Tennessee Titans Are the Real Deal and Will Challenge for AFC South in 2011

Kyle ZALLContributor IIIOctober 7, 2011

NASHVILLE, TN - SEPTEMBER 25:  Matt Hasselbeck #8 of the Tennessee Titans drops back to pass against the Denver Broncos  at LP Field on September 25, 2011 in Nashville, Tennessee. Tennessee won 17-14.  (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
Grant Halverson/Getty Images

From the Buffalo Bills and the Detroit Lions being back from the dead to rookie quarterbacks like Cam Newton and Andy Dalton playing over their heads, there have been plenty of surprising storylines thus far in the NFL.

But there is one story out there that has gone largely overlooked, that story is the Tennessee Titans.

Even with all the other stories going on throughout the league, it is time to take notice of the team from Nashville, Tenn.

Getting off to a 3-1 start is not the whole story, how the Titans have done it is what is interesting.

This team isn’t like it was in 2008, when the Titans put up a stellar 13-3 record by using a combination of Lendale White playing smash and Chris Johnson playing dash. This isn’t even like two season ago where the franchise hopped onto Johnson’s back and said “yeehaw” as he lit up defenses on his way to a 2,000-yard rushing year and a late run at the postseason.  

In fact, it is the complete opposite of those teams. This squad isn't running the ball at all. Johnson has been absolutely terrible. And that is putting it lightly. He is averaging less than 50 yards a game through four games.

If someone told me that would be Johnson's totals so far, I would have bet my mortgage on the Titans being 0-4. And I doubt I would have been the only one.

But that is where Matthew Michael Hasselbeck comes into play.

Not only has he rejuvenated a Titans franchise for the time being, he has left his old team slapping themselves for letting a quarterback with so much left in the tank walk in favor of the great Tavaris Jackson. Good move, Pete Carroll. See you back in college soon.

Hasselbeck has looked impressive—even with the loss of stud wideout Kenny Britt—spreading the ball around, which has kept the defense honest with their running game. He has carried the squad while everyone waited for Johnson to catch up to speed, while his productivity has left everyone scratching their heads wondering where this came from.

Last week against the Cleveland Browns, C.J. put up his first decent outing of the year by gashing the Browns for over 100 yards on the ground.

Is he just now getting his legs under him after the mind-numbing holdout in the preseason? Possibly. Or maybe there is just a little more room for the dreads to run now that defenses are forced to respect Hasselbeck.

Either way, it can only help him going forward that Hasselbeck is taking some of the load off the ground game in a way he has never experienced before.

But wait, we are forgetting someone here—it hasn’t been all offense for this team. It is not like Hasselbeck has turned this team into the New England Patriots or anything. Much of their success can also be attributed to their shockingly strong defense.

So far, this defensive unit of nobodies has given up the least points per game in the league.

Yeah thats right, they have the No. 1 scoring defense in the league. I’m not sure anyone anticipated anything close to this from a unit that was expected to struggle going into the year.

But, this unit will be tested in coming weeks. We will see exactly what we are dealing with here.

I have just about as much of a clue as to who is going to beat Chaz Bono in Dancing with the Stars as I do how the Titans' season will play out. It is still early and anything can happen. In three weeks, I could end up looking like the dumbest person on this website. With that said, I say the Titans are for real.

They caught a break with the Indianapolis Peyton Manning’s out of contention this year. Because of that, Tennessee is left to compete with the always under-achieving Houston Texans in the division.

Lets be honest with ourselves, as of this moment, the Titans are 32nd in the league in rushing. That’s dead last. This week, they get their fullback Ahmad Hall back in the lineup. Do we really think these struggles on the ground are going to hold true as the season goes on? I sure don’t.

Every year there is a surprise team that makes a run at the playoffs. From what I have seen, there is no reason to think the Titans can not fill that role this season.

Only time will tell.