Tennessee Titans' Week 2 Unit-by-Unit Preview
The Tennessee Titans started the season with a sloppy loss at home to the New England Patriots. Now, they'll be flying out to California to take on the San Diego Chargers, a team that they've never beaten since moving to Tennessee.
The Chargers looked underwhelming as they beat a Raiders squad with more than a few problems, so neither team is a heavy favorite, and the game ought to be a close one.
There will be a few changes in the personnel coming into Week 2 for Tennessee, so what can we expect from the Titans? Here's a breakdown, unit by unit.
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The offensive line looked horrible against the Patriots, but that could be due to an improved Patriots defense as much as it could be to an aging Titans line.
We'll find out this week against the Chargers.
Former All-Pro tackle Michael Roos missed a block on Chandler Jones that resulted in a big play in Week 1, but it could simply have been bad luck. David Stewart seemed to do his job fairly well, though, which is good because he missed time last season due to injury.
I'm inclined to believe that Roos simply had an off game. He's getting older, and his play will certainly start to decline soon, but he still played like a top-five tackle last season, and his drop off, when it comes, won't be that dramatic.
The interior line is a problem.
Vince Wilfork ate Fernando Velasco's lunch every play. The Chargers don't have a nose tackle like Wilfork, so I expect Velasco's play to improve some.
Steve Hutchinson and Leroy Harris didn't fare much better. Hutchinson was regularly beaten by defenders when he pulled, and Harris just lost a lot of battles in the trenches.
I'm really hoping it turns out that the Patriots defensive line is actually really good, because otherwise, the Titans are going to be in trouble.
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Jared Cook played surprisingly well against the Patriots after a lackluster preseason, during which dropped more passes than he caught when he was on the field.
However, he did pretty well against the Pats, catching four of the six passes that were thrown his way for a total of 64 yards. He looked much more like the Jared Cook of the latter part of 2011 than the Jared Cook of the preseason.
Craig Stevens did his thing, blocking relatively well when he was on the field and catching the only pass that went his way.
With Kenny Britt making his first appearance on a football field in nearly a year, the Titans tight ends will probably be a big part of the passing game against San Diego, so I hope to see Cook and Stevens both stay in top form.
This should be a close game, so don't expect to see Taylor Thompson on the field.
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Nate Washington will probably be limited against the Chargers, even though he's expected to play. As of Thursday, he is listed as questionable with a leg contusion that he suffered on the same play that injured Jake Locker.
With the reliable veteran target likely out or limited, Kendall Wright will probably see a lot of playing time again. He had a mixed outing against the Patriots, but he's just a rookie, so I'm eager to see how he does against a lesser team.
The biggest news on the wide-receiver front is, of course, the return of Kenny Britt. When he's on the field, he's one of the most dynamic receivers in the league. The question around him this year is whether he will be as explosive after his season-ending injury.
Even more, there's the question of whether he'll be able to last the rest of the season anyway.
Regardless, the Chargers defense will be focused first and foremost on Britt, which means that Jared Cook, Kendall Wright and Damian Williams will have to step it up if the passing attack is going to go anywhere.
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Chris Johnson had the worst performance of his career, by a wide margin, against the Patriots, and say what you will about the blocking, but the majority of the carries were his fault.
Javon Ringer is listed as out against the Chargers while he still recovers from an elbow infection, so Chris Johnson will have to improve.
Again, the Patriots defense looks tough, so I'm certain he'll improve a little, but a little is not enough.
Any time a $12 million running back only rushes for four yards, it's a serious concern. Johnson needs a big game if he wants to get the idea of cutting him out of the minds of the coaching staff.
If Johnson struggles, I expect Jamie Harper to get more carries. He had one last week, but the Titans didn't get a chance to run the ball much since they were so far behind.
There will be more running plays against the Chargers.
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Jake Locker hurt his left shoulder tackling Patrick Chung, but he's expected to start, which is good.
Despite his less-than-great stat line from the game, he showed a lot of improvement from the preseason. He completed a career-high 71.9 percent of his passes, which is a good number even for guys like Drew Brees and Tom Brady.
He threw one touchdown but was robbed of a second one by blatant pass interference by Devin McCourty, which makes the interception look better by comparison.
The interception, of course, was entirely his fault and showed some bad decision-making, but that will improve in time, so overall, I liked what I saw from Locker.
When Hasselbeck came in, he showed that he is a still a very capable quarterback, immediately leading the Titans down field into the red zone. He was unable to come away with a touchdown, but three points are better than none.
Against a slightly less-dangerous Chargers defense, I think Locker will have an easier time. He'll still probably make some boneheaded moves, but that's just what happens with young quarterbacks.
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Considering that the Patriots offensive line is kind of in flux right now, I expected the Titans to get better pressure on Tom Brady.
Don't get me wrong: The defensive line definitely looks improved from last season. But I don't know if it's improved so much as to be a game-changer. The only sack came from Kamerion Wimbley, who also had a tackle for loss and two quarterback hits.
Jurrell Casey showed no signs of slowing down. He collapsed the pocket regularly and even got to Tom Brady once.
In total, the defensive line had two tackles for loss, four quarterback hits and a sack. Unfortunately, there were also no turnovers, but what do you expect from the Patriots?
The lineup looks to be the same next week. As of Wednesday, Sen'Derrick Marks is questionable to play, so Mike Martin may get another start. Marks looked good in the preseason, so I'm eager to see him show his improvement on the field.
Derrick Morgan had a good outing, getting six solo tackles and a tackle for loss. Hopefully we'll start seeing some sacks from him soon.
San Diego's offensive line may be a little worse off than New England's, so I hope to see some improvement from the Titans front.
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There could be a couple of changes to the linebacker corps this coming week. One that could help, and one that could really, really hurt.
Bad news first: Colin McCarthy is, right now, listed as questionable for the game against the Chargers. He's essentially the quarterback of the front seven, and not having him there affects the entire group.
On a much more basic level, he's a great player, and you want him to be on the field as much as possible to make plays for the defense.
The change that I think would help would be finally putting in Zach Brown over Will Witherspoon. I've been saying for most of the offseason that Brown should start, and I'm not the only one.
Brown had three tackles and a tackle for loss in his limited time against the Patriots. Witherspoon had the same number of tackles, but none for loss in his time on the field.
Since Brown is the eventual starter anyway, the Titans staff may as well just start him now.
After the game against the Patriots, I expect that that will be the case, and Brown will spend most of the night covering Antonio Gates.
Akeem Ayers was as good as usual against the Pats, sealing the edge with 11 total tackles and a tackle for loss. He still hasn't shown much in the way of the pass rush though, and I'd like to see more of that from him.
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I expect much of the same from Tennessee's corner group against the Chargers. They won't face as tough a challenge as they did with Tom Brady, but Philip Rivers isn't exactly someone you can sleep on, either.
First of all, Alterraun Verner did an excellent job covering Wes Welker. Welker was a virtual nonfactor in the game, catching only three passes for 14 yards. Verner was also second in total tackles, with nine, and tied with Akeem Ayers for the most solo tackles (six).
He and Jason McCourty each had a tackle for loss as well, to sweeten the deal.
McCourty had a mixed outing. He certainly limited Brandon Lloyd, who only had five receptions out of eight targets. Lloyd had 69 receiving yards, but that number is deceiving, since 27 of them came from blown coverage in which McCourty should have had safety help.
Both did well, but the Titans are clearly a little weaker without Cortland Finnegan.
With Malcolm Floyd and Robert Meachem looking like the main receiving threats in San Diego, I think McCourty and Verner ought to have it covered. That pair is definitely a notch below Welker and Lloyd. With a slightly lesser receiving group, maybe we'll see the two force some turnovers this time.
I expect to see Tommie Campbell make more of a contribution against the Chargers, as well.
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There were way too many instances of blown coverage from the safeties last week.
The Chargers are not the Patriots, but Rivers has an arm that's as big if not bigger than Tom Brady's, so if the safeties don't pick up the receivers running deep, Rivers will torch the Titans.
Robert Johnson split time with Michael Griffin and Jordan Babineaux, and I don't expect that to change against the Chargers. Johnson is more of a free safety, but the Titans rarely play packages that require a true strong safety, so that isn't important.
Babineaux did the best job of doing what safeties are there to do: picking up guys that get past the rest of the defense. All of Babineaux's four tackles were solo.
Griffin can get big plays, but before he worries too much about that, he needs to start worrying about picking up coverages from the corners before the Titans regret signing him to that big extension.
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Not having Marc Mariani to return kicks and punts is already taking a toll on the Titans. However, Darius Reynaud was great in the preseason, so I'm not going to let a lackluster Week 1 performance worry me just yet.
Reynaud will probably be less eager to make a big play every kick this time around, and he'll be wiser about taking touchbacks, which will give the Titans better field position overall and won't risk hurting the only good returner on the team.
Rob Bironas and Brett Kern both had solid outings against the Patriots, and there's no reason to think that that will change against the Chargers. The same can be said for Beau Brinkley.
The Chargers lost a spark on special teams when they lost Darren Sproles, and they've never gotten it back. Hopefully, Tennessee can take advantage of that and win the field-position battle, which will put them that much closer to winning the game.