Another season...another non post season for the Tennessee Titans. At 7-9, Tennessee must be kicking themselves for failing to capitalize on their numerous opportunities to make the playoffs...especially after losing six of those games by 7 points or less. Watching San Diego (9-7) and Pittsburgh (8-8), two teams the Titans defeated earlier in the season, fight it out for the last playoff spot in week 17 added salt the wound. So what went wrong? Who's to blame?
Let's take a look.
In order to win in today's NFL, you need to have quality qb play. The Titans were average at that position, thus the average end result. Starting qb Jake Locker started out playing well, committing no turnovers through the first four weeks. Tennessee was 3-1 coincidentally, with their lone loss coming on the road...in overtime. Locker was injured in week 5, and the Titans season fell apart. Ryan Fitzpatrick entered, and so did the turnovers (12 int's in 9 starts). Locker returned briefly, only to add four more int's of his own. With so many close games, the qb's, and their turnovers, were largely responsible for the team's slide.
The run game was nothing spectacular (14th in the league, avg 118.4 yds per game), but was productive when asked to be. Newly acquired Shonn Green and Jackie Battle provided the tough short yardage conversions the Titans sorely lacked last season. They also combined for 5 red zone rushing td's. Chris Johnson quietly amassed 1,422 yards form scrimmage, with 10 total td's. It's hard to judge this unit solely by the numbers, as the team's philosophy switched to a shotgun, empty set attack when Fitzpatrick entered the lineup. Which brings me to the passing game.
Coming into the season, the Titans' receivers were touted to be the most talented group the franchise had assembled in Nashville. And Kenny Britt was projected to lead this group with a standout season.
Good news and bad news.
The bad news? Kenny Britt flamed out (no pun intended) early in the season, and made no contribution this year. Consequently, his days as a Titan are over. The good news? This year's receiving corps still managed to be the most talented since moving to Nashville. Following up his league leading rookie reception campaign, Kendall Wright lead the team in receptions (94) and yards (1,079) this season. Wright has established himself as a young star on the rise. Rookie wr Justin Hunter also showed flashes of big play ability (lead team with 19.7 yd per rec), and improved each week as the season progressed. Veteran Nate Washington was his usual steady self (58 rec, 919 yds), and more importantly, continues to mentor the young receivers with his professionalism and tenacious work ethic. And newly acquired te Delanie Walker paid huge dividends in the passing game. Not only was Walker a steady receiver (60 rec), he brought a physicality to the run game that his predecessor could not. The Titans may want to develop another young te, but other than that, this unit lived up to expectations.
Although they finished a modest 14th in total defense, Tennessee made huge strides on that side of the ball. Remember last year's defense? The one that was 28th in the league? Credit assistant defensive coordinator Gregg Williams for, in large part, establishing a much needed identity for that group. Corner back Alterraun Verner lead the team with 5 int's, and earned his first trip to the pro bowl. Defensive tackle Jurrell Casey was a pro bowl snub after notching an insane 10.5 sacks. That's incredibly hard to do at that position. The linebacking corps was an eye sore for the most part, regardless of who played where. Newly acquired safety Bernard Pollard was a nice addition. Like Gregg Williams, Pollard brought a toughness, an identity to that unit. Playing on a one year deal, Pollard has stated that he would like to stay in Nashville. Verner has already expressed that he would test the free agent market. Tennessee would be wise to bring both back.
There was absolutely nothing special about the Titans' special teams unit this year. Darius Reynaud caught the opening kick off of the season at the one yard line. He stepped back into the end zone and downed the ball....for a safety. We should have known then that would be a sign of things to come. Reynaud made more costly errors, ultimately costing him his job. The Titans replaced him with some dude off the street, and he messed up so bad that Tennessee sent him back before the light changed. They finally got it right by signing veteran journeyman Leon Washington, who made an immediate positive impact...averaging 30 yards per return to close the season. This unit cost Tennessee at least two games, and could have been three (Pittsburgh), a mess of a unit to put it nicely.
Head coach Mike Munchak survived black Monday, but is still not out of the water. A decision on his future could come by week's end. Regardless of the coach, if Tennessee does not address the qb, lb, and special teams units quickly, then the coach it'self would not really matter.