The faltering Titans head out west to face the streaking Broncos in the bitter cold of Mile High.
The Titans defense has had issues this year, though it has undoubtedly been a smaller factor than last year in contributing to the team's losses. Jurrell Casey (+34.4 overall per PFF) is the second-best interior defensive tackle in the NFL when it comes to grading metrics, though I would peg him as No.1. He has been outright dominant as a pass rusher this season.
After reviewing the tape and taking a spool through the numbers, my thoughts on Karl Klug earlier in the week are starting to look pretty good. Klug has registered less a paltry amount of snaps, he matches even Casey when it comes to rushing the passer. PFF had this to say about Klug:
"...graded as fifth in DT/NT Pass Rushing Productivity–one spot behind Casey—with 19 total pressures in 156 pass rush snaps."
The Titans interior tackles will have a tough match-up this week however, as they face Vasquez and Ramirez, the second rated Guard and Center in the NFL. Fortunately, they also have a weakness too in the form of Zane Beadles, who grades out 63rd out of 75 qualifying NFL guards. Those are Eugene Amano numbers. Despite this, Beadles leads the Pro Bowl voting for guards...yeah, the Pro Bowl is dumb.
Despite our complaining, I think it is evidently clear that the issues with Tennessee's linebackers is on the coaches. Playing primarily as a rusher, Akeem Ayers generated some decent pressure on Andrew Luck last week, and despite two false starts and a missed tackle, he posted a +1.3 grade per PFF. The coaching staff would be better off using him in this fashion more often. Just as they limited Ayers duties, they played Brown in a more traditional linebacker role with plenty of blitz responsibilities. The former Tarheel responded with a very strong performance, grading out at +3.5 per PFF; getting to the ball-carrier and notching an impressive sack. Unfortunately, they were ugly with the game on the line, falling victim to the unstoppable Donald Brown. I think this group could be special given some new coaching and proper deployment. They really need to stop allowing themselves to cross the face of the runner, it is killing them on the cutback and the Broncos own Knowshon Moreno will do more damage than the Colts did if they don't remedy the issue.
Damaryius Thomas and Eric Decker have both cracked the top 10 in WR metrics this year. The Titans have their own ace up the sleeve in the secondary, with both Verner and McCourty ranking within the top five corners in the NFL per PFF grades.
That said, I fear for the life of this defense with Coty Sensabaugh being matched up on Wes Welker. Coty has been coming on this year, but he is not in the same class as the former Patriot. Touchdowns may rain down upon the Titans in the slot.
Nobody can complain with the Titans safeties this year. That is one area the team set out to improve and actually, you know, did. Tennessee is one of only two teams with two safeties ranked in the Top 15 of PFF's "Run Stop Percentage" rankings. Like I have been saying, fans should count themselves lucky that they have played well, because things would be a whole lot worse on defense if not. Pollard had this to say about the upcoming tilt:
"We’ve just got to play good ball and don’t get caught up in what they’ve done. Let’s go play ball because they’ve got to face us that day...At some point in time, somebody’s got to buckle, and hopefully it’s not us buckling first. I respect them. I’ve played them before. I understand the things they’re doing. They’re trying to get a Super Bowl, for us, we’re trying to get a Super Bowl as well, so I think if we mean what we say, we’re going to handle this situation great."
You've got to admire his optimism.
Fitzpatrick will need to shake off last week's horrendous performance if the Titans have any chance of being competitive. He will need all the help he can get from Wright and Washington with Walker likely out of the lineup. The team's recent signing, Visanthe Shiancoe, will hopefully be able to come in a make some catches in the TE's absence. If Fitz comes out slinging the rock off target, we may already be able to tell that it will be a long day. Wright may be poised to do a lot of damage underneath this weekend with favorable match-ups against the Broncos linebackers, and SS Duke Ihenacho, who has played poorly of late. For the Titans sake, I hope Damian Williams makes a timely return this week.
Offensive Line/Running Back
Warmack posted his best game of the year in pass pro last week, which was ironic since Fitz played as if he was being beaten into the earth every down. Levitre also played a decent game, and the Titans offense seemed like it had the right idea, but still failed to make the Colts pay with the ground game. They will face some tough competition this week, including Von Miller (coming off a so-so game against the Chiefs last week).
The line needs to do a better job of finishing their blocks to get the running backs to the second level with more consistency. It would also be wise on Loggains part to run more out of the gun, where CJ has been more successful, and allows him to run the spread attack without tipping his hand. CJ needs to "finish" his runs too, and flash more of the elusiveness we saw earlier in his Titans career. This is a good opportunity for him to create some big plays against a suspect Denver defense.
I look forward to seeing Leon Washington return kicks and punts for the Titans for the second straight week. He was impressive in his first outing in two-toned blue. The coverage unit will need to do all they can to win the field position battle; this team will need every advantage they can get against a team coming off a 3 game stretch (with 2 wins) against teams a combined 26-7.
This could be the Titans' biggest defeat of the year. If Fitz can't keep the ball in Titan gloves, it's going to get messy in a hurry. That said, this defense has a shot to do some damage. Interior pressure combined with Verner and McCourty could prove stout, but two Broncos X-factors: Wes Welker and Knowshon Moreno (rushing and receiving) might be too much for Tennessee to handle. I'd like to see some fire from a team who should know Manning and his tendencies as well as anybody in the NFL, I just don't know if I will. At this point, I'm not as optimistic as Bernard Pollard.