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A Speculative look at the AFC South: The Tennessee Titans

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[editor's note, by River City Rage] I know I've already done an analysis of the Titans, but I'm home sick today and attempting to learn some new HTML and try some new tricks. I'll be doing a whole series like this, so pay no mind to the extra Titans attention...

The least you should know about The Titans... A Speculative look at the AFC South: The Tennessee Titans
(h/t to Sunday Morning Quarterback for the inspiration

What's Changed: Vince Young is one year older, one year wiser, and one year adjusted to the speed and intensity of the professional game.  The Rookie of the Year illustrated that he is a leader and a force to be reckoned with by defenses.  Norm Chow's offense made adjustments in their play calling to make this more familiar for this rising star, giving him an offense more like the one he used at Texas, at least for the time being.  I'm not going so far to say that I'm completely sold on the guy just yet, but when he leveled Asante Samuel after throwing an interception, I began to get a little convinced that he's got the talent to blow up in the league.

That being said, one of the biggest changes this year on the Titans is the evisceration of their offense through free agency.  Leading Wide Receiver Drew Bennett left to the St. Louis Rams, number two WR Bobby Wade is in Minnesota and leading rushier Travis Henry wear's the orange and blue.  The Sports Guru explains better than I what sort of season Henry had last year.

Henry, whenever given the opportunity, has produced at the NFL level, and has done so playing for some rather bad teams in the process.  In every situation Henry has overcome questions about his size, his speed, his durability, while seemingly in constant competition for his job.  In Buffalo, Henry was supplanted by Willis McGahee.  In Tennessee, Chris Brown and LenDale White were on the roster.  Even so, Henry was able to the Titans in rushing(1211 yds) while only seeing action in 14 games.  While in Buffalo, Henry twice eclipsed the 1350 yard mark.  If you give Henry the rock, he'll produce.
2006 Record
AFC South Record
Key Addition(s)
Nick Harper, Michael Griffen
Key Losses
Just about every offensive skill position, and a little known Cornerback named Adam Jones...
The Titans Lost Three key players on offense: Drew Bennett, Bobby Wade and Travis Henry. Drew Bennett caught 46 balls for 737 yards and 3 touchdowns. Wade was good for 33 catches, 461 yards, and 2 touchdowns. In the air game, that's 43% of their total passes, now on other teams. It's also 38% of their passing touchdowns. Henry was the sole bright spot of their "Non-QB rushing attack, with 1211 yds, 4.5 per carry, and 7 TD's. Just for the Record, Vince Young ran for 552 yards, 6.7 per carry, and 7 touchdowns. LenWhale White only rushed for 244 yards, 4.0 per carry, and zero touchdowns. Look for Chris Brown to seriously step up in the run game.
VY being VY

I said this before but since I'm attempting to do a more serious job of rival analysis, I'll say it again.

The Titans are dooming Young to failure by not surrounding him with as much talent as possible, or at least keeping the talent that he's gotten comfortable with working with around.  He's gotta learn an expanding playbook, while developing rapport with new WR's, hope to god that LenDale white is physically fit enough to play, hope the Chris Henry can pull a Jones-Drew and have an explosive year.  All the while every team he plays against is gonna dare him to throw with 8 or 9 guys in the box.

There is one other key difference between the 2006 Titans and the 2007 Titans.  They've lost, for better or for worse, Adam "Pac-Man" Jones.  On the positive side, the team is able to move on.  Vince turned up the heat :

"We want him back here ... making plays because he does a whole lot for our team," Young said. "But at the same time, as a team we are feeling like, 'Man, does he care about us over here?' "/]
 What they lost was a top five cornerback and special teams stud that is a sure thing to win one or two games a season just on his own.  Like the late season game against the Jaguars when he intercepted and returned so many touchdowns that I turned off the game in shame.  

Losing a player of that caliper often requires multiple additions to offset the loss.  In this case the Titans added CB Nick Harper of the Colts and should replace Adam at his primary position.  Nick, you might remember, got tackled by Ben Roethlisberger AND stabbed by his wife.  In all seriousness, he's a cover CB with little special teams skills.  So he's clearly not a total replacement for Jones.  Also notable in the Titans defense is the drafting of Safety/Cornerback Michael Griffin, and acquired CB Kelly Herndon.

What's the Same:  The Titans are still a young team with unrealized potential and salary cap problems.  About the best news is that the suspension of Adam Jones could free up four million dollars in cap space.  Jimmy at Music City Miracles says that should be used to sign anyone who can play on the Defensive line, and I completely agree.  Though, Jesse Mahelona could be interesting in his second season next to Albert Haynesworth.  Of course, I'm very much in the "build around two massive DT's" school of thought, so I could be wrong.  Mahelona is not quite tall enough to be a pass rushing DT, if one exists, but his short and stout build makes him perfect for clogging run lanes, especially inside.   The Titans, for the record, were 30th in the league in defending the run and little was done in the off-season to address this problem.  The biggest problem is the sheer amount of rush yards allowed per game, a massive 144.6 and 20 rushing TD's.  That's bad news for any team, unless you're the colts and allow 173 per game and 20 TD's and still win the Super Bowl, but who's keeping track.

On offense the only consistant thing is the O-line and Tight Ends.  I bet nobody knew that the Titans had the 5th ranked rushing attack, but that's because Mike Munchak is one of the best asst. coaches out there and should be recognized for making absolute nobodies into a very good offensive line.  I these guys should get better as they get more used to a mobile quarterback behind them and adjust their game accordingly.    Ben Troupe and Bo Scaife are Vince's best shot at getting any sort of stability in the passing game, and they'll have to step up accordingly.


Overly Optimistic Dead-Zone Chatter: With all that's happened to the Titans this offseason, from the Madden Curse to Pac Man Jones, a little peace and quiet in the empty period between mini-camp and training camp might be the best thing that can happen to this team.  There is this little issue about Jeff Fisher's contract, but I'm sure the Titans front office realizes how good of a coach that they have. (And coming from me, that's a BIG compliment)

Will you miss me?
Conventional Wisdom: A whole lot of people out there in the mainstream sports world think the Titans took over the number 2 spot in the AFC South last season.  And in a nominal way, they did, because with tie breakers, they did beat the Jags for the number two spot.  Which is sad.  However, conventional wisdom of a  real sort accepts the learning curve for new quarterbacks is not so predictable to assume that the Titans will dominate.  In fact, a bit of regression to the mean must be expected, especially with the Titans having no serious threat on the offensive side of the ball, other than Vince Young.  Teams like the Colts and the Jaguars are far to savvy on defense to fall for naked bootlegs and option like plays when there's no deep threat to draw the safeties back or a linebacker into coverage.  No, it's pretty clear that VY, at least in the division, will face an awful lot of spy and 8 man boxes to deal with.

Best Case: Titans split their openers (Jags and Colts), beat the Saints in a MNF showdown, sweep through Atlanta, Tampa, Houston and Oakland with 3 outta 4, win one out of their next three to Carolina, Jags and Denver, beat Cincy and Houston, lose to the chargers, and win 2 out of 3 to KC, Jets and Indy.  That puts them at an impressive, albeit unlikely 10 and 6. Which could be tantalizingly close to a playoff berth, but probably not in the ultra-tight AFC

Worst Case: Start off the season 0-4, pick up two against Tampa and Houston, lose to Oakland in the "battle of post-draft expectations", drop three in a row against Carolina, Jags, and Denver, win against the Bengal's, lose to Houston, San Diego, beat Kansas City, and then lose their final two against the Jets and the Colts.  A nasty 4 and 12 that doesn't represent the talent deep inside this team.  But enough to make Fisher leave and further damage what could be a young and talented team.

In a Nutshell: Vince Young wins the ones Pac Man would have, but not enough to offset their offensive player losses.  Look for a very exposed secondary and a still loose run defense to keep Vince playing from behind and making young mistakes, no pun intended.