Wednesday, June 13, 2012
Let's Talk Titans
Call me crazy, but I think the Titans have a real shot at winning the AFC South, or at the very least a wild card.
My hopes are not unfounded.
The return of Chris Johnson:
CJ2K (or CJ1K if you want to get cute), for all intents and purposes, had a down year last year. I'll admit it. Holding out did no favors for him last year statistically, but it did line his pockets.
After a maddening slow start to the season, Johnson ripped off 500 yards in four games, barely eclipsing the 1,000-yard mark for the fourth consecutive season.
With an off-season learning the new playbook under Munchak and extra muscle to bounce on the inside, I look for Johnson to rebound and have an above average season. The Titans will look to throw more with newly added Kendall Wright and a healthy Kenny Britt, but that should open up more running lanes for the ever-elusive Johnson, who actually had his best season receiving last year with 57 catches in 2011.
Johnson also has the added bonus of off-season acquisition Steve Hutchinson, who I think will play a Mawae-like role for the offensive line. Hutchinson has blocked for Shaun Alexander and Adrian Peterson, both world-class runners who flourished during Hutchinson's tenures on their respective lines. Look for the run-blocking to improve drastically over last year.
The passing game:
No quarterback competition is as exciting as Hasselbeck and Locker, who are currently wrenched in a deadlock right now.
While Matt is easily the craftier, wiser veteran, Locker has obvious intangibles that make him dangerous inside and out of the pocket.
Armed with a long deep ball and a quick set of legs, Locker could be the starter based on youth and raw talent alone, however I could see Matt winning this match-up based on his rapport with the receivers and his ability to hit the middle throws with major accuracy.
It was obvious that Hasselbeck and Britt had major chemistry at the start of last season. An unfortunate series of events sent Britt to the bench with a torn-ACL.
However, Matt calmly found other targets as Nate Washington, Jared Cook, Jr. and Damian Williams had career years with Hass at the helm.
Despite the cries for defensive line and offensive line help in the draft, first-round talent Kendall Wright was an excellent choice for the Titans, especially from a value standpoint.
Wright will immediately produce for the Titans out of the slot. He is a huge match-up nightmare for the LBs who will be patrolling the middle and will force defenses to respect the slant-routes, opening up the running game and producing one-on-one match-ups on the outside for Britt and Washington.
He can also play Britt's position with a good confidence, providing another #1, should Britt have trouble again.
Britt, Washington, Cook, Wright, Williams, Hawkins. Solid, young core, indeed.
The defense is young and ready:
The word out of OTAs is that Jason McCourty is ready to lead the secondary and take his game to the next level.
He and Verner provide a pretty nasty tandem and should allow Michael Griffin and Jordan Babineaux to fearlessly roam the backfield.
Akeem Ayers, Colin McCarthy and Zach Brown form one of the youngest LB cores in the NFL, but I'm not worried. McCarthy and Ayers flashed moments of greatness last year, especially McCarthy, who filled in for the oft-injured Barrett Ruud at middle linebacker, and rather admirably, playing the pass extremely well down the stretch. Ayers is a really strong edge rusher and plays the run with authority. He got caught out of position several times last year, but I expect his discipline to be far better this year with a season under his belt.
After whiffing hard on signing Mario Williams, Bud Adams found consolation in Kamerion Wimbley, a strong edge rusher with experience at OLB. He'll play a bookend to Dave Ball, who (when healthy) also provides a strong pass rush. Wimbley can also fan out and play the pass on zone-option plays, a wrinkle the Titans defense hasn't had in awhile.
Karl Klug should also take a big step forward from last year, and that's scary, considering he was an absolute monster in 2011.
The special teams are special, indeed:
Rob Bironas is as automatic as it gets, and he's not getting worse. Get inside the 35-yard line, and he's going to split the uprights.
Mariani is the big question mark here. Rumor has it Mariani struggled to pick up the nuances of playing WR last year and that he is replaceable in the return game. With the Titans so deep at WR, this could be trouble for Marc, however there is no clear decision yet as to where he'll fall in the scheme of things until August.
The coaching has had a year now to develop a system:
And honestly, I think it's going to look good. Everything really started to fall into place about midway through last year. One more win and the Titans would've had the wildcard instead of the upstart Bengals.
While the schedule is not kind for the Titans, who open at home against the Patriots and play the NFC North, the schedule is just as tough for the rest of the division. I look for the Titans to split with Houston and beat Jacksonville and Indianapolis twice, going 5-1 in the division. If the Titans can go 5-5 in non-division play, look for Tennessee to make it into the post-season.
It's an exciting year to be a Titans fan. I may have my expectations a little high, but hey, who doesn't?
Forecast: 10-6 (division winner/wildcard)
POSTED BY: Edward Marlowe