Meandering thoughts on various issues around the Titans

I could write about Chris Johnson’s play against the Colts, but with last week’s piece I fundamentally answered in my mind the interesting question. Johnson looked okay at times against the Colts, and less than okay a lot of other times. I didn’t see enough that contradicted my existing impression, even on a second viewing, to make writing about his play worthwhile. The Titans are going to rotate him and Ringer; that’s not quite what Mike Munchak is saying, but it’s what they did against the Colts and it makes sense.

I considered writing about Ringer, but frankly, he’s not a very interesting guy to write about. If there are yards there to be gotten, he does a decent enough job of gaining them. Any big plays are likely to be the result of some particularly good play by the other guys on the field, combined with some help from him. In the long long ago, in my breakdown of the Titans-Eagles game back in 2006, I wrote about how Travis Henry managed a 70-yard score on a play that was well-designed and -blocked, and also included Henry stiffarming a defender. That’s the play that sticks in my mind when I conceive of a Ringer big play (and he did go 50-plus last year).

In my recap of this past Sunday’s game, I referred to the Titans “righting the ship,” which seemed somewhat more enthusiastic than I think most people’s impressions of the game, who saw it as seemingly the most desultory possible 17-point win in the NFL. Frankly, the Titans did better than I thought they’d do.

True, they only managed one real sustaining drive, for the touchdown at the end of the first half, but it’s hard to put together sustaining drives in the NFL. With c. 2011 Chris Johnson and without Kenny Britt, the Titans don’t really have any above average guys with the ball in their hands. The big plays to Damian Williams were encouraging; drives keyed by one or a couple big plays is how teams tend to score (this is a topic I’ve touched a little on before that’ll probably end up a big research project in the offseason). Those two pass plays, with a little help on each drive, produced points, which they wouldn’t have without those big plays.

I considered writing about Williams and Jared Cook, who combined to catch six of the seven passes thrown their way for a total of one hundred yards, but frankly it’s what they’re not doing as much as what they did. I’m headed to the game this weekend, and will see in person how they do on an every-down basis.

In my recap of the win against the Browns, a game that I think most people were a lot happier about than they were about the Colts game, I chose to highlight five plays because those five plays to me, really, were the difference in the game. The Titans outplayed the Browns, too, but without those busts by the Browns, we’re closer to the 13-10-type game I was anticipating.

One curious thing, and not something I was really expecting, by DVOA terms, the Titans defensively against the run came out even worse than they were against the Texans the week prior. I noted in my recap the Colts were exceptionally, stupidly really pass-heavy, even though they ran the ball successfully. That makes them the fourth consecutive team to have an above-average rushing game against the Titans, and the run defense has come out worse in each successive game since the great days against the Ravens and Broncos early in the year.  Just to highlight one thing the Colts did: they ran the ball on third down four times. They converted three of those, including on third-and-goal from the four for their only score of the game. The only time they didn’t convert was a third-and-fifteen, and even that picked up 9 yards. The Titans for the year are still a relatively good third-down run defense, and perhaps the Colts game is a one-time blip, but their overall run defense performance the past few games has been like the Eagles’ this year, and the Titans don’t have the passing attack to force teams to more or less abandon the run.

Relatedly, or possibly not, one thing that’s gone quietly under the radar is that the Titans are not really putting Akeem Ayers in the game. They played an awful lot of nickel against the Texans, apparently more than most teams have especially when the more immobile Lawrence Vickers is in at fullback, and played more nickel than I anticipated against the Colts, even when the Colts did not have a third wide receiver on the field. That’s one thing to keep an eye on going forward.

The other player who probably deserves his own post is Barrett Ruud. The Titans have struggled covering tight ends this year, more than they have last year. I think Ruud is less of a liability in run defense than most people think he is, and that when he’s getting beat in coverage, he’s getting beat by opposing quarterbacks willing to make stick throws in tight windows, rather than letting tight ends freely romp down the field. Perhaps I’ll give him his due for good or ill next week.

Pardon the relatively disjointed nature of this post, but sometimes a braindump needs to be made.

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