The Titans got the 2014 season off with a bang, taking down the Kansas City Chiefs 26-10 in a great all-around performance, highlighted by a sharp Jake Locker on offense, and Jason McCourty's two interceptions on defense.
Jake Locker was the offensive MVP of the game, going a cool 22-33 and 266 yards, notching his first two touchdowns of the season and avoiding turning the ball over. The fourth year passer looked poised and in control of the offense, picking apart the Chiefs defense and orchestrating a number of extended drives; spreading the ball around to his play-makers. Locker was smart with the football, and showed nice touch on a solid touchdown toss to Delanie Walker. Another such impressive throw also ended up in Walker's mitts, when a rightward-sliding Locker zipped the ball in between two defenders for a first down. Throughout the game Locker stood tall in the pocket, despite fierce pressure from the Kansas City defensive front, and made good decisions. It was certainly a day that should open eyes on Jake Locker around the league.
Locker's even distribution prevented any eye-popping individual games from his receivers and tight ends, but Kendall Wright (6 catches for 46 yards, TD) and Justin Hunter (3 catches for 63 yards) thrived. Nate Washington (4 catches for 59 yards) looked his usual savvy self, and Delanie Walker (3 caches for 37 yards, TD) looked confident as well, despite one drop in the redzone. Walker reeled in the Titans first score of the season, and Wright the second, to give the Titans a clear advantage on the day. There were very few miscues by the receivers, with they and Locker seeming to be on the same page during the entire contest. Whisenhunt also deserves credit for an excellently called game on that side of the ball.
The Titans running back group was consistent throughout, without any huge plays to their credit. That said, they kept the offense "on schedule", helping to eliminate the 3rd and forevers that had become all too common in 2012 and 2013. They also converted in convincing fashion on the short yardage situations. A team is much more dangerous if they know they can consistently get the first down on the ground on 3rd and 2.
Shonn Greene was the bell cow, ending up with 70+ yards, and Dexter McCluster, the ex-Chief, got heavily involved both on the ground and in the air. The Chiefs seemed to struggle at times corralling McCluster, who took advantage of their slower defensive sets, inside and out. Rookie Bishop Sankey got his number called in the 2nd half, and showed some nice burst and strength on his carries. The Titans also rolled out Leon Washington on offense more than I expected, who ran proficiently as well. The Titans operated out of the gun more than in years past, with some nice PA draws and sweep plays mixed together nicely. The loss of Derrick Johnson on the opposing sidelines hampered their ability to stop the Titans rushing attack, but it was the convincing balance of the effort that hurt Kansas City, not any one big play.
The Titans certainly need to see more results from their offensive line. The group features a lot of talent that the FO has invested in heavily over the past couple of seasons. The edges were mostly contained courtesy of Michael Roos and Michael Oher, but the interior struggled to cope with the Chiefs defensive talent. Andy Levitre was notably outmatched on a few plays, which needs to be cleaned up if the Titans want to keep Locker healthy. Dontari Poe also proved a challenge for Brian Schwenke, and Chance Warmack was called on a couple of false starts. They were better in the running game, but it was a painfully mediocre-to-poor performance overall.
On the defensive side of the ball, Ray Horton's unit came out in strength. Despite some pre-season concerns, the group swarmed to the ball, and was a relentless source of interior pressure. Jurrell Casey collapsed the pocket a handful of times, and was effective against both the run and pass. The performances of Ropati Pitoitua and Sammie Hill were also impressive and well-rounded. Karl Klug got in on the action as well, coming out of the contest with a sack and a few impressive take-downs. The Chief's dearth of offensive line talent was on display in this one, with each taking his turn giving up pressure to the relentless Titan defenders. Their pressure on Alex Smith, coupled with solid secondary coverage, forced QB scrambles which ended up constituting a majority of the Chiefs yards on the ground.
The Titans were equally impressive at the linebacker group. Derrick Morgan headlined the day there, playing admirably as a pass rusher and nearly earning a pick on a first quarter play that showcased his athletic ability. Zach Brown left early in the first quarter with an injured shoulder and didn't return, but in his stead Wesley Woodyard was even more active, chasing down both Jamaal Charles and Alex Smith when he scrambled to the periphery. The former Bronco ended the day as the Titans leading tackler with five stops and a sack to his credit. Shaun Phillips also had a good showing. The unit had some trouble keeping up with the athletic Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce, but made good on their mistakes by remaining consistent in covering the underneath zones, and playing down hill against the run. Like the rest of the Titans team, the linebackers were too often penalized, but you can't fault their efforts. The corps was a concern heading into the season, but they did a lot to ease those worries following this impressive showing; one in which they held Jamaal Charles to a paltry 19 yards on the ground.
In the secondary, the Titans' Jason McCourty tallied two interceptions in the first half, both of which ended up in Titan scores. Blidi Wreh-Wilson and Coty Sensabaugh were also well-polished in coverage, forcing Alex Smith to find space and time when all his receivers were covered. Both McCourty and Wreh-Wilson had some issues with Donnie Avery, who ended up with 7 catches and 84 yards on the day, but they held strong when it counted, keeping the Chiefs from building any rhythm and dominating match-ups physically across the board.
Michael Griffin kept a lid on the deep ball, culminating by a heads-up interception to ice the game in the fourth quarter. George Wilson was penalized for shot to the head which extended a Chiefs drive, but did put forward the effort to slow down before the hit and led with his shoulder. It was similar to a call made last year on teammate Michael Griffin. Bernard Pollard was a tone setter again, coming down into the box when asked to stymie Jamaal Charles.
The Titans made the right call signing Succop. The former Chief was automatic, going 4 of 4 from varying distances and overshadowing his old teammate Cairo Santos, who struggled with his accuracy for Kansas City. The Titans coverage unit was solid, though much of their work was done by Succop, who consistently booted the ball through the Chief's end zone. An early fumble by Leon Washington on a kick return was ominous, but it proved to be an out-lier rather than a rule.
While Ken Whisenhunt will most certainly lament the team's high penalty count and offensive line miscues, he has to be happy with the overall effort on opening day on the road in a hostile Arrowhead (a stadium the Titans quickly quieted). The consistent efforts of Jake Locker and the Titans skill players put points on the board on a very talented defense, and did their own defenders a favor by maintaining extended offensive drives. Ray Horton's defense had it's coming-out party, and played well on all three levels. McCourty gets the game ball for his two impressive turnovers, which helped lead the Titans to their first victory of the Whisenhunt era, and hopefully, the first of many to come.