious. The Steelers barely even threatened for most of the game, with Jason McCourty, Jurrell Casey, Zach Brown, Moise Fokou, and Alterraun Verner leading a dominating defensive effort for the Titans.
Of course, there were asterisks. Namely, the Steelers offensive woes, the lack of down-field threats, and the lack of a truly threatening tight end (seemingly our achilles heel). However, every win will have asterisks in the NFL. A key part of the game is exploiting the other team's disadvantages. That's what the Titans defense ended up doing.
Conversely, the Titans offense had trouble finding any disadvantages to exploit in the Steelers defense. Troy Polamalu, Steve McLendon, Brett Keisel, Lawrence Timmons, and Jarvis Jones all were strong points for a Steelers defense that kept them in the game the entire way.
The Titans offense struggled mightily with outside runs, virtually unable to set the edge despite our great blocking tight ends. The pursuit was just too much, and closed off any chance of turning the corner.
The best runs of the day came with Jackie Battle up the middle, something that we were seeing all August and especially in the last preseason game. Fittingly, our only offensive touchdown of the day also came on a Jackie Battle run up the middle.
Rob Bironas proved that he deserves his contract as well, extending the Titans' lead to 14 with 3 field goals, making the game 16-2 late.
The two most productive drives from the Steelers came when our defense only rushed three and played extensive zone coverage. The first drive was early in the first quarter where Pouncey was taken out by his own teammate and a fumbled QB-RB exchange gave the Titans a turnover in the redzone. The second drive was late in the 4th quarter, when the Titans played full-on prevent defense and let the Steelers march down the field largely unopposed.
On every single drive where the Titans played aggressive, the opposing offense could not score. Only when the defense played it conservative did the opposing offense move into scoring position. That's not an exaggeration, nor is it hyperbole. It is an actual football fact. For the first time in a long time, our defense was in total control of the game.
Here is another actual football fact:
Last year, we ranked dead last in average T.O.P, and had a franchise record in most points ever allowed on defense.
In our first game of 2013, we won T.O.P. 34 minutes to 25 minutes, and our defense only allowed 7 offensive points.
There is a saying, and it goes "Correlation is not causation". I do not believe that saying applies here.
The freshness of the defense was a big factor in the performance. The fire and aggressiveness stayed at 100% all game long, and the Steelers offense was completely out of sync as a result.
All off-season, our coaches preached improving on time of possession and the importance of winning in that area of the game. After Week 1, it looks like they really knew what they were talking about.
The Bigger Picture:
The Texans looked very beatable in the first half of play. The Chargers looked very beatable in the second half of play. Now the Titans have 30 minutes of tape on each team. That part of the game worked out perfectly.
The downside of that is both of those teams now have 30 minutes of tape of themselves looking good, so they can figure out was working best for them.
However, games aren't won in tape study any more than they are won on paper. They are won on the field, when it counts.
The Texans looked out of sync early on. Matt Schaub was average, the running game couldn't do much, and the passing attack was limited to constant passes to either Andre Johnson or the half-back in the flat. For whatever reason, the Chargers coaching staff never seemed to adjust to the half-back pass. The glorified Texans defense surrendered 21 first half points to the Chargers, getting burned by Antonio Gates and Eddie Royal, and gashed on runs by Ryan Matthews.
Coming out of the third quarter, the Chargers offense didn't miss a beat, scoring a touchdown on their opening possession. The Texans offense continued to look out of sync, and after a grounding penalty, the Texans had to convert a 3rd and 18.
Before the play, Chris Berman and Trent Dilfer brought up the Chargers' horrible statistics in regards to 3rd down stops in 2012, and Dilfer mentioned that a Chargers defender told him during the off-season that their big problem was giving up long 3rd down conversions. That same defender noted how frustrating it was to have that happen, after doing so good on 1st and 2nd down.
It was spooky, just how prophetic it ended up being. The Chargers gave up a 20-yard pass completion, giving the Texans offense new life. Then on a 2nd-and-long, a bad encroachment penalty gave the Texans a much easier conversion. Touchdown Texans, just 2 plays later.
The Chargers offense greatly responded by going three-and-out on 4 out of their final 5 drives, the lone exception being a one-and-out when Phillip Rivers threw an INT-TD to Brian Cushing. In order to preserve their team's lead, a demoralized and gassed Chargers defense had to stop the Texans from getting 2 touchdowns on their final 4 drives in the fourth quarter, while getting absolutely no help from their offense. They allowed 1 touchdown on the final 4 drives. The aforementioned Rivers INT-TD gave the Texans the other one.
Another long drive on that defense ended up giving the Texans a game-winning field goal at the end of regulation.
The Texans offense could not do much of anything, until the Chargers offense turned into the equivalent of a 4-year-old playing Madden on All-Madden difficulty.
I came out of this game less concerned about the Texans game, despite the fact the Texans ended up winning this game. There are two reasons for this.
Reason #1: The factor that handed the Texans the game shouldn't be present in Houston.
In a second half that saw a huge Texans comeback, the Chargers horribly lost time of possession. How horrible was it?
The Texans had the ball for 23:20 in the final two quarters. The Chargers had it for 6:40. Their defense had just under 7 minutes of total rest, while the Texans defense got nearly the entire half off.
Like I mentioned earlier, Munchak and company have put a major emphasis on winning time of possession, and that emphasis was well received by Titans players against the Steelers. We won't end up doing what the Chargers did to their own defense, unless we have an absolutely abysmal offensive performance or the Texans put forth an amazing defensive performance. While either could certainly happen, I have no problem predicting that neither of them will.
Reason #2: The Texans couldn't handle the physicality of... the Chargers.
In the first half, the Texans offensive and defensive lines were getting surprisingly man-handled by the flashy Chargers. By his standards, J.J. Watt was kept quiet by rookie DJ Fluker for most of the first half. He only managed to get to Rivers once that half, when he dove at the feet of the quarterback after beating Fluker off the snap.
On the flip side, the Texans offensive line couldn't get much push up front against the Chargers front 7, and Dwight Freeney completely wrecked them in pass protection. When you give that kind of performance to an aging veteran player that is on his second stint with an NFL team, that is unacceptable. The immense power of Dwight Freeney's name-sake shouldn't be enough to smack the Texans in the face like that.
I recall one play where the entire left side of the Texans offensive line got beat off the snap, leaving Freeney and two other Chargers with a free shot at the quarterback. Matt Schaub had the biggest "Oh @#$%!" face since his ear fell off last season, and then collapsed to the turf to avoid getting beheaded. He got up with some words for his pass protection. Those words were probably something like "What the heck just happened?".
As for the second half, the physicality of the Texans offensive line seemed to get better after the Chargers defense started being completely sabotaged by their own offense. The physicality of the Texans defensive line also seemed to get better, after the Chargers offense collectively went into the fetal position and started sucking on their own thumbs.
Overall, I was very unimpressed by both teams. Both of them are beatable this year, if the Titans can step up and exploit their disadvantages. We'll have to see if that happens.
The Whole Picture
Week 2: Titans @ Texans
I feel much better about our chances in this game, after seeing the Titans play on Sunday, and the Texans play on Monday. Still, we can sit here and talk about the Chargers sabotaging their defense all we like, but I doubt the Texans feel that was the reason behind their comeback win.
if both teams can carry on the momentum from their victories in Week 1, we should have a very competitive game on Sunday in Houston.
- If we win big, I'll be surprised and my highest level of optimism will be validated, and I will make constant comparisons to the 2008 team the following week. Likely score: 30-14 Titans
- If we win by a close margin, I'll be semi-surprised and my optimism will still be validated. I'll probably still make comparisons to the 2008 team. I think this is how it will unfold. My official prediction is that the Titans win. Likely score: 24-17 Titans
- If we lose by a close margin, I won't be surprised but I will be disappointed. It would indicate we're still not on the level of having playoff success, but maybe on the cusp of that. Maybe a wildcard team. Likely score: 20-17 Texans
- If we get blown out, it'll be deemed a "reality check", a sign that we're still not close to being a playoff team. I will end up arguing that point for the following week, but some part of me will probably believe the very thing I'm arguing against whilst my optimism is fighting for its life. Likely score: 34-10 Texans
That's all for this edition of The Big Picture! Please comment below and vote on the poll! Any feedback will also be appreciated in the comments. Thanks for reading!