The Tennessee Titans did two things on their way to a 10-0 start this season. First, they played awesome team defense, stopped the run, hit the quarterback and collected turnovers to the tune of a +10 turnover ratio and second, they ran the ball.
In Sunday’s loss to the Jets, the Titan’s defense allowed season highs in rushing yards, total yards and allowed the Jets to control the clock for over 40 minutes in time of possession. The defensive line, known for pressuring and hitting the opposing quarterback, sacked Favre just twice and allowed Thomas Jones and Leon Washington to run all over them for 192 yards, almost 100 yards more than the Titans season average of 95. The Titans forced the Jets to punt only once and forced zero three-and-out possessions.
"Defensively we didn't answer the bell and that's it” said Titans LB Keith Bulluck. Nicely put.
But the Titan’s defense isn’t the only one to blame. In earning a 10-0 record to start the season, the Titans ran the ball on offense. They ran the ball a lot. They controlled the clock and their opponents by dominating them with Thunder, LenDale White, and lightning, Chris Johnson. White is tied for the AFC lead in touchdowns with 11 and Johnson is second in the AFC in rushing yards and is over 1000 yards from scrimmage total.
On Sunday, the Titans ran the ball only 11 times. White ran it one time for a loss of one yard and Johnson gathered only 46 yards on 10 rushes, bolstered by a 24-yard scamper in the second quarter. Conversely, Kerry Collins threw the ball 39 times, with only 21 completions.
In the Titans previous game, in which they had to overcome a halftime deficit, they stayed true to themselves and ran the ball. Down 14-3 to Jacksonville at the half, they pounded the ball 18 times out of 31 offensive plays in the second half. The Titans ran the ball 35 times against Green Bay, 25 times against Chicago and 29 times against Indianapolis.
In their last two games, the Titans leaned a little more on Collins to throw the ball around and keep defenses from keying on the Tennessee rushing attack but maintained the run first plan. On Sunday against the Jets, the Titans seemingly altered their identity completely, throwing the ball more than they ran in each quarter, including zero rushes in the fourth quarter, and 39 total passes to just the 11 running plays.
Not only did Tennessee abandon what they do best, but because they did, they couldn’t keep the ball and forced the defense to stay out on the field longer than they had all season. In previous games, the Titans were the strong team in the fourth quarter doing what they do best, according to their identity. On Sunday, the Jets stole the Titans identity and went on a shopping spree.
It’s only one loss in what has been a great season so far for the Titans, and with the winless Lions up next on Thanksgiving Day, the Titans still control their destiny and hold the advantage for home field throughout the playoffs.
But if there’s a nice playoff and even Super Bowl run in the Titan’s future, they will need to reclaim their identity quickly and get back to being who they are.