Well, well, well. Look what the Titans found. The win column. And after Tennessee’s 30-13 pasting of Jacksonville last Sunday, the media immediately praised quarterback Vince Young for leading the Titans to victory.I’m not buying that Young was the reason that the Titans won. But I’ll make a case that the Titans aren’t as bad as their record (1-6) shows, let’s take a look at what happened Sunday, and what’s happened so far to put them in the AFC South basement:
1. A commitment to the run. The Titans ran the ball 49 times against the Jaguars, the 30th time since Jeff Fisher became the head coach in 1995. In those games, the Titans are 29-1. Sunday, those 49 carries translated into 305 yards, second-most in team history.
2. Giving VY a chance. Vince Young was not asked to do much. He completed 15 of 18 attempts for 125 yards and a score. Most of those attempts were 10 yards or less, essentially an extension of the running game which the Titans executed very well. Young did what was asked of him, and no more. It’s been the formula for him since he’s been in the league, and that will remain the same going forward.
3. Defensive help. With the exception of two long Maurice Jones-Drew runs (that featured poor tackling), the Jags’ offense was pedestrian, at best. Having Cortland Finnegan back helped out tremendously, and he helped hold top target Mike Sims-Walker to just two catches for nine yards.
The year’s problems
1. Pass defense. It’s been bad since that Week 1 loss at Pittsburgh. Ranked no higher than 26th, as of now they are dead last in the NFL in passing yards allowed. Kyle Vanden Bosch finally recorded his first sack of the year last week, an indication that the pass rush has been non-existent for most of the year. New defensive coordinator Chuck Cecil has had problems getting the coverages adjusted, and they’ve been gashed by opposing quarterbacks.
2. Special teams problems. It’s a bad thing when you’re constantly rotating kick returners like the Titans have. Fumbles on punts cost the Titans a shot at beating the Jets in New York, and the carousel of those fielding punts has twirled since then. Punter Craig Hentrich was lost for the year with a strained thigh after the Houston game, and three different punters have been used since then.
3. Other key injuries. Cornerback Cortland Finnegan missed three games, and his replacements have not performed well. The other starter at cornerback, Nick Harper, has missed the last two games. Having Finnegan back helps out the pass coverage, but it’s not the whole answer. Defensive end Jevon Kearse has also missed the last three games, which has hurt the pass rush.
4. A tough schedule to start with. That overtime loss to Pittsburgh and the Houston game the following week were games the Titans should have won, for various reasons.
The Titans’ first seven opponents (and that counts Jacksonville, who has the worst record among the bunch, twice) have a combined record of 32-19. Count the Jags’ record just once, and it still comes out to 29-15. Brutal.
Things can get better for the Titans in a hurry. After a trip to San Francisco, the Buffalo Bills come into LP Field on Nov. 15. Two quick wins would put them at 3-6 with a favorable closing stretch to the season. Now, I’m not suggesting that the Titans finish the year with 10 straight wins, that’s not likely.
But it’s also not likely that they go back into the tank and win less than four games. The schedule’s too easy the rest of the way for that to happen. Out of the final nine games, only four take place against teams with winning records. Only two of those (Indianapolis and Houston) come against teams with more than four wins.
So yes, the Titans are still a dismal 1-6. But it could be worse. You could be like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and sitting at 0-7, and have nothing to look forward to except next year’s first draft pick.