Its Halloween everyone! For the first time ever, I will do a "trick-or-treat" of each aspect of the Tennessee Titans season thus far. Each position, the schedule, and what lies ahead.
The quarterback position started out as a trick when Vince Young went down, and when Kerry Collins was brought in, it was definitely a trick. Even for his first few starts, Collins was a trick. However, his consistent play throughout his six games has made him a real treat to watch. So far, the veteran has posted 1,056 yards passing as well as three interceptions and three touchdowns. The former Nittany Lion also boasts a passer rating of 75.0, good for 24th in the league. That figure may seem low, but since LenDale White scores all the points in Tennessee, and touchdowns factor greatly in the passer rating equation, Collins has been very efficient, and has made few mistakes. Perhaps the best statistic about Collins is the fact that he has been sacked a grand total of 1 time. He is definitely making good use of Kevin Mawae and the crew.
Treat is an understatement for the runningback position in Nashville. Ya know how rarely you might get a king-size candy bar as a kid, or maybe even a candy apple or caramel popcorn? That's a better comparison for the runningbacks in Tennessee. Chris Johnson and LenDale White, the dash-n-smash combo in the Volunteer State, have been one of the most productive duos in all of football. Johnson is a rookie from East Carolina who posted a 4.24 40 yard dash time at the NFL Combine, appealing to the Titans need of a speedy rusher. Johnson has fit the mold so well, that he is fifth in the NFL in total rushing yards, also first in the AFC. Among halfbacks with at least 100 carries, Johnson boasts the best yards-per-carry average as well, with an impressive 5.1.
White, however, is a little bit less of a crowd pleaser. White runs over defenders with minimal speed, but with tons of power. He breaks tackles and scores touchdowns. White, as a matter of fact, has the most points among non-kickers with 60. That's the equivalent of 10 rushing touchdowns, which puts him on pace for about 21. Johnson himself has scored 5 touchdowns, 4 of which were rushing, good enough for a respectable 14th in the NFL. The two combined are running away (no pun intended) with the rushing touchdowns mark. White, of all halfbacks, owns the largest rushing touchdown of the year, with an 80-yarder. Perhaps the scariest (again, no pun intended) thing about this duo is that they are both only 23 years old. They have at least 6 or 7 more dynamic years ahead of them.
Wide Receiver: Trick
I was really expecting one receiver to stand out. Whether it be Brandon Jones, Justin Gage, Justin McCariens, or even rookie Lavelle Hawkins, it didn't matter to me. The starters, Gage and McCariens, have been sitting on the bench for most of the season due to injury. Gage tore up his knee and is finally getting back into the rotation, and McCariens hurt his hamstring, and hopes to start playing at a higher level after some inconsistent outings. The funniest thing is that Brandon Jones, generally the most injury-prone of the Titans receivers, has been healthy throughout most of the season. He hasn't been playing at a high-level, but his number of receptions has increased or stayed the same each week (with the exception of Week 7).
Of the receivers, Gage is obviously the most skilled, placing second among wide receivers in receptions, and having only played four games. He has 13 receptions for 182 yards and a score. Gage is also a tall, but not speedy target at 6'4. Collins can lob it up and Gage can usually bring it down. McCariens, who is playing in his second stint with Tennessee, was acquired from the Jets this offseason. McCariens has easily been the most disappointing of the wideouts, grabbing no more than three balls in one game. He didn't even snag one in the home opener against Jacksonville. So far, McCariens has caught 10 passes for 162 yards, but is the only wide receiver for Tennessee to lose a fumble this season. If there is one positive about McCariens this year, it is that he averages the most yards per catch on the team at 16.2.
The third stringer Jones has been playing fairly well as of late. The former Sooner has caught 15 passes, good enough for first in receptions among receivers, and has compiled 180 yards receiving, just two behind Gage's leading mark. Jones is the youngest receiver of the three, and shows the most promise as a speedy receiver. He plays well in the slot, is about prototypical size at 6'1 and is the lightest at 212 pounds.
Fourth on the pecking order is Hawkins, the rookie from California. The Golden Bear has caught three passes from Collins, but saw minimal to no action until recently when they have established their running game. The California native is smaller than Jones in both respects of weight and height. Hawkins was chosen in the fourth round, and shows some promise of potentially being a pretty solid receiver for the Titans.
The other two receivers on the depth chart, Chris Davis and Paul Williams, are both picks from last years draft. Davis has caught two passes for 31 yards so far this season, and has only played 4 games. Davis is losing time because of Hawkins. Williams is on his way to becoming a bust, considering he was a third-rounder last year. He hasn't even caught a pass in his career.
Tight End: Trick
I'm going to be harsh and call this one a trick, although if you ask me, its sort of in between. This can be compared to that candy you wouldn't mind eating once in a while, but you wind up getting a truck-load of it. Alge Crumpler is coming on, but really was just bad in the first part of the season. He has disappointed so many confident Titans fans that the former Atlanta Falcon would be their leading receiver. Right now? He's fifth. Crumpler has 13 catches for 134 yards and a touchdown. Those numbers sort of blend in with those of McCariens, Gage, and Jones. That sort of production isn't what Tennessee needed.
But then came Bo Scaife.
Scaife set Tennessee on fire against Jacksonville, catching 7 passes for 102 yards. He hasn't a performance similar to that one the rest of this season, but has managed to receive 28 passes for 318 yards, and a touchdown. These numbers bust away from those of Jones, Gage, McCariens, and Crumpler. The two tight ends were actually suppoed to swap roles. The fact that Crumpler isn't a top 10 tight end like I thought he would be is enough to tarnish the whole position, but Scaife had really almost swapped it. Tight ends are looking good now, but as for the whole year, not quite. But they're getting there.
Offensive Line: Treat
The offensive line is definitely one of the sweetest treats on the whole Titans roster. From tackle to tackle, Tennessee is loaded here. The average age of a Tennessee linemen is 28.4, and that is with 37-year old Kevin Mawae. Mawae is really a seasoned veteran when it comes to the center position. The LSU center is the lightest of the linemen, and knows how to hold blocks. At left tackle is 26-year old Michael Roos. The 315 pound linemen from Eastern Washington is a powerful young linemen who is playing the most coveted linemen position, and playing it well. Left guard is probably the weakest position, lead by Eugene Amano, a converted center. He has played well by my standards, and has been able to beat out a solid linemen like Leroy Harris for the starting role. On the far right side is David Stewart, the tallest and heaviest of the linemen. Stewart has allowed Chris Johnson to rip off yardage to the right, the halfbacks preferred running side. At right guard, finally, is the power Jake Scott. The former Indianapolis Colt, Scott was one of the most exciting additions to the team this offseason.
The fact that the running game has succeeded so handily is a true testament to how good these linemen block. They have allowed two sacks of their quarterbacks, and they have played beefy lines including juggernauts like John Henderson, Jared Allen, Mario Williams, and Trevor Pryce.
Defensive Line: Treat
If any of the positions were going to be a treat at this stage in the season, it was going to be defensive linemen. At left defensive end is Jevon Kearse. That's right, "The Freak" has returned to Tennessee, and played well. Kearse has 16 tackles, 1.5 sacks, and has forced one fumble. Believe it or not, "The Freak" has been the weakest of the Tennessee linemen!
Tony Brown, the first of the two starting defensive linemen, has recorded 25 tackles and 3.5 sacks for his team. He doesn't quite plug up the middle like partner Albert Haynesworth, but is 30 pounds lighter, which allows him to dig deep into the quarterback's pocket and get him for a sack. Now, for Haynesworth. Where to start... Haynesworth has 27 tackles, 6 sacks, a forced fumble, and two pass deflections. The statline is only half the story. Haynesworth, who is 6'6 and 320 pounds, is the heaviest and meanest man on the team. For this, some have considered him an MVP canidate. You saw how the defense wasn't the same last year when he missed some time.
On the right, Kyle Vanden Bosch is the man. Vanden Bosch has missed the last three games, but has played well in the four before that. Vanden Bosch had 14 tackles, a team-leading 3 forced fumbles, and 3 sacks. Vanden Bosch made the Pro-Bowl last season, and if he can return to health, will most certainly make it there again.
The greatest thing about the defensive line of Tennessee is their depth. They have two productive rookies in Jason Jones and William Hayes. They also have veterans Kevin Vickerson, Dave Ball, and Jacob Ford playing well in the starters abscense, combining for 40 tackles and 2.5 sacks of their own.
Again, I'm being harsh. Keith Bulluck and David Thornton get it done on the outside, but you can tell there is a real lacking in the middle. Stephen Tulloch is good, but is no way a starter right now. His speed allow him to get after runners quickly, but he misses tackles occasionally, and doesn't have but .5 of a sack in his whole career. He can hit usually, but won't stand out like other middle linebackers should in a 4-3 defense.
Now, to Bulluck. Bulluck had lead the Titans in tackles since the likes of Steve McNair and Eddie George were in town. He is 31 years old, but is ultimately the highlight of the defense next to Haynesworth. He has a team leading 43 hits, .5 of a sack, a tackle for a loss, and a pass deflection. He hits, and he hits hard. Thornton lead the team in tackles last season, taking the honor away from Bulluck. This season, he isn't quite doing that, but is getting the job done on the strong side. He has 32 tackles, 3 tackles for losses, and 2 pass deflections. Thornton plays very consistent defense for Tennessee.
If they could trade up and snatch someone like James Laurinitus this draft, this linebacker corps will be a treat. There also needs to be a little more depth for Bulluck, because you don't want him to get hurt.
The secondary is a huge treat for the Titans. It seems as if there is a young star starting on one side, and a veteran on the other. For cornerbacks, the mentor is 34 year old Nick Harper. Harper is tied for third on the team in tackles with 37, leads the team in pass deflections with 10, and has 2 picks. Harper has been nothing short of on it this year, and he should only continue this play as long as he is healthy.
The younger cornerback is Cortland Finnegan. Finnegan is the player tied with Harper for third in tackles, and is a 7th rounder from Samford. That is all correct information. Despite his small-school setting, Finnegan has three tackles for losses, 9 pass deflections, and 4 interceptions, one of which he brought to the house from 99 yards away. Finnegan is just in his third year with the Titans, and is already showing signs of an all-star. Last year, Finnegan was second in tackles behind Thornton, and was 7th his rookie year. Finnegan has never not been productive.
The veteran safety is Chris Hope. Hope has 42 tackles, 4 pass deflections, 2 interceptions, and three tackles for losses. Hope has always played with aggression, and has mentored Michael Griffin into similar play. Griffin, the free safety, was 2007's first pick of the Titans. The investment has paid off so far, as Griffin currently has 35 hits and 4 interceptions, as well as a sack. Griffin has more speed than Hope, but not quite as much power and fire, making them a great combination at safety.
So what lies ahead for Tennesse? It obviously doesn't get much easier. I will break down each game.
Green Bay Packers: Treat
This is a tough one, but the Titans should come away with a victory at LP Field. If it was in the Winter Wonderland of Green Bay, I might have a tougher time with this one, but Green Bay is a treat of a match-up. They have a slight edge at nearly every position besides wide receiver, and maybe quarterback. Aaron Rodgers is a good quarterback, but I don't know how well he'll do with Haynesworth in his jersey all day long.
at Chicago Bears: Trick
Tricks don't exactly mean losses, but this one is definitely going to be tougher. The Bears host the Titans in a loud, cold Soldier Field against a physical defense who should be getting most of their secondary back by this game. It will be interesting to see which will last: the whole "You can't run against the Bears" mentality, or the fact that Johnson and White can run against anybody.
at Jacksonville Jaguars: Treat
Their second straight road game against yet another physical team is going to be hard on the Titans, but with all the injuries Jacksonville is having, and the fact that Tennessee dominated in the trenches in Week 1 should give the Titans a win. It won't be easy though, as the Jaguars are beginning to play better, despite the injuries.
New York Jets: Treat
Old Brett Favre is going to feel the youth of Finnegan and Griffin when they start picking off his passes. Let's face it: Favre throws picks. And you can't do that against Tennessee, because they make the most of them. They also should have a good match-up with New York's offensive line and Thomas Jones in Week 12, but ultimately, the road will be too much for the Jets, and they will fall victim to the Titans.
at Detroit Lions: Treat
One important stat to remember here: the Lions are 0-7, and the Titans are 7-0.
And that is all that needs to be said.
Cleveland Browns: Treat
Cleveland has an underachieving offense, and Tennessee should dominate in the trenches. Derek Anderson is going to throw some mistakes, and Finnegan and crew are going to key on them. This is an easy two or three touchdown victory after the tough, harsh road game at Detroit.
at Houston Texans: Treat
Tennessee has lost to the Texans once in franchise history, and that's it. Do you honestly think its going to happen again with this team? The Texans were off to a slow start, but have recently been doing well. However, remember that Tennessee crushed them at home by 19 earlier this year.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Trick
This match-up I hate, except for the battle of the trenches. Tennessee will win those evenly. In every other category, Tennessee has small leads or is losing. Pittsburgh has done well on the road this year, with their only road loss in the wonderful town of Philadelphia (Trick!). Anyway, Tennessee could very well lose this one, especially if Pittsburgh's linemen heal.
at Indianapolis Colts: Trick
This one is going to be tough. It will be the last game of the season, and surely Tennessee will have a top 2 seed spot secured. They will probably rets their heavy hitters and end up losing this unless in some odd way they wind up being undefeated to this point, at which time Jeff Fisher will probably go for 16-0.
I think Tennessee finishes at 13-3 this year, with losses either in Chicago or Jacksonville, and Pittsburgh and Indianapolis. At worst they are 12-4, with losses to both the Bears and the Jaguars.
Ultimately, Tennessee has so many treats in store for the future. Not only this season, but the next few. With youth in the offense, experience with the quarterback, an experienced linebacker corps, and a nasty secondary and defensive line, things are looking good in Titan Nation.