Damian Williams and Lavelle Hawkins, Men on the Spot

Sunday seemed like Damian Williams’ breakout game. He set career highs with 6 catches for 66 yards and scored a touchdown for the second consecutive game. Matt Hasselbeck threw in his direction 11 times, which I’m pretty sure is another career high, and the most times Hasselbeck threw the ball in any receiver’s direction. He was targeted only one on third down, the touchdown.

I mentioned last week that Lavelle Hawkins had been the Titans’ top target on third down on weeks three and four. Once again, Lavelle Hawkins was Hasselbeck’s top target on third down, with four passes thrown his way. Unfortunately only one of those was converted, and that came via penalty early in the game, when James Farrior was flagged for illegal contact.  Hawkins’ 4 catches tied his career high, and I think his 8 targets were also a career high.

The Titans are essentially conducting a trial by ordeal between Williams and Hawkins for the right to be the second receiver behind Nate Washington.  Both receivers are getting thrown the ball more and more consistently than they’ve ever been thrown the ball before.  The results?  Well, let’s back off a little bit and look at the full season numbers.

Both receivers have been thrown the ball 20 times. Hawkins has more catches, 11 to Damian’s 9, and more yards, 109 to 94, but Williams has the two scores. Hawkins as the third down targets, Williams other targets.  Both sport particularly skimpy yards per catch averages, Hawkins only 9.9 and Williams 10.4 (yes, small sample size). By Football Outsiders numbers, they’re nearly identical. Through five weeks, Hawkins has -8 DYAR (a measure of total value) and a DVOA of -18.1%. Williams also has -8 DYAR, and his DVOA is -18.0%.  Unfortunately, the problem is where those rank: 69th and 70th among the 90 receivers who’ve been thrown the ball at least 16 times.

Don’t look at Matt Hasselbeck as the cure to Hawkins and Williams’ lack of productivity, as he’s been extraordinarily productive throwing to Kenny Britt when he was in the lineup (9th in DVOA) and Nate Washington (12th in DYAR, 17th in DVOA).  That’s in the neighborhood of his level of productivity at his best in Seattle, when Shaun Alexander was ripping off consistent runs behind that great offensive line. Even when Chris Johnson quietly has his most consistently productive game of the year, as he did against the Steelers, it’s not enough.  The Titans’ big run-pass split on third down continued Sunday (they threw the ball half the time on 3&1 and threw on every 3&2+), but sooner or later they’re going to have to have Williams and/or Hawkins, preferably both, be a better, more consistent receiver, or the offense is going to struggle like it did Sunday more often.

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