AFC South Experiments: Tennessee Titans and the Pass-First Offense

Nate DunlevyGuest ColumnistJuly 16, 2012

Three talented wideouts in Nashville? It's a new day.
Three talented wideouts in Nashville? It's a new day.Grant Halverson/Getty Images

When Jeff Fisher stepped down and Mike Munchak replaced him as head coach of the Tennessee Titans, no one saw it as marking an offensive sea-change.

After all, hiring a long-time Fisher assistant and an ex-offensive lineman isn't the normal path teams take toward a high octane passing offense.

Now, in the second year of the Munchak era, it's clear to everyone that the Titans are experimenting with the pass in unexpected ways.

While it started with the selection of Jake Locker in the 2011 draft and continued with the first-round pick of Kendall Wright this year, the Titans have been drifting toward the pass for several seasons.

Under Fisher, the Titans saw their run/pass ratio slowly creeping upward, matching the overall tendency of the NFL as a whole. Last season, only the Raiders ran more than they passed.

Still, the jump in passing as a percentage of the offense in Tennessee in 2011 represents more than just the general creep toward passing that the NFL is seeing league-wide.

The Titans have fundamentally changed the nature of their offense, and the experiment is running ahead of schedule.

Considering that Locker hasn't even won the starting job yet, it's jarring to see the Titans passing as much as they have been.

Eddie George isn't dead, but if he were, his ghost would be seriously unhappy. Even in the glory years of Steve McNair, the Titans rarely threw 60 percent of the time. Only in the brutal 2004 and 2005 seasons, when the team rarely won and played from behind, did they hit that mark.

Winning and running have gone hand in hand in Nashville from the day the team moved to town.

Those days are gone, and the Titans are finally joining the rest of football in their pass-happy ways.

Even as the Locker/Hasselbeck competition goes down to the wire, the Titans are committed to throwing the ball, as they should be. They now feature the best wideouts in the AFC South. Even if Kenny Britt can't say healthy, Nate Washington and Wright provide plenty of fire power.

While the Titans are now a passing offense, they aren't exactly a vertical one. Not yet. Hasselbeck provides the team with a high-percentage, low YPA style, but you can see the seeds of a deep passing game taking root.

Eventually, the big-armed Locker will take over and the Titans will be looking to his big plays with regularity. Until that day, they are just getting used to shaking off the Fisher-induced cloud of dust that has accompanied the team.

It's fair to say that this is more than just an experiment for the Titans. It's a commitment to a new reality.

Passing wins.