Pow! On December 1st, 1990, I exploded through my mother's womb and into this strange wild place we call Planet Earth. I slowly started to walk, talk and crap in something other than my pants. About the same time I turned into a person who could get a cup of water for myself, I began to play and watch everything involving a ball and athleticism-soccer, hockey, basketball, football and baseball. Whatever it was, I was hooked. Because of my age, the only memory I have of the Oilers was in 1996, when my Pops took me to Trinity University to watch training camp. The place was vacant as the team ran special teams drills and their powder blue helmets flowed across the turf. Practice ended early. The skies began to swirl with grays and purples. The players huddled off the field into the locker room and out of my mind.
I must admit I never felt a real hatred for the Titans because of my age, akin to someone born in Cleveland in 1990 and despising the Ravens for something they could barely remember. Houston was horrible for so long that the games they played against each other never meant anything at all. Then, when the Texans started to conquer the AFC South, the Titans turned horrendous. The only time I felt some type of malice towards the Titans was when Vince Young scampered into the end zone for an overtime win as the fans cheered louder than they had the whole season. Even then, the anger stemmed from me not understanding the importance of a pass rush and feelings that Houston missed out on a Super Bowl winning quarterback. The opportunity cost is what made my face seethe with steam and not "THEY TOOK OUR TEAM" bellows.
All that being said, I understand the detestation and disgust towards the Titans and their fans the fan base harbors. I now understand the business of sports and how it feels to lose something one loves. So after Week One's win over the crappy Steelers, the NFL world is starting to buzz that the Titans might be a playoff team this year. If this happens and one or two plays of eruptions occurs, I'll probably be spitting venom at the next person I see wearing the flaming thumbtack. Until then, "meh" is my reaction when someone brings up Bud Adams' army of darkness. My blood won't be brimming with vile animosity this Sunday. Nevertheless I am pumped. The only question is whether the Titans are any good this season.
It seems like every time I have written about the Titans, I have to begin by analyzing Mr. Locker's play in the game, week or season before. Last week was more of the same from Mr. Locker. He had another one of his infamous sub-60% completion percentage games that we all know and love him for. In seven of his twelve career starts, his completion percentage was below 60%. So from now on a sub-60% game will be a called a "Locker." If it is below 50%, it's a "Real American," in honor of Blaine Gabbert (he went 16-35 last week, good for 45.7%).
Locker's total line in the win over Pittsburgh looked like this: 11-20, 55%, 125 yards, 6.3 Y/A, 1 sack, and a long pass of 25 yards. He also kept goose eggs in the TD and INT columns. I watched the game this week and it wasn't a case of his receivers not being able to get open or him running for his life. He flat out missed open players. My favorite part of the game, other than Ben Roethlisberger scrambling away at what seemed like every snap, was witnessing Nate Washington and Kenny Britt shake their heads in defeat after Locker underthrew them over and over again. It was like watching a man looking across the bar to see his girl friend stumbling around in a pair of six inch heels. Here's one example of Locker's inaccuracy:
On this play, Locker has Tennessee's big money free agent tight end, Delanie Walker, open down the seam. If he throws the ball inside, the Titans have a long gain and are teleported into the red zone. Instead, Locker randomly throws to Walker's back shoulder and misses him by five yards. It seems like he wears rubber sheets and is so afraid of something horrific happening, he slings dirty diapers in the air like this one.
The only decent play I saw from Locker was when he made some throws outside the pocket. He actually seemed like a decent QB when he had to scramble and make a play happen. The real problems occurred when he had time to sit back, plant his foot and drive the football, which happened on most of his attempts. Locker was sacked once and hit only three times. Consistently, his O-line gave him a nice cozy cushion Little Chef would love to give orders from. Locker is unlike the mouse that can cook. I don't have the numbers, but Locker's accuracy suffered when he played in the pocket. He soiled his pants a little every time he had to think about who to throw to instead of just running around and finding the first guy who was open. Locker has already been inaccurate to start the season. For Tennessee to be better than mediocre, he's going to have to improve in this regard.
Now that the Jake Locker saga has been picked apart like a K-Mart on Black Friday, let's analyze the rest of the Titans' offense from Sunday and their run game. As I said in my season preview, the Titans are going to attempt to run the ball constantly, like waves pounding the shores of Port Aransas. They did succeed at calling a large number of run plays, but they were extremely inefficient in doing so.
The Titans ran the ball 42 times for 112 yards and 1 touchdown, which amounts to 2.67 yards per carry. Chris Johnson may have run for 70 yards, but he did so on 25 attempts (2.8 Y/C) and looked atrocious. On every run, he either A.) missed the cutback and ran into the pile for two yards; B.) bounced around the back field instead of hitting the hole hard; or C.) occasionally found some space on the outside. Chris Johnson is a boom or bust player. He can be a great running back if he can get up into the second level and open space. Last Sunday, he was unable to do that and most of his runs looked like this.
The inefficiency was a combination of the overuse of the run, the lack of fear of the pass (leading to Pittsburgh stacking the box), and Johnson trying to cut everything outside instead of hitting the hole and going. The longest run CJ had was 11 yards on a zone play; I'll get to this later. When he has to run between the tackles, he is a hollow shell of the 2,000 yard rusher Tennessee paid him to be and the one Munchak needs for the Titans to make the playoffs this season. Against good teams (for the record, I thought Pittsburgh would go 6-10 this year), the Titans are going to need more than 2.8 yards a carry from him.
Against Pittsburgh, the Titans ran three plays to death--a trap play, a variation of it, and the weirdest, most deformed version of the zone run game I've ever seen. The trap play is the best of the ones they ran. The goal is to push everyone away from the play before pulling the guard and fullback around the wall they make. These three pictures will help you visualize it.
In the second image, you can really see the wall they make for the guard to pull around and for the FB to lead through. The goal on this play is to counter back away from where the play is perceived to go. The playside linebackers are sucked toward the middle because of how the LT and LG are blocking down. Instead of following his fullback up the hole. Johnson instead decided to bounce it outside, going for the big gain rather than taking the easy six to seven yards he had. The other play Tennessee ran numerous times was a zone play that looks like this:
The offensive line is forcing the defense to the right in a play you would think would be designed for cutbacks. Instead, when I saw this play run, the running back just kept flowing to the right with his blockers hoping something good would happen. It didn't really work unless the TE was able to seal the outside and let Johnson get around the corner into space. Most of the running plays the Titans ran seemed to be designed to get CJ in space and let him do his thing, but it takes away from the yards given to them if they ran straight forward.
The matchup to watch this weekend is Chance Warmack and Andy Levitre against Brian Cushing and Joe Mays (depending on whoever pulls and if they're running strong or weakside). If these two are able to clog the holes and the OLBs stay in their gaps to keep CJ inside between the tackles, the Titans will have another ineffective game running the ball. Since there is a minimal threat of the passing game beating the Texans, they'll shut down the Titans' offense if they keep their stable of running backs at three yards a carry and don't allow any long runs. Since Houston and Pittsburgh both run a 3-4, look for this matchup and these same two running plays to be utilized dozens of times this weekend.
Despite the inadequacies in their offense, the Titans were still able to muster 16 points. I'm a big proponent of luck in football. I believe to find out if a team is any good, it depends not only if you scored, but how you scored. The Titans' scoring drives looked like this:
- TD-Drive Started @ Pittsburgh 49, Ball Received After an INT, 12 plays for 49 Yards.
- FG-Drive Started @ Pittsburgh 45, Ball Received After Pittsburgh Punted From Their Own 9, 11 Plays for 37 Yards.
- FG-Drive Started @ Tenessee 12, Ball Received After Pittsburgh Punted From Their Own 49, 11 Plays for 62 Yards *Drive Included a 24 yard Pass Interference Penalty.*
- FG-Drive Started @ Pittsburgh 17, Ball Received After Pittsburgh Punted from Their Own 7 and Tennessee had a 27 Yard Return, 4 Plays for 8 Yards.
What Tennessee's offense did a stellar job of wasn't moving the ball, but capitalizing on the opportunities the defense put them in. They made the most of their drives, starting around the 50 yard line and were able to do just enough to give the Titans a win. On the Titans' other drives they had plays of 9 for 40 yards, 3 for -5 yards, 3 for 0 yards, 3 for 4 yards, and 8 for 22 yards. To say Tennessee's offense was average is an overstatement.
Let's look at their only TD drive of the day. The Titans ran the ball 11 times for 36 yards, faced two third downs (a 3rd and 1, a 3rd and 2), one fourth down, and threw the ball once (a short pass to Delanie Walker for 8 yards).
The Titans' offensive mantra is, "Don't mess this up, Jake. Do just enough, and run the ball up the middle over and over again.: Really what the Titans are doing is running a middle school offense. Run the ball eight times, throw the ball on 2nd and 3rd and long when they need a chunk, and pray to Durga the other team makes a mistake. I'm guessing Dowell Loggains went to my old stopping grounds, Eisenhower Middle School, this summer to get tips on how to run an offense with an inaccurate quarterback. This type of game plan will lead a team to maybe 7 wins if they get some bounces. Nothing more than mediocrity unless either Johnson runs for 2,000 yards or Jake Locker completes more passes. If Houston's defense can stop their 2.6 yards per carry running game and the offense doesn't make mistakes by giving the Titans a short field, Tennessee will only score 6 points.
The Gregg Williams Era
I also said in my preview the Titans' defense, a card carrying member of the league's worst in 2012, would be better, but that it would not be a top ten defense like the 2008 Titans Mike Munchak is modeling the team after. I said this simply because Gregg Williams will improve the team. They did not spend enough money on a defense that still lacks talent. I may be wrong by saying the team was lacking talent after the stranglehold Tennessee had on Pittsburgh's offense last week. The Titans' front seven ate up the Steelers' offensive line. They bottled up the run by allowing 15 rushes for 32 yards (2.13 Y/C) and made Ben Roethlisberger more uncomfortable than *enter your Big Ben criminal history joke here.*
The other part of their defense that impressed me were the cornerbacks. Roethlisberger is a lot like Andy Dalton. They're each guaranteed a big pass or two every game. The Titans were still able to shut it down. On long passes, the Steelers went 2/7 for 42 yards. That's it. When watching the game, I counted 3 or 4 plays where the corner blanketed the receiver and swatted the pass down when Ben tried to go deep. Pittsburgh's passing numbers on the day were 21/33 (63.6%), 191 yards, 5.7 yards an attempt, 1 TD, and 1 INT. They couldn't get anything going because of Tennessee's secondary and the pass rush the Titans brought. The porous offensive line trend from last year is continuing again this season. The Titans sacked Roethlisberger 5 times for 28 yards lost and hit him another six times. On 21.21% of his passes, Ben was hit or sacked; when watching the game, it seemed like he was under even more duress than that. He was under pressure the entire game and was never able to get anything going.
After Week 1, the Titans are the 3rd ranked defense in the NFL, 6th in passing yards allowed, and second in rushing defense. Despite their lockdown performance, it will be another three weeks or so before we know if they're any good (cue memories of the Arizona Cardinals last season). The Steelers are probably a team who will receive a top ten pick; expectations were high because of the yellow stripe that streaks down the middle of their black helmet. It's going to be extremely interesting to see what the Titans' defense can do against a good offense and what Houston can do against a defense that's currently top ten in the league and is certainly better than the Chargers.
During the game, there were two ways I saw how an offense can attack the Titans' defense. Quick passes worked very well against the Titans. Their linebackers and 3rd/4th corners had trouble in coverage on Sunday. I'm hoping Houston runs more of their empty backfield/two TE offense with Arian Foster, Andre Johnson, DeAndre Hopkins, Garrett Graham, and Owen Daniels. Let Matt Schaub sling it around for 8 yard gains.
The other component that will work is running the ball out of the shotgun. If you read the offensive line piece I wrote, you will know all about wide 9 techniques. Tennessee utilizes their defensive ends the same way on passing downs. When they go wide in their defense, there are gaps larger than those between Michael Strahan's teeth. This image will clarify what I mean.
Williams is trying so hard to get to the QB he's leaving the middle of the front 7 soft and filled with green grass. I'm hoping Kubiak is chuckling and taking notes in his Walker ,Texas Ranger spiral and runs some draws against the Titans in this situation. Houston could average ten yards a carry off the draw when the Titans line up like this. Also regarding the wide 9s, it's going to be an interesting matchup between Duane Brown, who Dwight Freeney abused on Monday night in the same technique, against Derrick Morgan, who had a great game on Sunday. The fun part on Sunday is going to occur when Houston's offense takes on Tennessee's defense.
After one game, the Titans are still an unknown quantify, even after shattering the steel curtain. The defense was incredible, but based on the improvements they made in the offseason, it may have been more because of Pittsburgh's haggard offensive line. Offensively, they took advantage of their opportunities their defense put them in. They ran the ball numerous times. The problem was that they were hilariously inefficient and weren't actually decent at doing it. Just because you do something a lot does not mean you're any good at it. Locker looked the same as last season and handed in another sub-60% performance.
Make no mistake: It will be a tougher game for the Texans than the last few have. Tennessee is more than likely mediocre this season, not the awful we saw last twice last year. On Sunday, I see Houston minimizing their mistakes on offense, containing Chris Johnson on defense, and they end up having one or two more scoring drives than the Titans. If they lose and Tennessee is actually a playoff contender this season, it will only bring me closer to the Titans hatred I seem destined for.
Houston wins 20-6.