Titans vs. Vikings: Tennessee's Biggest Winners and Losers from NFL Week 5
There isn't a lot of good you can say about a 30-7 loss, even when you're playing with your backup quarterback, and that's exactly what happened to the Tennessee Titans in Minnesota.
It was ugly, it was one-sided and it was a loss, so there isn't really much good that you can take away from it. However, the night is darkest just before the dawn, and the Titans' schedule gets a lot easier from here on out.
So, even though it was an ugly loss, there are some players who can be called winners this week. Here are 10 winners and losers on Tennessee's side from this week's matchup with the Minnesota Vikings.
Winner: Darius Reynaud
Another one of the very few bright spots for the Titans this season has been Darius Reynaud, who's shown himself to be a dangerous kick returner.
After a couple of very solid returns, the Vikings started booting the ball into the stands every time they kicked off. That shows me teams respect his ability as a punt returner, which is good news for Reynaud, since he plays a very replaceable position.
If a team fears your kick returner, then his job is probably safe, so Reynaud ought to sleep well tonight.
Loser: Jerry Gray
I had very high expectations for Tennessee's defense coming into 2012. 2011's squad was tough, young and very promising. Despite the loss of Cortland Finnegan, the group added Kamerion Wimbley, Zach Brown and Mike Martin, so there was every reason to be optimistic.
However, five games in the Titans defense is statistically the worst in the league, and it's starting to look like Jerry Gray's system isn't working.
The Titans are last in several defensive categories, including number of points scored and time of possession. This is the same defense that, outside of the pass rush, was excellent a year ago.
Not to mention there are still playmakers there. Verner has shown that he can make very big plays, as have Kamerion Wimbley, Derrick Morgan, Jurrell Casey, Colin McCarthy and Akeem Ayers, amongst others.
When you have playmakers who aren't making plays, then something that you're doing needs to change.
Winner: Interior Defensive Line
The interior defensive line has been one of the few consistent bright spots for the Titans this year. Sen'derrick Marks, Jurrell Casey and Mike Martin have been doing a great job at collapsing the pocket and stuffing the run inside the tackles.
This game was no different. Mike Martin was particularly impressive, getting a sack and a quarterback hit along with three solo tackles. Jurrell Casey did his part too, absorbing double-teams on several plays and getting some penetration.
Sen'Derrick Marks didn't make a big impact from a numerical standpoint, but he did get into the backfield more than once and had a couple of tackles.
They didn't do much in the way of hurrying Christian Ponder, but with wide-open receivers due to blown coverage (more on that later), Ponder didn't need much time to hold onto the ball.
Loser: Chris Johnson
I think it's safe to say that the game against the Texans was a fluke.
This week, Chris Johnson was back to averaging under two yards per carry, and for the fourth time this season, he had the lowest average amongst all rushers on the Titans offensive squad.
The Vikings did do a solid job of bottling him up, and Johnson would certainly do better with better blocking, but if all you're getting from Johnson is what the offensive line gives him, then he's not doing his job. If that's the case, that $13 million the Titans owe him next season could be better spent.
Javon Ringer and Jamie Harper could see more carries so the Titans can see what they have if they let Johnson go, except...
Loser: Javon Ringer
You'd think that, after Chris Johnson's awful performance again in Minnesota, Javon Ringer would start to get some carries. Unfortunately for Ringer, he went down with what appeared to be a knee injury late in the fourth quarter.
Ringer had just recovered from an elbow infection that got out of hand, and averaged seven yards per carry against the Texans last week. With Johnson's struggles rearing their ugly heads again, Ringer would certainly have started to get more carries going forward.
Now there's no word, as of yet, how serious Ringer's injury is, but if he misses some time, he could end up costing himself a huge opportunity.
Winner: Zach Brown
Will Witherspoon started the game on the weak side, but he only stayed on long enough to register one tackle before rookie Zach Brown replaced him.
Brown wasn't fantastic by any stretch of the imagination, but he had a solid game, picking up seven total tackles and a tackle for loss.
As bad as Witherspoon has been so far this season, I think it's safe to say that Brown has finally taken over as the starting weak-side linebacker. Now hopefully he'll be able to do something about this tight end problem.
Loser: Chris Palmer
Yeah, that's right. Both Titans coordinators are losers today.
The Vikings have a stout defense, but they aren't good enough to keep the Titans from the scoreboard as utterly and completely as they did today. Now as I said, the running game was awful, and the passing game was just as bad.
It wasn't just that Hasselbeck was throwing somewhat wildly, or that some receivers dropped balls. The problem was much, much larger than that. On more than one play, Hasselbeck missed a wide open Jared Cook in favor of his (probably) hot read option, who was covered up.
These problems were consistent, and they didn't go away until the Vikings defense went into prevent mode in the fourth quarter. What the Titans were doing offensively wasn't working, and it wasn't working consistently. Yet they kept doing the same thing.
They could have tried a few different things, like running more screens, or putting in more two-tight end sets or anything. But they didn't, and that is not going to win many football games.
Winner: The Titans' Draft Stock
I don't think anyone really expected the Titans to be in playoff contention this season, and so the way I see it, the more games they're losing (especially when the team is banged up, like it is now), the better off they'll be in the future.
If the Titans end up with a top 10 pick, they could end up with the best defensive end or cornerback in the class at their fingertips, and either of those would be a huge boon to the team right now.
An end like Sam Montgomery or Bjoern Werner would finally get the pass rush where it needs to be, and they'd combine with Derrick Morgan and Kamerion Wimbley to make a pretty good group.
On the other hand, a shutdown corner like Xavier Rhodes or DeMarcus Milliner would make the Titans' crop of corners one of the best groups in the league.
Or they could trade down and grab several picks to use on the offensive line, and pick up guys like Barrett Jones, Jonathan Cooper or Dallas Thomas.
Either way, the Titans will be able to add some much-needed talent to the roster with the high draft pick they're almost certain to have now.
Loser: Titans Safeties
The safety play in Tennessee has been lacking to say the least. Michael Griffin is particularly infuriating, since he has just signed a big $35 million extension to his contract. However, he, Jordan Babineaux and Robert Johnson have all been frustrating to watch.
Lots of plays seem to be going to uncovered receivers who were supposed to be covered by one of the safeties. Blown coverage is nothing new to the Titans defense, but it was something that Jerry Gray's defense was supposed to fix.
However, as the season has gone on, teams have found that they can pass against the Titans at will. Part of this is mistakes by the young corners Jason McCourty and Alterraun Verner, but it seems to me to be mostly on Griffin and Babineaux.
There's a good safety class in next year's draft. Maybe the Titans ought to start thinking about spending an early pick on one.
Winner: Jake Locker
Now I don't mean to disrespect Matt Hasselbeck—he's done nothing but good for the Titans organization since he was brought in. However, it is clear at this point that his days as an elite quarterback are over.
Jake Locker was struggling a little here and there, which should be expected. After all, it's his first year as a starter and he opened with a rough schedule. However, after Hasselbeck threw a couple of touchdowns against the Texans, people were starting to wonder if Hasselbeck might steal Locker's spot.
After this game, I think we can put those rumors to rest. When Locker gets healthy again, this will unquestionably be his team. Even if he continues to struggle every now and then, he'll know his job is absolutely safe.
All that said, I think the Titans still would have probably lost if Locker had been starting, but I also think they would have been a little bit more watchable.
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