How did a team that was 13-3 a year ago get so bad, so fast? 20 of 22 starters from that team returned this year. So did a lot of other players who got significant playing time.
Setting aside for the moment the question of coaching, let’s take a look at those players, position by position, and compare their performance this year with last year. I’ve used the following scale of one to five stars in rating both groups and players.
* Much worse than last year
** Worse than last year
*** About the same as last year
**** Better than last year
***** Much better than last year
As it turned out, I didn’t have to use more than three stars for any position group.
** Quarterback – It’s true that the receivers have been dropping a lot of catchable balls, which explains to some extent why Kerry Collins’ completion percentage is lower, but it doesn’t explain why his yards per attempt is 16% lower, a significant decrease. It also doesn’t explain why Collins has already thrown eight picks after throwing only seven all of last season. Where is the Kerry Collins who had only one pick in a seven-game stretch last year?
*** Running backs – The stats say Chris Johnson is playing better so far this year, but that’s mainly because of a couple of big plays in the Houston game. Except for that stat-padding game, he’s been about the same player. Here’s an important stat: touchdowns. LenDale White averaged one a game last year but has only one total this season. One big reason for that is a lot fewer opportunities near the goal line.
** Receivers – Since Nate Washington and Kenny Britt are new, the only WR whose performance can be compared to last year’s is Justin Gage, which is unfortunate since he’s becoming so inconsistent. Gage is starting to remind me of Roydell Williams; he can look great one play and terrible the next. Lately, he’s had a bad case of the dropsies.
** Tight ends – Although Alge Crumpler is playing the same or slightly better this season, it’s not enough to offset the decline by his position mate. Bo Scaife has missed a couple of games and hasn’t looked that good since returning to the field after a Week One injury. He’s certainly not playing like he’s in the top five at his position, which is how he’s being paid.
** Offensive line – When you watch them as a unit, which I do on some plays, they usually function satisfactorily. It would be better if I was able to say they almost always function satisfactorily, but I can’t. Michael Roos has been having protection issues. Eugene Amano is playing at about the same level, which was just average to begin with. Kevin Mawae missed almost all of training camp and despite his experience, hasn’t been the same. Jake Scott is fairly consistent and is playing as well as last season. David Stewart has been having a few problems, especially with 3-4 outside linebackers.
*** Defensive tackles – All three DTs who returned from last year’s team are playing about the same, but that’s not necessarily a good thing. Tony Brown is playing about the same, which is a good thing considering he switched positions from LDT to RDT. Jason Jones is also playing about the same, and that’s not a good thing. As a second-year player, he should be showing a lot of improvement from his rookie season. On occasion he does, but I haven’t noticed it consistently. Maybe I should watch him more. Kevin Vickerson may be playing a little better, but it’s not that good when you consider he wasn’t contributing a great deal to begin with. He is getting on the field more often this year, a result of losing Albert.
** Defensive ends – A sustained pass rush is sadly lacking. Jevon Kearse is one of only a very few Titans who have lost their starting jobs due to poor performance. William Hayes didn’t have to be better than average to replace Kearse and he hasn’t been. Kyle Vanden Bosch is healthy this year but isn’t getting to the quarterback. Offensive tackles don’t need to rely on help as much as they used to. Jacob Ford and Dave Ball have been rather quiet this season.
** Vanden Bosch
** Linebackers – Here’s a good example where stats can be misleading. Don’t be misled into thinking Keith Bulluck and Stephen Tulloch are having good years because they’re making a lot of tackles. The Titans’ defense as a whole is making more tackles because they’re on the field way too many plays. More plays means more tackles. More plays also means more touchdowns. Bulluck is a step slower. Tulloch is making some tackles but isn’t making an impact. David Thornton has been almost invisible. You do tend to notice him every time he’s beaten by tight ends.
** Cornerbacks – Cortland Finnegan didn’t look like an All-Pro before his injury. Nick Harper has never looked like an All-Pro but didn’t look that bad when the Titans had a pass rush.
** Nickelback – Although Vincent Fuller wasn’t playing great, the Titans sure do miss him.
* Safeties – It’s hard to believe now both of them went to the Pro Bowl just eight months ago. Michael Griffin was on a career track toward great things but has been derailed. Chris Hope was supposed to be the solid, steady veteran, the glue that held the secondary together. That brand of glue has lost its stickum.
To recap, only two position groups, in my opinion, are performing as well as they did last year. The others are playing worse or much worse.
The trend is the same with individual players and most of the players who are playing as well as last year are role players, not the people you expect to make an impact.
Your turn. Tell me where I’m wrong. Is there any position group playing better than it did a year ago?