10 Things We Learned from Tennessee Titans' 30-7 Win over Tampa Bay Buccaneers
So the Tennessee Titans start the preseason 1-1 after a 30-7 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Don't let the score mislead you—it wasn't pretty. Chris Johnson looked good overall but still has some work to do, and Jake Locker had a mixed outing, with an interception that was about as bad as you can get.
However, the defense was superb, the special teams were good and the running game looks much better overall than it did last season.
Here are 10 things we learned from the Titans' victory over the Buccaneers.
1. Don't Call Derrick Morgan a Bust Just Yet
Derrick Morgan looked very good tonight. He needs to work on his tackling form, but he was a constant presence in the backfield from the first snap.
By the numbers, he had only two tackles and a sack, but he played much better than that.
Pannel Egboh, the player that's been threatening Morgan's starting spot, didn't see the field much against the Buccaneers but posted similar numbers with two total tackles. From what I could tell, though, he wasn't nearly as disruptive as Morgan was.
If Morgan can keep being as disruptive as he was tonight, then he could salvage his status as a first-round defensive end.
2. Darius Reynaud Has Earned a Roster Spot
Where did this guy come from?
After watching Darius Reynaud's impressive performance against the Seattle Seahawks last week, I remarked to a friend of mine that he was pretty good and that is was too bad the Titans didn't have room on the roster for him.
After he posted yet another great performance against the Bucs, though, I have come to the opinion that the Titans staff should find room for him somewhere.
If they don't feel the same way, then they're crazy.
Reynaud had 76 rushing yards on only eight carries along with an additional 88 yards on three total returns. That is simply too good to ignore.
The fact that he can be a kick returner, running back and perhaps even a wide receiver ought to give him enough versatility to make the final roster.
If Marc Mariani starts to get more reps in with the receivers, then the Titans will need a new kick returner anyway.
3. Sen'Derrick Marks Has Taken a Big Step Forward
I've always thought Sen'Derrick Marks was the epitome of unimpressive for his entire career, but if tonight was any indication of how he'll play this season, then he's made a very big change.
Like Morgan, Marks was a constant presence in the Buccaneers backfield. He had two tackles and a sack, and he was a big part of making sure that Tampa had only one passing yard in the first half.
In his three-year career up to this point, Marks has accrued only 58 total tackles and 1.5 sacks. I don't know where his new disruptive abilities came from, but as long as he keeps it up, I don't really care.
With the huge strides that Marks and Morgan seem to have taken, they ought to pair with Jurrell Casey and Kamerion Wimbley to make a very intimidating front four.
4. Last Year's Rookies Are Doing Just Fine
Last year, the Titans started three rookies on defense: Akeem Ayers, Jurrell Casey and Colin McCarthy. Karl Klug also saw a lot of playing time as a pass-rush specialist.
All four had big games tonight.
Jurrell Casey looked every bit as good as he did last season and even seems to have built on it. He didn't just stuff runs in his lane; he also got into the backfield on a regular basis. He was second only to Zach Brown in tackles, with five total.
Colin McCarthy will almost certainly lead the Titans in tackles this season. He was always near the ball, showed great intensity and commanded the full attention of the offense.
Akeem Ayers didn't break out the pass-rush ability that we all want to see from him, but he kept everything on the outside contained and was responsible for Chris Hawkins' interception.
Karl Klug continued to do what he does best: speed rush the quarterback from the interior without even being touched. His sack count ought to be high yet again.
Even Zach Clayton saw some action. He doesn't have any stats to show for it, but he blasted through the second-team offensive line with regularity.
5. The Defense Will Be Great Overall
I guess with as much as I bragged about the defensive players in the last slide, my opinion of the Titans defense is pretty high.
The defensive line looks fantastic overall, but I've covered that pretty well already.
Zach Brown, the Titans' new linebacker, looked very, very un-allergic to contact against the Bucs. He had a team-high six total tackles and one for a loss. With his great speed, he ought to be the starter from Day 1.
Tennessee's pass rush will still be a little below average, and the secondary will make some mistakes, as young as they are.
But overall it looks as though the Titans will have a very good defense this season.
Maybe even a top-10 defense.
Now for some bad news...
6. The Interior of the Offensive Line Still Needs Work
While the rushing numbers were great, you have to remember that the Titans were playing the Buccaneers.
The interior of the Tennessee O-line still looked suspicious at times.
There were a lot of missed blocks. It's hard to tell who messed up when, but there were several times in the game that some interior defensive linemen went through untouched.
There was also trouble with the run blocking. Now, I am aware that the Titans had 216 total rushing yards, but that is due, mostly, to a combination of a few big runs by Chris Johnson and Darius Reynaud and terrible Buccaneers defense.
Chris Johnson's first few runs, and several more early in the game, got stuffed because he had nowhere to run. When he was running off the edge of the tackles, he did just fine, but when he had to go up the middle, he got shut down.
Jamie Harper experienced similar problems.
The Titans have to spend some early picks in next year's draft on interior linemen. It will be a problem this season, and it needs to be fixed as soon as possible.
7. The Titans Need to Figure out 3rd Downs
Speaking of Jamie Harper, in the Titans' first offensive possession, I was baffled why, on 3rd-and-1, they would give the ball to Chris Johnson.
There are several very big running backs on Tennessee's roster who are very useful for just that set of circumstances, so why didn't the Titans use one of them?
For a reference point, Chris Johnson weighs under 200 lbs, while Harper is 235 lbs, Quinn Johnson is 263 lbs and Collin Mooney is 247 lbs.
Then when Jamie Harper later tried to get a short-yardage first down later on, I saw why.
He got stuffed in the box.
Harper doesn't seem to have the whole power-back thing down just yet. He does very well on longer runs, as he showed against the Bucs, but that's not where he serves the team the best.
The coaching staff needs to focus on making him into a power back, or the Titans need to give the ball to the fullbacks in short-yardage situations.
8. The Defensive Secondary Is Going to Have Some Growing Pains
Alterraun Verner and Jason McCourty made a lot of great plays against the Bucs (especially Verner), but there were also some problems you could see early on.
Now, don't get me wrong: I think that the Titans' defensive secondary will be pretty good this season. However, since most of them are pretty young (even more so if Robert Johnson ends up starting over Jordan Babineaux), they will end up making several big mistakes.
The play that comes to mind is one of Josh Freeman's early passes to Vincent Jackson. McCourty tackled Jackson as soon as he caught the ball, but Freeman telegraphed the play, and McCourty should have been able to break it up.
That said, McCourty had a great game overall and kept a two-time Pro Bowler from many receptions.
Still, as the new Titans secondary gets acclimated to starting, there will be little hiccups like that throughout the season.
9. Chris Johnson Looks Much Improved, Still Has Work to Do
By the numbers, Chris Johnson had a great night. He had 10 carries for 46 yards and two touchdowns, but one of those big touchdown runs came against second-teamers, so it isn't as good as it sounds.
Still, Johnson looked much more like CJ2K than the CJ2YPC of early 2011. And to his credit, he acknowledged in a sideline interview that he's still got a lot of work to do.
He did very well in open-field running and running off the tackles, but he was terrible in almost every attempt up the middle. As I said in an earlier slide, a lot of that wasn't his fault, since he had nowhere to go.
He has to help the coaching staff get on the same page as him as far as his routes go. If that means surrendering some runs to bigger backs, then so be it, but not every team will be as easy to run against as the Buccaneers.
10. Jake Locker Isn't Ready to Start Yet
As much as I've started to like Locker over the last year, his performance against the Buccaneers made one thing pretty clear: He isn't ready to start.
At least not yet.
Locker had a mixed outing. It wasn't as bad as the numbers make it appear (he was 4-for-11 with an interception), but he was far from good.
There was some good. Locker clearly has a rocket arm, and he is very capable with his legs. (He rushed for 24 yards.) He was also unfortunate in that a couple of his passes should have been completed but were dropped by receivers.
However, there was also a lot of bad.
The interception Locker threw put the Bucs just outside the goal line, which is how they got their only touchdown. Furthermore, even if he had completed those dropped passes, 6-for-11 isn't the best stat line when you're playing the Buccaneers.
Locker shined at times, but he also showed that he's got a lot of things he still needs to work on.
He simply isn't ready to start.