The Titans are on a bye this week, and so I thought it only proper to take a step back and look upon the franchise with some measure of objectivity. So instead of an open thread tonight, I jotted down my thoughts on the Titans team so far this year, and where they need to improve.
The Tennessee Titans are not where many expected halfway through the season. Like last year many promises/claims were made about the direction of the team. It's clear that the franchise has many more issues than were let on at the beginning of the season. Where does that leave us with the second half of the 2014 season looming?
The offense has been hamstrung on multiple fronts. A QB carousel hasn't helped the matter. Zach Mettenberger is the 3rd QB to start for the Titans this season, in only 8 games. That isn't a recipe for success. As Jimmy pointed out the other day, the Titans have had major issues in that department for some time, which is likely directly married to their record of failure in past years.
The offensive line entered the season with sky-high expectations, only for them to ring hollow at the season's midway point. Chance Warmack doesn't look like a 10th overall pick so far, and Andy Levitre looks like the shadow of his former self. Michael Oher has maintained his average to below-average ways, and the entire unit has been plagued with a case of the yellow flags. The lone standout has been rookie Taylor Lewan, who has played incredibly well since the veteran Michael Roos went down through injury.
At the skill positions, none have been brighter than Delanie Walker, who has been one of the best tight ends league wide this season both as a blocker and as a pass catcher. Walker is having a career year as he promised. Unfortunately, his supporting cast cannot say the same. Hyped young phenom Justin Hunter has had his fair share of issues, and still doesn't look comfortable in his own pads. Too many drops and tipped passes have neutered his effectiveness on the field, but it is far too early to write him off. He still has the ability to make jaw-dropping plays down the field, and may benefit with having a QB who isn't afraid to test those areas of the field.
Kendall Wright has been a more consistent weapon, but he's hardly been as dangerous as was expected. Like the rest of the skill players, he has suffered from a lack of consistency at QB. Nate Washington has similarly been up and down, but he is still capable of making some impressive catches when the team needs him.
At running back, the Titans have been more confusing than most NFL rosters this year. Bishop Sankey was slowly (some would say far too slowly) worked into the starting lineup, and he has been steady, if unspectacular. I would argue that this is exactly what this offense needs, a steady force that is capable of keeping the chains moving. Sankey has also proven he can be a dangerous player catching passes out of the backfield, despite him not being utilized in this fashion much so far. Behind him Dexter McCluster has been up and down, mainly used to catch passes in some games and barely play in others. Shonn Greene has been hurt (and getting arrested) so there's that...
Much like the offense, the Titans defense hasn't quite turned out as expected. Maybe expectations were erroneous. Tennessee doesn't have enough dynamism at outside linebacker to make a ton of noise with Ray Horton's hybrid 3-4 system. Players have flashed in those roles (Derrick Morgan, Kamerion Wimbley), but none have been consistent at their posts. The Titans will certainly have their work cut out for them over the next offseason to re-think what has so far seemed like a tool shed filled with broken equipment. Lots of it, but broken non the less.
On the topic of linebackers, the inside has been a little more rosy, but not much. Wesley Woodyard was charged with holding down the fort at ILB, a task made all the more difficult when Zach Brown was removed from the picture mere snaps into the season. As a guy who is better suited to situational package-play, Woodyard has been unspectacular. While he can be useful in coverage, he is ill suited to playing down hill against the run. Enter rookie Avery Williamson, who was exactly what the doctor ordered at the position. Williamson has been a hard-nosed down-hill run stopper, and has outplayed expectations from camp. Should he continue with his current level of play, the Titans may have found their figurehead at ILB, which was definitely a massive question mark when the season began.
Jurrell Casey has been an easy target for double teams this season, but when his teammates such as the perennially underrated Ropati Pitoitua have stepped up, he has proven just as deadly as in 2013, against both the run and the pass. Beside him Karl Klug has looked very good when on the field (what's new?) and Sammie Hill has even had his moments.
In the secondary, the Titans have been exposed far too often. While Jason McCourty has been business as usual, his opposite number has not. Blidi Wreh-Wilson has been up and down, with the latter being the more common occurrence. Like Justin Hunter, it is far too early to close the book on a guy like Wreh-Wilson. Best hope is that he returns next season with much needed experience under his belt and ups his level of play.
Behind them, the rookie MarQueston Huff has impressed in spurts. With injury taking Bernard Pollard out of the equation, second year safety Daimion Stafford has also shown up the play. The Titans haven't really lost anything at SS, with Stafford stepping in admirably, and playing physically against the run much like the man he filled in for. Michael Griffin has continued to be a thorn in the defensive hopes of Titans fans everywhere, and despite a few nice turnovers, has been a liability, more so than he was last season.
In the end...
The Titans have a long way to go before seriously competing for the AFC South title, but improvements can often come in leaps and bounds in the NFL. Hopefully, with some consistency at QB and better play in the trenches, the Titans can put themselves in a good position to return with a competitive roster in 2015. After another draft and free agency period, we'll see if the vision for this club on behalf of Ruston Webster and Ken Whisenhunt, proves and effective one, or not.