Contrary to the dire preseason predictions issued by prognosticators, the Tennessee Titans are in the AFC catbird seat at the NFL’s halfway mark.
Buoyed by a pinch of solid quarterback play, a tenacious defense and a lot of smashing and dashing, the boys in the two-tone blue have raced out to an impressive 8-0 record.
Let’s take a midterm look, SWOT analysis style, at the many positives and very few negatives associated with the Titans’ stellar start.
Smash and Dash
The running game has always been the backbone behind the offensive success of past Jeff Fisher teams, and this year is no different.
Rookie Chris Johnson has proven his worth and then some by way of his long runs and ability to take it to the house on any given play. A little skeptical about the Johnson pick last April, count me in as a believer of CJ and his unique abilities.
2008 has been a breakthrough season of sorts thus far for the pudgy one himself, Mr. LenDale White. He’s simply been a monster in short-yardage situations, with the majority of his NFL-leading 10 rushing touchdowns coming from small distances.
In addition to smashing opposing defenses, a la Chris Johnson, White has done a little dashing himself, as evidenced by his memorable 80-yard rumble against the Chiefs and last week’s 54-yard scamper against the Packers.
It’s often said that NFL games are won in the trenches. The oft-heard cliche has been a pivotal factor in the Titans’ 8-0 start.
Despite the losses of Benji Olson and Jacob Bell, the Titan offensive line has performed splendidly in 2008. Besides paving the way for Smash and Dash, the Titans’ big uglies have kept the jerseys of their quarterbacks extremely clean, allowing only four sacks in eight games.
On the defensive side of the ball, Albert Haynesworth is doing his best to convince the Titan front office to spend long-term dollars on him next year. As usual, the relentless of motor of the energizer bunny himself, Kyle Vanden Bosch, has wreaked havoc on opposing signal-callers.
The return of the Tennessee Tyrants
Living up to the name once given to the unit by former Titan Lance Schulters, the Titan defense has been a physically intimidating group in 2008.
In addition to the exploits of the aforementioned defensive line, the Titans have benefitted from a mix of veteran and youthful conbributors in other areas. Once again, Keith Bulluck has been solid at LB and youngster Stephen Tulloch is proving Jeff Fisher to be correct with his decision to instill him at starting MLB.
In the secondary, pineapples may be in the immediate future of youngsters Cortland Finnegan and Michael Griffin, who appear to be well on their ways to earning their first trips to Hawaii.
Wide receiver play
On a team where smashmouth football reigns supreme, the wide receivers are anything but the backbone of the Titans’ success on offense. However, there are times when the unit needs to step up and as the case with last year, with the exception of Brandon Jones, the guys have struggled in 2008.
Injuries and inconsistency have plagued Justin Gage, who was supposed to be the Titans’ #1 WR. After turning the heads of many during training camp, Justin McCareins has failed to continue that momentum into the regular season.
Hopefully, this group as a whole will improve in the second half of the season.
I’m going to use this space to commend three Titans who have made the most of their opportunities in 2008.
What can you say about the performance of the veteran signal-caller thus far? He hasn’t been flashy, but he’s been consistent, especially in clutch situations when his throws were needed the most.
Keep managing, Kerry!
Despite the presence of former Pro Bowler Alge Crumpler, Scaife has stepped up as the team’s best tight end in 2008. They say timing is everything, and this is especially true for Scaife’s emergence, considering that he is in a contract year. Scaife is definitely making his case for an extension in 2009.
Perennially known as an underachiever, Jones has been a pleasant surprise. Filling in for an injured Justin Gage, Jones has made some timely catches in key moments of victories against the Ravens and the Packers. At this point, Jones, not Justin Gage, should be considered as the team’s #1 WR.
The once dominant AFC South has been surprisingly mediocre in 2008.
The Colts’ air of invincibility has been destroyed as a result of a plethora of injuries/inconsistent performances and the emergence of the Titans. The Jaguars have failed to live up to their offseason distinction as a darkhorse Super Bowl contender. Despite a recent three-game win streak and increased expectations, the Texans have performed according to their previous and now once again status as AFC South doormat.
In terms of the conference, the Titans’ biggest threat is probably the team that humiliated the Redskins last night on Monday Night Football: the Pittsburgh Steelers.
We’ll get a preview of perhaps a later postseason match to come when the Titans and Steelers meet up in a late December showdown in Nashville.
2nd Half prediction
The Tennessee Titans have several pieces in place to make a legitimate run at the Super Bowl: a strong running game, great defense, great coaching, solid FG kicker. It remains to be seen whether or not the team’s weakness (a.k.a. the passing game) will get in the way of the Titans venturing to Florida in February.
My guess: the Titans will find a way as they fight and claw their way to Tampa.
What are your thoughts on the Titans first-half accomplishments? Are the Titans Tampa Bay-bound?