Unfortunately, the Jake Locker - Washington reunion was not to be. Let's hope that doesn't doom the Titans to a second straight loss after an excellent start to the season. There are a few takeaways worth noting from the Titans tilt against the Chiefs:
1. The offensive line has yet to get it done in the running game this year. They need to improve in a hurry if this team wants to be able to close out games.
2. Fitzpatrick needs to improve on his ball placement and complete the easy passes more consistently.
3. Yet again this Titans D proved it will keep this team in any game, and they are starting to get some respect around the league for it.
The Seahawks first loss of the season came last week against the Indianapolis Colts, so both squads are looking to bounce back after disappointing outings. What can we take away from their last match-up?
1. Seattle's defense is very good, but they struggled to perform when they chose to bring extra bodies to rush the passer.
2. The offensive line has underwhelmed so far, not least due to injuries, especially on the left side.
3. Members of the Seahawks secondary are not to be underestimated.
Titans - Seahawks (Sunday, 4:05pm Eastern, CenturyLink Field)
The Titans will need big improvements in the running game against a tough opponent. It was proven last week that, despite Fitzpatrick's veteran status, he can't carry the team on his own. The interior trio of Levitre, Turner, and Warmack will need to step up their game to help the offense move the chains and give the defense some ample rest. While I feel like there is an echo in here, their play may well decide if the Titans manage a win with Locker on the sidelines. In pass protection, things have been much improved over last year, for which the line deserves plenty of credit.
CJ and Battle will be splitting carries again this week, with Shonn Greene still recovering from his knee injury. Both will need to play better than they have been in previous outings. Battle drew the ire of the Titans coaches last week for missing the proper read on a critical 4th down run on the goal-line, and gained all of 1 yard outside of a 37 yard gallop. CJ struggled as well, and was constantly called for runs into the heart of the KC defense. I expect Loggains and co. to get him in space more and run to the outside more often. While the line has to do a better job creating opportunities for the Titans runners, they have to do their part as well, and they will need to have a big day to overcome a tough foe in a hostile environment.
The Wideouts have been a bright spot (for the most part) this season. Nate Washington and Kendall Wright will have their hands full with Sherman and Browner, so it will be worth watching if they deploy Damien Williams and Justin Hunter more on the outside in three (or more) WR sets to bump Kendall into the slot where he can do more damage against the less imposing defenders in Byron Maxell and Walter Thurmond. At this point, the Titans have a lot they can take advantage of with this deep WR group, and I expect them to do so, especially against team like Seattle who have established corners on the outside.
As always, I expect the Titans Tight Ends to do their job. While Walker has been the only one active in the passing game so far, the Titans need to focus on getting him, Stevens, and Thompson more active in the running game like they were early in the season. Collin Mooney needs to be out there for more than the paltry 7 snaps that he was last week. If the Titans are going to pound the rock, at least do it with your best lead blocker on the field.
Up front the Titans need to pile on the pressure. Morgan (+2.3) had a good day against the Chiefs before leaving with an injury, but both he and Brown look good to go this week. While Seattle has been ever-threatening with the run, they have struggled to pass protect and it has led to some miraculous scrambling by Wilson. That sort of thing isn't sustainable long term, however; and pressure from the left side caused a late interception last week to seal a win for the Colts. Zach Brown will need to be light on his feet as ever to contain Wilson and help stuff the run. Easier said than done, but this Seahawks offense isn't playing up to potential at present with their issues on the line.
On the edges, Jason McCourty and the league's highest rated corner in Alterraun Verner will be tasked with stopping a talented group of wideouts led by Golden Tate, Sidney Rice, and Doug Baldwin. I am more confident than ever in this group of corners, but it will be well worth keeping track of Coty Sensabaugh who has been out with a concussion. Without the Titans nickel defender in action, we will likely be seeing more Tommie Campbell with Blidi Wreh-Wilson out with injury as well. Giving the pass rush time to get home will be paramount in this game, and I feel they will do a good job against these Seahawks wide receivers.
The Titans will need to be diligent on the back end of the defense this week as Russell Wilson won't hesitate to throw the deep ball if it's there. Both Pollard and Griffin played well last week save for one throwback play on Griffin's part, and posted impressive grades per PFF of +3.3 and +2.4 respectively. Importantly for this week's game, they both showed skill when called upon to blitz, and putting pressure on the pocket in this game will be key. With both offenses likely struggling to get going, I see turnovers yet again playing a major role in deciding the game. ATV is one of, if not my favorite Titan right now, but he had two interceptions slip through his fingers last week that would have likely swung the game in the Titans' favor. He's going to have to hold onto those in the future and he's no doubt mad about those missed chances. I'm confident he is up to the task.
Please football gods, I beseech you to not inflict a special teams blunder upon this team this week. Reynaud is a disaster whether he chooses to field a punt/kick or not apparently. We've had mistakes aplenty running the gamut from self-inflicted safeties, horrible decision making to return punts out of the endzone or from the 5 yard line, poorly called-out clearances which have resulted in fumble touchdowns....this unit needs to catch a break and let the rest of this team play without one hand tied behind it's back. Again, kick and punt coverage has been good, but they let up a good return by McCluster last week, so I'm hoping for a better showing at CenturyLink Field.
I would be pretty confident heading into this match-up with Locker calling the shots, and even then I would not expect a win. Seattle has a roster filled with talent, and though they might not be executing at 2012 levels so far, they are a very dangerous opponent, especially at home. While there was more than one area the Titans fell short in last week, Fitzpatrick just doesn't instill confidence in me that he can competently run this offense and keep up with a group like the Hawks. Short of a spectacular showing by the run game which I feel is highly unlikely at this point, as well as some big turnovers from the defense, I see the Titans falling well short of victory.