Through 3 games the Tennessee Titans Are Characterized by Fortitude

The 2012 Tennessee Titans were a team with no direction and no toughness. They might play decent one week and the next week get blown out by the Chicago Bears at home in front of the home crowd. It was a tough season to watch as the team had talent on the roster but didn’t play to it’s potential.

NFL defense rankings

The 2013 Titans are a tough bunch. Through 3 games, the Titans defense is ranked fairly high in every category and more importantly the Titans are +5 in the takeaway ratio. They are ranked 2nd in the AFC and 4th in the NFL in the takeaway ratio.

AFC takeaway ratio

NFC takeaway ratio

The Titans particularly quarterback Jake Locker have been protective of the football and have not given it away. In 2012, Locker had 11 batted passes but in 2013 through 3 games he only has 1. Also through 3 games, Locker has thrown for 572 yards, 3 touchdowns, and no interceptions. Locker has added 12 carries for 81 yards and a touchdown. It’s a big improvement thus far for the second year quarterback.

The Titans are largely winning the time of possession battle with an average of 32:17 over opponents 29:11. The one area that still needs work and this isn’t a criticism so much as an observation is with Locker’s awareness under pressure. He has 7 sacks which is still half of league leader Ryan Tannehill who has 14.

Running back Chris Johnson has rushed 69 times for 256 yards but has yet to find the endzone. Johnson has a 3.7 yards per carry average and has 2 catches for 2 yards. Shonn Greene has been sidelined with a knee injury and Jackie Battle has taken over the backup duties rushing 18 times for 46 yards and a touchdown (2.6 YPC).

Mike Roos has continued to play well at left tackle while right tackle David Stewart has been slowed with injuries. Guards Andy Levitre and Chance Warmack have been good in the run game but only about average in the pass protection which is an area you would like to see improved. Center Rob Turner needs to knock off the stupid penalties that is Dave Stewart’s territory.

Words can’t describe how well Nate Washington has played through 3 games. Washington has 15 receptions for 227 yards (15.1 YPC) and hasn’t dropped a pass all year. Kendall Wright is second with 15 receptions for 136 yards 9.1 (YPC) and a touchdown. Tight end Delanie Walker is third on the team in receptions with 9 for 99 yards (11.0 YPC) and a touchdown. Rookie Justin Hunter recorded his first NFL completion against the Chargers and it was the game winning touchdown. No big deal or anything for the rookie.

Titans receiving stats

Much has been written about Kenny Britt and his rather eventful year off the field but I will confine myself to his play on the field. Britt has been targeted 16 times this year and has 5 catches for 43 yards and no touchdowns. He has been penalized an equal number of times (5) for at least an equal number of yardage.

If the Titans can trade him they should but I doubt he has any suitors. I would urge them to keep him on the roster as a hedge against one of the producing wide receivers having injuries. If he plays over Justin Hunter and Michael Preston then head coach Mike Munchak needs his head examined.

On special teams, Rob Bironas is 6-8 on the  year with a 75% success rate. His misses over the past two years (he missed 6 in 2012) have all come from 40 yards and out. Punter Brett Kern has been very good and outside of a fumbled snap in the Chargers game I have zero complaints. He is ranked 15th in the league per Pro Football Focus and has a net average of 44.6. Darius Reynaud started the year off with a safety on a kickoff, and currently ranks 21st in the league in punt returns and 33rd in kick returns. That is nothing to panic over but it could stand some improvement.

The defensive line has been outstanding overall and has been led by defensive tackle Jurrell Casey who has 9 tackles, 1 QB hit, 8 QB hurries, 2 sacks and 2 batted passes. Defensive end Derrick Morgan has 7 tackles, 3 QB hits, 5 QB hurries, and 2 sacks. With Sammie Lee Hill out, Antonio “Mookie’ Johnson has stepped in and played fantastically. He notched a sack of Phillip Rivers in the Chargers game and had a 1 QB hurry as well.

Despite being roughly 75% to start the year, linebacker Akeem Ayers is very quietly having a solid start to the 2013 season. He has 4 tackles, 1 sack, and 6 QB hurries. Ordinarily he is very good in coverage but his ankle injury is slowing him a bit. I expect as he gets healthier he will get much better in that area. Zach Brown leads the Titans in tackles with 21 and has 2 sacks and 3 QB hurries.

If there is an achilles  heel on the Titans defense it is at middle linebacker and perhaps the nickel back spot. Middle linebacker Moises Fokou didn’t grade out that well against the Chargers but I did think he had one of his better games. However, he struggles to put together a complete game.

Overall, I believe he is better in the run game than he is in coverage but he missed 3 tackles Sunday. He has 7 missed tackles on the year per Pro Football Focus. Also per PFF, he ranks in the bottom of the league at middle linebacker at 33 of those who play at least 60% of the snaps. Only 3 middle linebackers rank worse than him in coverage. Ouch.

Fokou def summary

Titans defense summary

I like Coty Sensabaugh and thought he had very good rookie season but the second year player struggled against the Chargers. He was a bit victimized by a bad call in the Chargers game which should have been holding and not pass interference but still it was a penalty. He also had a missed tackle. He isn’t playing badly but he isn’t playing as well as he did his first year and I’m not sure why exactly. It’s something to keep an eye on as he really is very talented. Sensabaugh has 10 tackles on the year.

Jason McCourty and Alterraun Verner have been nothing short of fantastic this year and I have written about it in my game summaries. They are both ranked in the top 10 per Pro Football Focus and it’s nice to see the Titans are allowing them to play a lot of man coverage. They both do quite well staying with the top receivers in the game.

Verner has been thrown at 19 times and only 8 of them have been caught. McCourty has been thrown at 22 times with 16 being caught. Verner has 13 tackles and McCourty has 12. Verner has 2 interception.

Perhaps no other position is more greatly improved than safety. For a variety of reasons the Titans were dreadful at safety in 2012. During the offseason they signed first George Wilson and then Bernard Pollard. Both have made a big difference in the defense.

Strong safety Pollard brings a toughness and swagger to the defense that it needed. Pollard isn’t the best safety in coverage but he had an exceptional game against the Chargers with at least one tackle for a loss and at least one or two more than went for little or no gain. He was a big part of the Titans defensive stops at the end of the game that allowed them to get the ball back for the offense. He has 21 tackles on the year, 1 interception, 1 QB hit and has only missed one tackle.

Fellow strong safety George Wilson plays when the Titans go into their 3 safety package which they have done a lot more the past 2 games. Through 3 games, Wilson has played approximately 40% of the defensive snaps. Wilson is particularly great in coverage though he really excels against the run too. He did an excellent job helping contain San Diego Chargers tight end Antonio Gates to 5 catches for 55  yards and a touchdown. Wilson ranks 7th among safeties playing at least 25% of the defensive snaps per PFF.

PFF Wilson def snap summary

PFF safety rankings 25%

Finally, I can’t say enough how well Michael Griffin is playing in 2013. I have long supported Griffin and it’s great to see him return to playing as well as he did his first two seasons with the Titans. Griffin has 15 tackles, 1 missed tackle, and has been targeted 4 times with 3 of them going for completions. He is currently ranked 7th at safety per PFF for those who have played at least 75% of the defensive snaps.

PFF safety rankings

A theme heard continuously from the 2013 Titans is accountability and you see it in the product on the field. This team holds itself accountable and understands that everyone has to be on the field making plays and that no one gets a pass. The Titans are a tough bunch and they aren’t going to go away. Take it away Coach Yoast:

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