The final game of the year has come and gone. It's sad I know. But how did the Titans fare against the Texans?
Casey's absence was notable as well as disappointing. Antonio Johnson played respectably in his place, but Mike Martin and Karl Klug looked strong in the interim, both recording nice tackles against the run and generally holding their position responsibilities nicely. That said, the interior pressure Casey so often supplies was absent. Morgan had a few nice rushes, notching his sixth sack of the year on a particularly nice dip move on the edge. Pitoitua also made some nice stops. I will get to this in little bit, but Akeem Ayers also flashed some skills rushing the passer, and disrupted more than one play.
Brown resumed his position at OLB after a bizarre benching in earlier games. The UNC product was lively, with five tackles and another three assists, and was a big part of holding Houston's run game at bay...as well as the fact that they have gone through RBs like Tennessee went through offensive lineman last year...but I digress. Fokou also made some good stops, but was a sore spot in coverage more than once. He lacks the athleticism to match up with running backs often, and this showed up in a bad way during the season's last game. Despite only notching 3 tackles, Akeem Ayers made them count. He had an impressive day, forcing a fumble, disrupting Matt Schuab when rushing the passer, and making an athletic play to come down with an important INT. While he has been decidedly unspectacular, Ayers has been the Titans best LB this year.
While Griffin's game sealing pick will be the talking point, both Bernard Pollard and Griffin impressed the entire day. They kept the high flying Andre Johnson in check, including some excellent tackling near the goal line to force Houston to try a FG. I have seen a massive improvement in Griffin's technique and drive this season, and he has been playing with the physicality missing from earlier campaigns. Pollard should be brought back to Nashville next year after recording his finest season as a pro, and at this point, it should be a pretty good-value deal for the Titans.
On the edges, McCourty and Verner were pretty proficient in stopping the Texans' wideouts. The major damage of the day was done when Schuab dumped the ball off to (far too often wide open) RB Jonathan Grimes, who made the most of the his chance to show teams his talent. The backup runner caught 6 passes for 76 yards, and made the Titans linebackers look foolish. Back to the secondary...I have to tip my hat to the rookie, Wreh-Wilson, as well, who made a very good hustle play on an Andre Johnson-intended deep pass. Wilson was beaten vertically, but caught back up to the ball and showed good effort in dislodging the pass.
Quarterback / Wide Receiver
Fitzpatrick was woefully inaccurate for much of the day. The pass protection afforded him little comfort however; and JJ Watt, Antonio Smith, and NT Mitchell made his life difficult. Again Nate Washington made some nice plays including a 32 yarder to kick start the offense. Kendall Wright flashed his ability in the open field, leaving defenders in his dust and making yards after the catch on every opportunity. His major error of the day was a bad fumble that the Titans were lucky to recover. Justin Hunter had a very poor day, failing to make any catches that came his way, albeit many were off target. That said, it would have been nice to see the rookie make a play. Damian Williams also made an impressive grab on 3rd and long in limited snaps. While Delanie Walker had a few nice grabs, it was a very poor day out there for the veteran TE. He had not one, but three bad penalty calls come his way, which put the offense in a hole too often.
Yet again the offensive line played Jeckyl and Hyde, creating space this time on the ground, and letting the QB be smacked around in pass pro. The major offenders were Byron Stingely and Chance Warmack, who were worked over by JJ Watt. Warmack was shed from his blocks by Watt in the running game far too often as well. That said, the unit played well on the ground, and CJ responded with his second best game of the year. There is little doubt in my mind that this team will have a new RT next year, which will leave Roos as the lone standout on a line that has been entirely replaced over the past two seasons.
CJ topped 1000 in his last game as a Titan, making some impressive plays and running with power rarely displayed from the RB. Johnson looked lively darting through the holes, especially on the left side of the line. I actually saw him lower his shoulder a few times, so that was nice to see. While having a good game was a positive thing to see, it doesn't erase the multitude of problems that have plagued the unit this year, in what has undoubtedly been one of the worst rushing seasons in Tennessee Titans history. The line opened some holes for him and CJ responded by topping 100 yards for only the second time this season...I hope they do the same for whoever is carrying the rock next year, but on a far more consistent basis. It's been real CJ.
Bironas came up big with three field goals, including a dead-center 55 yarder. This has been a good second half of the season for Bironas, who was shaky early in the year. Leon Washington better be back next year as well, he has helped completely turn the unit around. Brett Kern was almost flawless against the Texans, and seems to have shaken the mistakes that popped up in his game from earlier in the year. He had what may have been his finest game of the season, routinely pinning the Texan offense inside the 15 yard line. While we are on the topic of special teams, how about Taylor Thompson's patented monster block? The young TE is good for two of three of those a year, and during these troubling seasons, they have been some of my favorite moments...god I hope we get back to winning soon...
The season has not gone to plan...at all. The coaches failed to deliver on the pre-season promises, and ended up with a team entirely different from the one they envisioned. And of course, there's nothing like two meaningless divisional games against sub-par competition to save jobs and preserve mediocrity...sorry I had to get that out. The team came up big in the second half, especially on defense where Gray and Williams have proven to be good game-day adjusters over the season's final stretch. The Texans had 19 yards in the third quarter...19!
It's been a rocky year yet again for Titan's fans. It will be all eyes on the status of the coaching staff now, as the CEO Tommy Smith decides what the future will hold. Will it be another year of Munchak?