Today managed to be the worst day of the season while simultaneously being the best. There was no Titans football played this week, but with a Houston loss, Tennessee now has sole possession of first place in the division. It's not an ideal way to snag a lead, but if you have a scenario in which the team reaches first place without playing a game, you take it. While I'm not ready to crown them, and I won't be for awhile, at least until they prove they can beat the Texans, the Titans are doing what good teams do: getting production out of everybody.
That's a generalization, and I'll admit, a slightly misleading one, even some of the team's best players aren't producing right now like we'd like them to, but the underlying theme is that there are players who are stepping up in the absence of production. Take Nate Washington. He was playing well even before the Kenny Britt injury, something I just chalked up to teams game planning for #18 and ignoring Washington. Even though his production isn't anything to write home about, he's improved as a player from last year and has kept consistent all year. While this may sound a little off-base, I think that Matt Hasselbeck being instantly in-sync with the offense and Washington's mediocre production have something to do with each other.
Hasselbeck is spreading the ball around. That's easily been the biggest factor in the offense's success. The fact that he knows the playbook helps too I guess. One of the main reasons I think that this team is doing as well as it is offensively despite no production from its two stars is because everyone else is picking up a little bit of slack. I've raved about Hasselbeck's prowess at getting the ball to multiple players, but now that I think about it, it really does make a difference. When you run your offense through one player, you risk a lot once he goes down with an injury. The Colts have felt that, the Texans are feeling it in a small sample size, just imagine if the Jaguars lost Jones-Drew for an extended period. The Titans have lost Kenny Britt and are getting nothing from Chris Johnson, yet they still have a top-flight offense. Even after last weeks abysmal performance, Tennessee is still ranked seventh in offensive DVOA. That's better than Houston, better than Philly, and better than Detroit. Pretty astounding stuff, all things considered.
Defensively, the catalyst has been Jerry Gray. I don't know what exactly he's doing, but whatever it is needs to continue. I don't think many other teams will be scoring 38 points on a Jerry Gray defense anytime soon. Again, even with last week's debacle, the team is ranked eleventh in team DVOA, ahead of Houston, Green Bay, and Oakland. With the self-perceived lack of talent on the team, I'm kind of shocked that this has lasted for so long. Look, I love our players too, but Barrett Ruud and Gerald McRath were never the answer. Perhaps his most important decision has been to put Cortland Finnegan in a position to do what he does best. Finnegan isn't a Darrelle Revis or a Nnamdi Asomugha who can just stick a number one receiver and blanket him all game, though even in that scenario, I'd take him over most other corners. What he's best at is playing instinctively and playing physical football, especially in the slot. He just looks comfortable out there again, and for a player entering a contract season, that's huge. While we've discussed this before, the defensive line has found itself a nice grey area between all out pressure and stout discipline. While extent of the impact of the loss of Jim Washburn may not be felt for awhile, I know that the defensive linemen are looking much better at staying on sides. It's easy to have a knee-jerk reaction to the display they put on last week, but the small sample size shouldn't fool you, they're playing their assignments much better this year. The loss of Jason Babin, one of the league's most aggressive defensive ends, might have something to do with this, but I like to think that maybe Tracy Rocker has instilled a sense of discipline in the line.
It's been an awesome year so far, why do I still have the feeling that a letdown is on the horizon? I think it's the 2010 Titans fan in me telling me to slow my roll and wait to see what the future brings. While I refuse to believe that anything I say or do has an effect on a professional team in another state and how they play, I'm keeping my hopes tempered, but for now, first place is a nice place to be.