First off, I would like to thank Jimmy for giving me the opportunity to bring my writing to MCM. I have loved being a part of this blog and am ecstatic for a chance to bring you guys some weekly articles on our team. As we get going here, I would love some feedback so I can get a better idea of what you guys would like to see. I think I have some things up my sleeve you will enjoy so far but I am always looking to improve! Now, onto the article.
Well that one was a tough pill to swallow. For the second straight week the Titans went out on the road and played a bludgeoning, physical game. Lets take a closer look at the divisional match-up and where this team needs to go heading forward to our home opener against the Chargers.
That's right, the defense will be talked about first this week. They have earned it in my mind. Much like in Pittsburgh Week 1, the Titans defense looked shaky immediately out of the gate, giving up 2x the amount of rushing yards they allowed against the Steelers on just their opening series. But again they put up the barricades after that, playing respectably against one of the league's premier running games (despite more than one egregious uncalled holding penalty) and harrying Matt Schaub for most of the day. The sacks took a while to come, but the pressure was evident, and grew as the game went on. There was a particular stretch later in the game where the Titans D-line just took over.
The Titans secondary, aka the most maligned group in the league last year, deserve heaps of praise for their play, despite what the stat sheet tells you. Most will point out “Nuk” Hopkins sensational performance against them late, but I attribute that more to Hopkins himself. He was never wide open, and the catches he did make were impressive considering they were heavily contested. Likewise Andre Johnson was mostly contained, and while I hate to see a guy knocked out like that, Pollard's physical play is exactly what the secondary needs, and the rest of the unit will feed off hits like that.
I will also say this, Verner looked far and away the best corner on the team. McCourty struggled down the stretch, giving up 4 plays in the 4th quarter and OT that I'm sure he wished he could have back, and that consequently ended up costing the Titans the game. Amazingly, Griffin did a stellar job on the back end and we didn't see any deep balls completed down his side of the field. Pinch yourself now MCMers, but Griffin is playing mistake free football through two weeks and seems to be tapping into the physicality we saw early in his career and in college. His coverage on the back-end, particularly against his dreaded foe: the play-fake, was a big part of the defensive effort that forced the passes underneath where the Linebackers, led yet again by Zach Brown (who recorded a game high 12 stops) tackled extremely well to ensure they got off the field, and they did it consistently. This alone is the biggest improvement from last season to now. The Titans could not do this at in 2012.
The Defense can be criticized by their play down the stretch, especially by the media who rarely read more than the stat line, but it was they who had us in contention for this game in the first place.
This is where the mixed bag comes in. The Titans were either hot or cold, and nothing in between, for a full 60 minutes. Chris Johnson looked fresh and sprightly out there, but the offense missed Shonn Greene against their toughest divisional foes and predictability neutered the running game to a point of little effect. Far too often, interior pressure given up by Rob Turner, who posted a second consecutive poor performance, stymied runs before the blocking could develop. Battle had a highlight worthy run on the first drive, running down D. Manning like he was a practice dummy, but he also failed to hit the hole on a 4th down conversion attempt that would have given the Titans a chance to put points on the board. Again though, Turner will have to shoulder much of the blame on that run. Chance Warmack had a so-so day, with some run good blocking especially when he was asked to pull but, as anyone can expect of a rookie OG, gave up several bad pressures on Locker to JJ Watt.
Locker will continue to endure the scrutiny after this one. Personally, I think he made the plays they asked him to make, barring a few. When the handcuffs were removed on the opening series and the 99 yard scoring drive later in the game, Locker answered the call by efficiently moving the team down the field with precise throwing. I wouldn’t call 17 for 30,148 yards, 2TDs and no picks a bad game against a very impressive defense. The young signal caller excelled when the tempo was increased and the game was opened up. On the flip side, a mixture of Loggains play-calling outside those drives and poor pass protection threw the young QB to the wolves more often than not, putting him in 3rd and long far too often. As Mr. Gunnels wrote in an earlier article, this is the exact thing the coaches focused on avoiding this season. The predicable nature of the 1st and 2nd down play-calling allowed the Texans to pin their ears back on 3rd down and put Locker under huge pressure, where any QB will have trouble. Coupled with the lack of passing continuity, I'm not surprised at all that Locker wasn't pin-point all day.
Yet again Britt did not show up to the game. He had one good play down the left sideline wiped out by yet another penalty, which was a theme all afternoon especially in the running game. His lack of fire was on full display. I am never an advocate for hasty decisions, but Britt needs to be rotated out more often. We have seen plenty from Michael Preston and Damian Williams to justify giving them more playing time. It wouldn't hurt to throw Hunter in there more often as well, as I am a firm believer that the best way top grow as a player is to play. On the other side of things, Wright and Washington were fighting hard to get open most of the game, and Kendall showed some of the shifty ball skills we drafted him for on some nice screen plays. He had a killer drop, however; that killed the Titans chances to churn the clock and seal the win, so an up and down down for the position group as a whole.
Delanie Walker posted his first Titans TD, breaking some tackles along the way. This was good to see, because the Titans should be using him and the other TE's way more often than they are so far. What better way to give Jake some easy completions and move the chains early in the game? Speaking of TE's, my boy Taylor Thompson has been invisible so far, and I find that pretty surprising since he put on such a good showing through camp this year. We'll see if they work him into the game plan more often going forward, since his size and speed is very rare when coupled with his crushing blocking ability.
When all is said and done, Locker knows he has to make that crucial third down play to Britt, but this game can't be put solely on that one play. When it came time for the offense to push through and make some plays to ice the game, they couldn't, and I think that comes down to mixture of lack of execution in crunch time by the players and an overall lack of rhythm and momentum in play-calling by Loggains and company.
In other news, Reynaud is a ball-catching robot with no brain to consider field position or circumstance. He ignores the fundamental rules of punt returning, and his only good decision of the season so far ended up being downed at the one due to a strange penalty call for illegal touching. (Yeah, there's a penalty in the full-contact sport of American Football called illegal touching) I wish Mariani hadn't gotten hurt again more with every passing week.
Going forward, Titans fans should take heart in this: the team has played two of the top five defenses from last year, two teams that the media and fans across the country gave them no shot to win. In those games the Titans out-muscled their opponents and didn't turn the ball over, looking competitive all the while. Things will only get easier on the Titans offense going forward (except probably in their back to back games against the 49ers and Seahawks). If the Titans give Locker more freedom and trust and the defense plays as they have been, they have a chance to be a strong contender in the division. With the Colts looking vulnerable and the Jags flailing around as always, the Titans need to capitalize on the three game stretch that now faces them and turn them into wins, especially with the Texans now entering the gauntlet phase of their schedule as well. Getting to 4-1 would build the momentum needed to go into those tough games later in the season mentally prepared and confident. Who knows, 94% of the nation and every expert I read gave the Titans no shot to win last weekend, so why not against the elite teams on schedule? I'm banking that the Titans pull out some shocking wins this year.
As a Team the Titans still have a long way to go, but I firmly believe this young team is well on its way to relevancy again.