This team continues to be the biggest of teases. They came storming out of the gate and played the Broncos point for point in the first half, only to stagnate in the second half. Truth be told though, the writing was on the wall as early as the second quarter when the Titans defense had already been on the field for a game's worth of snaps, due in part to an offense that couldn't generate first downs and a defense that was schemed, and officiated, out of competitiveness.
Somewhere along the line, someone told our defensive lineman that you only have to rush the passer well every other week. I can't remember a stretch where they got good pressure on opposing QBs two weeks running. With Casey double teamed from the onset, it was up to Morgan, Pitoitua, and co, to take advantage of one-on-one blocking. Long story short, they had barely even sniffed Manning by the time game was over. To make matters worse, the entire group allowed themselves to be out muscled in the running game. That Broncos offensive line is simply fantastic, but there is no excuse to get beaten so badly, so often. It was painful to watch them run the same counter run out of the shotgun over and over and over again, and watch the Titans make literally zero adjustments to it.
The Titans showed some bravery (and smarts) early on, mixing up the linebacker personnel and playing the match-ups. While this was not a good week to start giving Zaviar Gooden significant snaps, I get the line of thinking, and it almost paid off. Almost. Ayers was invisible, not recording a single statistic of note. Despite Zach Brown having one of, if not his best, game of the year last week, the coaches decided to back away from what worked in that game, especially later in the tilt, where Manning was given four man rushes as well as enough time in the pocket to order his own Papa John's Pizza. Not only this, but the corps was outplayed on the ground in a big way. Just like the D-line, the linebackers were out of position far too often and the results were pretty catastrophic when the game went into the second half.
Verner and Pollard were targets from the beginning of this game, and not just by Manning. Both players were victimized by ridiculous penalty calls. Verner played physically from the outset, manning up with Decker and Thomas and having some success, most all of it nullified by interference calls. The NFL simply will not let corners play coverage football anymore, especially when Manning is the one tossing the rock. He and McCourty did just about all they could to stem the bleeding, but it is pretty much impossible to play defense in that situation.
"For me and Jason [McCourty] the last two or three weeks the referees just haven’t been able to let us play. All the times that they called something on me, I thought it was good coverage...it was a rough day." - Verner
Coty Senabaugh was, as predicted, outmatched by Welker, but he did have a few nice plays in coverage. To be fair to Coty, the "rub" TD to Welker was pretty weak, I don't really understand how that was not OPI, but in the grand scheme of things I guess it doesn't really matter. He was also called for a ridiculous penalty when Welker fell on top of him...apparently that was defensive holding.
Pollard and Griffin played a hard-hitting game as well. That is, until Griffin was injured (and accused of faking) and taken off of the field. Pollard's big hit on Decker later in the game epitomized all that is wrong with the league right now: Pollard comes in and makes a hard hit to jar the ball loose, he hits with his shoulder to Decker's shoulder. It was a textbook coverage hit...but no. They might as well have called "Bernard Pollard on the Defense, 15 yard penalty", because that is essentially what it was.
The Titans actually held the Broncos to 5/13 on 3rd down, but the gross amount of plays the Denver offense was on the field made those efforts irrelevant. TOP was Denver 39:20 to Tennessee 20:40...so yeah.
Quarterback / Wide Receiver
Fitzpatrick was decidedly average, with long bouts of inaccuracy again plaguing his day. He had a couple of highlight worthy plays, mostly all to Hunter (4 catches, 114 yards, TD), who is really coming into his own amidst the turbulence of this franchise at present. My primary criticism is that, even on his long TD catch, he is STILL allowing the ball to get to his chest and is not catching with his hands. The drops will continue until that is remedied. Kendall Wright was quieter than usual due to a lot of Denver attention. In the void, Washington came up with a few plays early, but couldn't take much advantage of the single coverage, whether that be due to Fitzpatrick or the Offensive Line failing to give him time to throw. Fitzpatrick seems to miss Walker in a bad way. In other news, Michael Preston had a catch, and that's still more value to the team that they would have if they hadn't deactivated Britt to play him.
Speaking of the O-line, I'm not sure what about the group mystifies the coaching staff, enough so to continue charging CJ full speed into the middle despite it having not worked all season long. There were some very nice blocks by the unit of the day though, especially by Chance Warmack and Quinn Johnson on Greene's TD run. Craig Stevens also showcased some good blocking in his return to the lineup. Both Roos and Stewart had issues defending the edges on passing downs, and it showed. None of the lineman looked particularly good, but their performance should have elicited a better day from Fitzpatrick.
At this point, Greene looks to be the superior back. Aside from CJ's terrible fumble, he continued to be easy to contain, in both the running and receiving game. Greene was able to cut off his blocks and power out yardage. It's a shame, because I genuinely thought CJ would be a HOF here in Tennessee, but the magic is gone. The team will be making a move in the right direction when they inevitably part ways with the back this offseason.
The special teams unit has turned itself around from the multitude of early season errs. Leon Washington has been a breath of fresh air, and his 95 yard return was spectacular. Jackie Battle laid a vicious block on that play as well to spring him free. The coverage unit wasn't all that great however, helping give Peyton good field position. The Broncos lived in Titans' territory all day long.
There were so many issues in this game, it's difficult to sum it all up. While Loggains has made strides this year, his "screen series" at the end of the first half was a pathetic effort. Not only were the plays clearly not working, but with time running down in the first half, it was essential to get some yardage to give the team a chance at a field goal. This was the coaches' justification:
"We were backed up inside our 25-yard line, I think, so we didn’t want to take a chance of anything bad happening there by turning the ball over. That’s why we called some conservative plays that were both good screens that we thought would be good plays and they weren’t."
What is a "good screen" to Munchak? This is a losing mentality. Instead, they give the ball right back to Manning and co, watch them dice down the field, and score the longest field goal in NFL history...sigh.
And then on the other side of the ball, Gray/Williams back off the only things that were working. As the game wore on, the calls became more conservative, and the team paid for it. Whether that was influenced by the officials calling an insanely tick-tack game on the Titans cover men I don't know, but the physical press man coverage was the only thing that was going to give the team a chance to make stops. The team also continues it's refusal to cover backs and TE's with linebackers in man coverage, despite having the physical tools to do so. How many times have the Titans played well on first and second down, only to have a QB dump a simple pass to his back, who's inexplicably uncovered, and watch his waltz to an easy first down? It happened early and often in this one. Who would have thought?
I must apologize for my "salty" tone in this one, but finding optimism after a game like this is no easy task, especially considering this team has only faced Manning for his ENTIRE CAREER, and seems somehow less prepared to play against him than anyone else. I didn't expect a win, but watching this team get 50+ points put up on them was deeply humiliating.
The news broken earlier in the weekend says it all: the coaching staff is on notice, CJ is playing his final downs as a Titan, and change is coming to Tennessee. At this point, I'm hard pressed to find another team in the league that needs it more.