I haven’t done as much football blogging as I’d expected, and even less about the Tennessee Titans, my favorite team (native Houstonian… yeah, they moved, but I moved first, so I’m not complaining). With a 27-20 victory over Cincinnati today, the Titans moved to 3-5 entering the bye week at the halfway point of the season. So far, I’ve seen two of their games, the loss against Indianapolis in Week 2 and the win against Green Bay on Monday night in week 6, and listened to the other six games on NFL.com indispensable FieldPass. I don’t claim to have much insight, especially compared to people who’ve been following the team closely, but here’s my take on what’s been going on.
Quarterback: Billy Volek has been the Titans’ primary quarterback in three games thus far, the losses at San Diego and Minneapolis and today’s victory over Cincinnati. He played poorly against Minnesota after coming on early but didn’t do too badly in either of the other games. Steve McNair is, of course, the starter, but so far this year even when he’s played he hasn’t been the same Steve McNair Titans fans have been cheering the past three or so seasons. Part of this undoubtedly has to do with the receiving corps, but given the other things that have happened, like missing a wide open Derrick Mason in the back of the end zone on the 2 point conversion try in the loss to Jacksonville, he’s either suddenly gotten a lot worse or is playing with injuries that were significantly performance-affecting. He was the third quarterback today and was on the sidelines, but he wasn’t in uniform. He seemed to do better against Green Bay after not playing the week before, so hopefully today’s rest and next week’s bye will enable him to return to health. Volek’s a capable player, but the Titans only have one quarterback capable of going out and winning games, and McNair is it, even if he hasn’t done it much this year.
Running back: Chris Brown has been a revelation. He did some positive things last year, notably in the playoff win over Baltimore, but rushing for 100 yards in the first half multiple times this year, 32 carries for 147 yards today after almost going on the inactive list because of turf toe… after Eddie George, the late career edition, it’s been marvelous to see a Titan running back show that extra burst of speed we’ve been missing. Antowain Smith hasn’t done much this year, but part of that has been Brown’s fault for being so good. 3rd and one has been a problem area for the Titans this year, though, and I almost wonder if it wouldn’t be wise for them to try running Smith in those sort of situations, since Brown doesn’t seem to be the sort of back who has consistently shown he can get the extra 6 inches in those situations. Other guys? Robert Holcombe has been Robert Holcombe, while Troy Fleming has made some positive plays had might see more of a role if he can stop making the mistakes that aren’t always visible on the radio broadcast.
Wide Receivers: Last year, Justin McCareins led the NFL in percentage of catches that went for first downs. This stat doesn’t actually mean he was the most valuable receiver in the league, but it does suggest just how valuable he was. Now, he’s a member of the New York Jets. Tyrone Calico was supposed to step into that role, and be a guy with speed who could be a deep threat; only he was injured and is now out for the year. Derrick Mason has been D-Mase, security blanket to Titans QBs, but Drew Bennett, King of the Undrafted Free Agents, hasn’t been either the deep threat or the ball-catcher he was last year. We found out a couple weeks into the season he’s been playing with injured ribs, and the depth issues at WR the Titans have had suggest maybe he’s played more than he should have. You can’t not love a guy who decides to run a marathon the day before, but I’d like to see him make more plays on the field in the second half. Jake Schifino? Parting isn’t always such sweet sorrow; good luck, have a nice career, don’t let the door hit ya in the rear on the way out. Eddie Berlin’s evidently been a trooper, but he’s nowhere near a #2 receiver talent-wise; valuable player, particularly this year, but limited. Darrell Hill? I have no reason to believe this won’t be his last year from the Titans; he’s in his third year in the league and with the team, and I doubt that next year people will be reliving their favorite Darrell Hill memories with each other.
Tight ends: Erron Kinney has been injured, but should be back after the bye week, which is very good news. Shad Meier had an appendectomy a couple weeks ago and missed a couple games, but is back; 3 yards a catch doesn’t get you very far, but he’s more of a blocker. If Ben Troupe hadn’t been a 2nd round draft pick, he would have been cut after training camp and Dwayne Blakely would have made the team. Troupe’s evidently been inconsistent in running his routes and catching balls that are thrown to him; toss in mediocre blocking skills and you end up with more of a project than a team like the Titans needed this year out of a draft pick that high.
Offensive line: Guard Zach Piller is out for the year; O-line consistency is important and Piller’s been a solid player for the Titans. Rookie Jacob Bell has been his replacement. From what I saw in the Green Bay game, Bell is an enthusiastic and competent run blocker, following the play down the field, not bad at pulling. He didn’t do so well in the passing game, often getting double team help from Justin Hartwig but showing definite space for improvement. The rest of the OL? Solid but unspectacular; Chris Brown makes them look better than Eddie George did, but they’re giving upmore sacks than they did last year. You can’t tell how many of those are because of the O-line, the QB, or the receivers, but it’s a benchmark stat for an O-line and it’s not a pretty one.
Enough blathering about the Titans for now. I plan to comment about the rest of the team, probably in the next few days. [Or not.]