Tennessee Titans: 5 Players Who Need to Improve After Bye Week
It's safe to say that the Tennessee Titans have entered the rough patch of their 2013 season, and how long that will last is the real question heading into the bye week.
The bye week couldn't have came at a better time for the Titans. This team is coming out of a challenging stretch of games that showed that they're still not near the elite level of NFL teams.
In the Titans' three-straight losses, their opponents' combined record is 18-3. The Titans had every opportunity to sneak out with wins over two of those teams, the Kansas City Chiefs and Seattle Seahawks.
The Titans' Week 4 win over the New York Jets looks a little bit more impressive now as well.
With the Houston Texans struggling so badly at this point, the door is wide open for the Titans to make a move in the AFC South after the bye week. They still have two meetings with the 1st-place Indianapolis Colts.
However, these five players have to show some considerable improvement for that second half surge to happen for the Titans.
2013 Stats: 0 receptions, 0 yards, 2 targets
Craig Stevens is the No.2 tight end target for the Titans, and he has yet to record a single catch this season.
That's troublesome, even if it's not all his fault. That Stevens isn't contributing to the passing game indicates that something isn't right.
Stevens is a guy that shouldn't be forgotten in the offense if you're the Titans coaching staff right now, and Paul Kuharskey of ESPN.com thinks he's been looked over for players with far less to offer.
The Titans may have gone out and gotten more vertical with Justin Hunter, but this offense is still the conservative one that Jeff Fisher left behind a few years ago.
Stevens has to start making an impact in the second half of the season. He's a very underrated receiving tight end that the Titans really need at this point.
Some of that is coaching, and some of that is on Stevens. Hopefully he can start recording a couple of catches a game to help this offense. Even that modest production would do wonders for this offense that is stuck in neutral.
2013 Stats: 115 rushes, 366 rushing yards, 0 rushing TD, 15 receptions, 167 yards, 2 receiving TD
How far the Titans go after the bye week hinges on a lot of different factors, but the success of Chris Johnson may have the biggest impact of them all.
Johnson has fallen back into the same problems that he faced last season, and the blame game continues to discover whose fault that is.
You can blame the offensive line all you want, but Johnson has to learn to make the first guy miss. He hasn't done that on a consistent basis, and he has also abandoned certain running plays to try to rely on his speed. When he does that, there's usually a defender waiting on him.
The running game is fractured right now, and this team has to get better. Maybe the eventual return of Shonn Greene will be exactly what Johnson needs.
We have seen glimpses of Johnson's electrifying ability to break away for long scores on passing plays, but it's been tough sledding on your traditional running plays.
Johnson has yet to break the 100-yard mark in a game this season, and his yards per attempt average is just a shade over three yards.
The offensive line has to improve as well, but elite running backs find ways to make impacts on the game despite other factors.
If Johnson can claw his way to 1,200 yards, then the Titans will have a chance to string together some wins. He's on pace to fall short of 1,000 yards right now.
Johnson does have some easier defenses on the horizon, too.
2013 Stats: 8 receptions, 67 yards, 2 drops, 0 touchdowns
This one kind of goes without saying, but Kenny Britt can still help this team win football games over the last nine games.
Britt has just two official dropped passes to this point, which may be surprising. His body language during games is a whole other issue.
Britt is struggling to even get offensive snaps right now. He saw only two snaps in the 20-13 loss to the Seahawks.
If the Titans are going to keep him, they have to find a way to keep him on the field. It's not like the Titans are loaded with star receivers right now.
Britt's emotions erupted toward the end of the loss to the 49ers, and it's up for speculation on what those emotions were about. Is he fighting for a contract, or does he truly want to help this team win? Either way, him being successful will help the Titans be successful. He's still a great talent that can help this team win games for the limited amount of time left that the Titans probably have left with his services.
2013 Stats: 11 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 pass deflections
Morgan missed the 49ers game with a shoulder injury, but wasn't playing well leading up to the injury. It was thought that 2013 could be a breakout season for Morgan.
Morgan can still end up having a breakout season, but he has to stay healthy. The Titans are getting very little production from the defensive end position, and Morgan is the guy that they need to play well.
With some suspect offenses coming up in the second half of the season, Morgan will get his opportunity to ignite the Titans pass rush. If he is held in check, the Titans will continue to be a hot and cold type of team.
People forget that this guy was a 1st-round draft pick for the Titans in 2010, so he really needs to start producing.
2013 Stats: 1,047 passing yards, 8 pass TD, 61.8 completion %, 1 INT, 2 fumbles
This may not seem fair to Jake Locker, putting him on this list, but allow some explanation on why he has to continue to improve.
You can't argue that he's already shown dramatic improvement from 2012. He had nowhere to go but up after a rough 2012 season.
There are only a handful of quarterbacks in the NFL that have no room for improvement, with Peyton Manning and Tom Brady being a couple of examples.
Locker still has room for improvement, and a lot of it has to do with accuracy. Hopefully the unfortunate hip injury will not hamper his progression into being a serviceable NFL starting quarterback.
There are a lot of opportunities for Locker to pad his stats and gain some national attention with some of the defensive matchups coming up. As long as he keeps improving on his accuracy, then it will be a strong finish to the season for Locker.
Locker has just one interception through five games played, and that is due to how effective of a game manager he has been.
Managing games as a quarterback can work at times, but Locker has to start taking more chances down field as well. That will help open up the slumping running game.
The Titans will learn if Locker is truly the answer for the long-term future in the nine games after the bye week.