There has been much discussion about what is wrong with the Titans’ offense through 4 weeks. Yesterday, Jimmy brought up the troubles they are having with the offensive line and creating running lanes for Chris Johnson. Unfortunately, talking about the run game is only scratching the surface of what is going wrong with this unit, which has consistently been one of the best in the league since hitting back-to-back homeruns in the 2005 draft with Michael Roos and David Stewart.
However, through 4 games the is truth unavoidable: Plain and simple, the Tennessee Titans’ O-line has been one of the worst in the league. Statsification after the jump..>In the running game, anyone who has paid attention to Jimmy’s weekly Runningback Success Rate piece knows the story. Loaded box, no holes, CJ runs into a wall. Rinse, repeat. 28% of Titans’ rushes result in CJ being tackled at or behind the line of scrimmage, and just from watching I would have guessed higher than that. This has led to a lot (and I do mean A LOT) of clamoring for the Titans to open it up and throw the ball all over the field. Sounds simple enough, but when you look a little deeper, another glaring problem with the O-line appears, one I am simply stunned by: They have been even worse at pass blocking.
Last year, Titans’ QBs dropped back to pass roughly 491 times, and surrendered 15 sacks, giving them a sack rate of 3%. This year, Titans' QB's have already been sacked 9 times in just a quarter of a season. Through 4 games and 78 pass plays, Vince alone has been sacked 7 times, or almost 9% of the time when he drops back to pass. Only David Garrard, Michael Vick, and the bloody pulp formerly known as Jay Cutler have been sacked more often than VY so far this year. For what it's worth, things were almost just as bad during Kerry Collins' short time on the field w/ a 7.6% sack rate. I knew things were bad, but I had no idea how truly, statistically awful the Titan’s O-line has been this season.
In one off season, this O-line has gone from elite to bottom feeders, just like the D-Line in 2009, except without the departure of a $100 million man to explain it all away. When Football Outsiders posts its Week 4 stats update, the Titans and Bears will likely be the only teams whose offensive lines rank around the bottom of both the running and the passing rankings, which is to say, the only two offensive lines that aren't good at anything.
The sack rate hasn’t been this high for an entire season in Nashville EVER, not even during the horrors of 2003-2004. Open it up you say? So far, the offensive line seems to be the biggest reason why the coaching staff might be so hesitant to do so—even with limited passing, Vince is on pace for 30ish sacks this year in a run-first, run-second offense. To put that into some truly horrible perspective, the only QB season I can find with a similar mix of high sacks and low attempts on par with what Vince is on pace for this year is Jamarcus Russell last season w/ 33 sacks on ~280 drop backs. Big ouch, and that is not in any way a shot at Vince.
If the line can’t keep VY clean when he’s only throwing around 17 passes per game, I shudder to consider what it would be like if he were seeing more attempts. I wanted to get a rough estimate, and the answer is very ugly: Last season, the 10 most sacked QBs in the league averaged 554 drop backs to pass. At the Titans’ current sack rate, 554 drop backs would lead to a whopping 50 sacks for the season, a total shared by co-league sack leaders last year Aaron Rodgers and Ben Roethlisberger. Yeah, it really is THAT bad.
So how did we get here? Is Kevin Mawae really the O-line’s Albert Haynesworth? I know it sounds ridiculous, but hardly anything else has changed. There was no coaching change, and it’s not like they are starting some rookie or bum off the street in Mawae’s old spot. All of these guys know each other and have played with each other for a couple years now in at least some quantity. If Mawae really was so crucial, how could a staff that is consistently great at judging O-line talent have blown it so badly by letting him retire? Moreover, how could Mawae have been so valuable, and yet not a single team took a chance on him? Honestly, I don’t have any answers. But I do know this: the Titans will live or die this season based on Mike Munchak’s ability to fix this mess immediately, both in the running game and the passing game.