Chiefs vs Titans: Takeaways from Tennessee's 26-17 Loss to Kansas City
It was a close game, and considering the Titans were playing without starting quarterback Jake Locker, you have to feel good about the future of the team.
Besides, Kansas City is an unbeaten squad right now, so losing a close one to them isn't the worst loss in the world.
What makes it worse is knowing that if the Titans had settled for a field goal on fourth down instead of going for the touchdown and hadn't given the Chiefs an early touchdown with the horrible mistake on special teams, it may have come out the other way.
Still, the Ryan Fitzpatrick era of the season could have started in a worse way. Here are seven things to take away from the loss.
1. Center Is Still the Weak Link in the Offensive Line
Overall, the Titans have a very good offensive line. It's not the best in the league, but with Michael Roos, Andy Levitre, rookie Chance Warmack and David Stewart, it's up there.
The weak link in the group, though, is center Rob Turner. The Titans have been pretty poor running between the tackles all season, and while a lot of this is because defenses have been stacking the box, some of it falls on Turner.
Against the Chiefs, Turner got dominated by Dontari Poe. Again, it's hard to fault him too much, because Poe is a freak of nature, but even in prior games, Turner has gotten pushed around.
The Titans kept Turner on instead of former starter Fernando Velasco, who had been tendered in the offseason. The only reason I can think of that the Titans would let someone like Velasco go is because they feel good about rookie Brian Schwenke.
I think the Titans saw both Turner and Velasco as stop-gaps for Schwenke, so they went with the cheaper option. Schwenke was injured during the offseason, so they may be letting him heal a bit more, but if running up the middle continues to be a problem, don't be surprised to see Schwenke hit the field.
2. Playmakers Are Appearing on Defense
Alterraun Verner almost came away with another two interceptions against the Chiefs. He didn't make either, but because he was coming into the game leading the NFL in both takeaways and defended passes, he's still sitting pretty.
Verner has become a consistent playmaker so far this season, and he's not the only one.
Jurrell Casey has been a blue-collar defender who won't make big plays very often, but he will absorb double-teams and play mistake-free defense pretty consistently. He was quiet against the Chiefs, but for the season, he has three sacks and two deflected passes.
Zach Brown is another emerging playmaker. He's constantly around the ball, and for his season, he also has three sacks, a deflected pass and a forced fumble.
Bernard Pollard, who I thought was more of an attitude guy than a playmaker, has also been coming up big when the Titans need him to. He leads the team in tackles, has a pair of interceptions, some deflected passes and even a blocked kick.
The loss against the Chiefs aside, the Tennessee defense seems to have taken the next step from a pretty good unit to an elite one.
3. The Gap Between Jake Locker and Ryan Fitzpatrick Isn't That Big
Ryan Fitzpatrick looked awful in the first half. The Titans were halfway into the second quarter before they even got a first down, and in the first half, Fitzpatrick completed only five of 15 passes, and three of those completions were on the Titans' last possession of the half.
However, after he shook off the rust, he came back swinging. He completed 16 of 26 passes in the second half, including a huge touchdown throw to Chris Johnson. He did throw a couple of interceptions, but only one was really his fault.
To my surprise, he also scrambled six times for 50 yards and a touchdown.
Overall, his stat line included 21 of 41 passes for 247 yards and two total touchdowns to two interceptions. There is a difference in ability between Locker and Fitzpatrick for sure, but the difference isn't that big.
Fitzpatrick will keep the Titans in the tough games to come, and he may even lead them to a victory or two.
4. Special Teams Desperately Needs Improving
I've complained about the special teams play before, and the trend continues. In the first quarter, after the Chiefs' first possession of the game, Damian Williams accidentally kicked the punted ball into the end zone, making it a live ball that the Chiefs recovered for a touchdown.
If you'll remember, in Week 1, Darius Reynaud put the Steelers on the board immediately with an accidental safety. Then, against the Texans, the Titans lost a close game that could have been won were it not for penalty after penalty going against the Titans' special teams.
Then there's the fact that, outside of Brett Kern's punts, the special teams are not doing well in any category. They rank 21st in field-goal percentage, 24th in kick-return yards and 26th in opponents' return yards.
The defense is playing very well, and the offense is doing a pretty good job of not giving away the ball, so the special teams is where the Titans have the most room for improvement.
5. The Offensive System Prevents Turnovers as Much as Quarterback Play
Given the fact that the Chiefs featured the best pass rush in the league this season and had forced turnovers all season long, I expected Fitzpatrick, who averages more than one interception per start, to have several.
Now, he did throw two interceptions, but both came out of the hands of receivers, and only one was really Fitzpatrick's fault. That's a pretty good performance against a team like Kansas City, so that leads me to conclude that it's a result of the offensive system as much as it is the quarterbacks themselves.
Whatever Mike Munchak and Dowell Loggains are doing with the offense to make it so good at keeping the ball out of defenders' hands, it seems to be working pretty well.
What I really like about this is that it's exactly the kind of offense Munchak wanted to build in Tennessee, an offense that can hold onto the ball, trust its defense and not turn it over.
6. Kenny Britt May No Longer Have Any Trade Value
Kenny Britt continued his streak of ineffectiveness against the Chiefs. Britt caught one pass for nine yards and was targeted six times.
Now to be fair to Britt, many of the balls thrown at him were well defended or were difficult passes to catch, but in a contract season, you expect players to be at their best.
Trading Britt to a team desperate for a wide receiver would have made sense earlier in the season, but now, after going so long without any kind of impressive play, he may have killed any trade value he had.
7. The Next Few Games Will Be Tough but Aren't Unwinnable
The Titans have an uphill battle facing them these next few weeks.
Next week, they travel to Seattle to face the Seahawks. The Seahawks have one of the best home-field advantages in the NFL because of how loud their stadium is, and they're an outstanding team coming off of an embarrassing loss to the Colts.
I don't think they'll sleep on the Titans.
After that, the Titans host the 49ers, who are also trying to prove they're better than their record of 3-2.
Finally, the Titans will get a bye week before facing the Jeff Fisher-coached Rams in St. Louis. If there's a team the Rams would be in a position to upset, it'd be the Titans, as Munchak worked under Fisher for his entire career.
The schedule eases up a bit after that, and Jake Locker will return as well, but the Titans need to win at least one of the next three games to keep playoff hopes alive.
It's an uphill battle, but they could still make it.