What the Tennessee Titans Must Do to Survive Brutal September Schedule
I'll be shocked if the Titans don't start the season 1-3, but with that schedule, 0-4 is a possibility.
So what must the team do to avoid starting the season without any wins? Here are five things that should keep them afloat until October, when the schedule gets a little lighter.
1. Last Year's Rookies Must Not Stumble
Tennessee's defense boasted four rookies that either started or had regular reps on the field by the end of last season. Akeem Ayers didn't get many sacks, but he was excellent as a run defender; Jurrell Casey outplayed nearly every other tackle in his class; Colin McCarthy racked up a huge number of tackles and Karl Klug managed seven sacks.
However, for the Titans to come out of September with more than one win on the board, all these sophomore players must keep up the good work.
With four of last year's rookies presumably starting all season (or in Karl Klug's case, taking snaps on pass-rushing downs all season), they'll need to step up and lead the team if they want the Titans to get over the hump.
If they do, and Tennessee gets an instant impact from this year's rookies, specifically Kendall Wright, Zach Brown and Mike Martin, then they'll have a tough defense and an explosive passing offense.
Speaking of the passing offense...
2. They Must Establish Their Offensive Identity Immediately
The Titans have been very public about changing to an offense that likes to pass the ball more. After all, they did take a wide receiver with their first overall pick.
However, they also have a three-time Pro Bowler at running back who looks to be back in shape, a tight end who finished 2011 strong, and a new tight end with a ton of athleticism.
Is Tennessee going to run a Packers-style offense, one that keeps the ball in the air all game long? Will they be like the Patriots and rely on two tight ends to eat up yards? Will they go back to running the ball more often than not if Chris Johnson returns to form?
These are all questions that the Titans need to have answered before their first game. They won't have the luxury of seeing what works well and what doesn't with the schedule they have.
No matter what offense they want to run, one simple truth is that...
3. They Must Run the Ball Better
Tennessee finished with the 31st-ranked rushing offense last season, which is even worse when you remember that in 2008, they had the best offensive line in the NFL, and in 2009, Chris Johnson set a new record for total yards from scrimmage.
Blame the run blocking, or blame Chris Johnson's lack of offseason workouts or blame whoever else you want. No matter who was at fault, it cannot be allowed to happen again.
When Tennessee runs the ball effectively, defensive coordinators have to completely change their plans to account for Johnson. If the Titans can keep defenses focused on Johnson, it'll open up Hasselbeck or Locker to see how good a weapon Kendall Wright can really be.
Of course, none of this will matter if the Titans can't...
4. Get the Injuries under Control
The Titans have seen way too many injuries lately.
Last season, Kenny Britt's season was yet again cut short by injury. It seems like he'll be ready for the start of the season, but with his injury history, you never know how long he'll be on the field.
Derrick Morgan, who the Titans will want to see a big year from after a disappointing first two seasons, has also missed out on a lot of games because of injuries.
Then there are players who have suffered some kind of injury in the offseason. Eugene Amano and Leroy Harris both had to surrender first-team snaps in practice to their backups. When you remember that David Stewart also missed some time last season because of injury, the offensive line starts to look shaky.
On top of all of that, the presumed starting quarterback will be turning 37 next season, and the starting left guard is 34. The Titans are a young team overall, but two injured players at key positions is all it would take to derail a season.
5. Be Certain of Their Quarterback Decision
This is probably the most important thing going into the season. Whether the Titans pick Matt Hasselbeck or Jake Locker to start, they need to be confident that their choice is the right one.
Now I'm not advocating one or the other, as I think there are advantages to starting either one, but whichever one starts, he needs to have a secure place as the starter.
Nothing will tear apart a team quite like a quarterback controversy. If the rest of the team doesn't think the same player will be starting next week, it's hard for them to rally around their signal caller and pull off an upset.
If the Titans want to win more than one game in September, their quarterback must have some job security.
With that and a few of the other things on this list, the Titans could survive September with a respectable record.