Like many Tennessee Titans fans, I was pessimistic about this year’s team. There were many visible problems, on both sides of the ball, that were not satisfactorily addressed, if at all, in the draft and free agency. A 6-10 record, the same as last year, seemed probable.
Despite the problems, and several embarrasing losses which further exposed the weaknesses, there’s now reason to believe the Titans could actually finish at a mediocre but somewhat respectable 8-8.
The reasons for this optimism, after the jump.
1. The remaining schedule – The Titans already have five wins and can finish at 8-8 by winning just three of the remaining seven games. Two games – vs Tampa Bay and at Buffalo – seem, on the surface, to be about evenly matched. If the Titans can split those two, that would put them into good position to win eight, as they will likely be heavily favored to beat the Colts and Jaguars. Who knows how the Texans will fare with Matt Leinart instead of Matt Schaub, but if Leinart is still Houston’s starter in the regular season finale, the Titans might have a decent chance to win that game too.
2. Contributing rookies - Akeem Ayers and Jurrell Casey have started every game and are improving. I wrote earlier that I thought Casey was the Titans’ best rookie so far, and he has been their best run stopper. Ayers just had his best game of the season. I hope Jerry Gray continues to utilize him as a pass rusher, which he did more of against Carolina than at any other time this year. Colin McCarthy got his first NFL start and acquitted himself well. He’s more physical than Barrett Ruud and not as bad in pass coverage as I expected. Karl Klug has been an important piece in the d-line rotation and been their most effective pass rusher.
3. The emergence of Damian Williams – There’s no doubt the loss of Kenny Britt was a stiff body blow to the Titans and he obviously can’t be replaced. However, Williams has made major, and unexpected, contributions. In the six games since Britt’s injury, Williams has 21 receptions for 276 yards and four touchdowns. Williams is second in receptions (by one catch), second in receiving yards (by three) and has as many touchdowns as the other four combined. More than anyone, Williams is the one who has picked up the slack.
4. Is the running game improving? – CJ’s 130 yards rushing (4.8 yards per carry) against the Panthers gives cause for optimism. I don’t care that Carolina has one of the worst rush defenses in the league. At this point, I’m willing to settle for baby steps, expecting to see continued improvement upon that performance.
The same view applies to the long-term success of the team. The steps being made now are building blocks, a foundation, for the future and there’s reason to be encouraged by what we’re seeing.