I managed to make it through the all-22 of Monday night's game over the Jets. Rather than highlight a particular player, as I've done in the past, this post instead is a combination of various notes and observations from watching each individual play, most of them a number of times.
1. I'm going to defray discussion of Jake Locker until a separate post, which should run tomorrow or Saturday. I know, he's a large part of the offense, and he's important. I'm not going to go into great breakdowns of every play, but I'll get into him later.
2. I know he got hurt on the play, but it was very nice to see Kendall Wright separate deep on Antonio Cromartie on the play where he got injured in the fourth quarter. Maybe Cromartie had his eyes on the backfield on Locker's movement, but Wright ran by him and was open deep. I said after the draft his bad 40 was a bad reason to dislike the pick, but hadn't really seen him separate deep. He did on that play.
3. Writing about Chris Johnson is kind of boring. When the blocking is bad, he doesn't gain many yards. When the blocking is good, he can gain yards. When somebody blows a gap, he can get the edge on a slower safety, like he did on Yeremiah Bell on his long touchdown. Aside from the play where he outran Bell, he didn't do much to make defenders miss. I didn't keep track of his yards after contact, but it wouldn't shock me if 115 of his 122 yards came before contact. That's probably a bit high, but does indicate how little yardage he made on his own. I continue to think paying $10 million next year for that kind of productivity is completely insane, not that I expect the Titans to cut him.
4. I've mentioned this before, but when a coach talks about how the player brings a lot of energy, he's probably not very good. Every week I manage to watch all the offensive snaps on the all-22, I find it difficult to watch Deuce Lutui, or would if I wasn't basically inured to it by now. He struggled with Mike DeVito. He struggled with Muhammad Wilkerson. He allowed penetration. He let DeVito cross his face and effectively two-gap when CJ tried to cut back. At times he really struggled to get off combo blocks and get to the second level. If he's starting again next year, barring some really weird mid-career improvement, the Titans will struggle to run the ball with consistency again.
5. I thought watching the game live Kyle DeVan did a really nice job filling in at center after Kevin Matthews went out. From the all-22, I was less impressed. I wasn't quite as unimpressed as I have been regularly with Lutui, but if the Titans this week elect to play Velasco at center and start Mitch Petrus at left guard (and of course I've never watched Petrus play in detail), it's hard for me to say ex ante that's a mistake.
6. I have no issues with the Titans playing Craig Stevens aside from their consistent philosophical commitment to the run game, but he's not a matchup threat. Given who Locker is as a quarterback right now, I'd prefer to see more Taylor Thompson in obvious passing situations this week. That might also make me think Thompson was more than a personal project of Chris Palmer whose future of the team beyond this season is highly questionable.
7. Akeem Ayers and Zach Brown both owe Derrick Morgan a sack. I highlighted Morgan on Austin Howard before the game for a reason, and he had a lot of success. On two linebacker sacks, Morgan beat his man (one time Howard, another time extra tackle Jason Smith), which forced the extra blocker to help. That opened up a lane for the linebacker to get an untouched sack on a delayed blitz. I was very down on Morgan's pass-rush potential coming out of Georgia Tech, and he still only has 4.5 sacks this year, but he's been productive in favorable matchups of late.
8. Watching a game like the Minnesota game, Zach Brown was playing very frenetic in zone defense. I haven't seen him running around like that lately. That's a good thing. He had some plays where he got beat, but he also blew up a screen pass with some nice recognition. There are still times during the game you can see the speed and short area burst, especially with Shaw playing Mike next to him. I don't mean to suggest Shaw is quite in Brad Kassell territory, but there are plays where it's easy to see "Zach Brown fast, Tim Shaw not fast."
9. I struggle at times with Akeem Ayers. He makes some good plays and he makes some not so good plays. Maybe I'm just watching him more closely this year, but I feel like he should be ahead of where he is. For an offseason project, maybe I'll have to pay attention to a game or two of his and particularly his development as a rusher. That's something I haven't focused on, but I think he's getting better there.
10. Maybe I'm just noticing the negative plays and there are dogs that don't bark that I'm missing, but Coty Sensabaugh looks an awful lot like a rookie playing cornerback. At this point in the season, there's no good reason not to give young players like him a chance to play more, which has allowed me to reach a certain level of comfort, but dammit, the Titans started the preseason with McCourty, Campbell, and Verner in the nickel package, and I want to see that in the regular season, at least for a half.
11. On Mark Sanchez's second interception, an overthrown deep pass that Jason McCourty nabbed, it looked an awful lot like Cover-2 with McCourty and Michael Griffin as the deep safeties. Maybe I misread the coverage, but it really looked like those were the two safeties. Jerry Gray has played some vanilla looks at times, but that's definitely not vanilla, and it's not something I noticed before.
12. I've been talking about Michael Griffin's terrible ball skills for the last couple years. He did have that interception against the Panthers that was negated by an unrelated defensive penalty last year, but for the first 55 quarters of this season did nothing to prove me wrong. Then, he picked off two passes. The first, it looked like the Titans were in Cover-3 and Griffin moved over from his deep middle position to the sidelines and intercepted a go route. The second interception looked like he was the single deep safety in man-free. Sanchez tried a pump to the offensive left to get him to move, but he didn't bite at all and easily got over the top of the throw to get his second interception of the quarter and his third in three years that showed actual ball skills.
13. I won't really get into writing about draft stuff until after this season has been fully digested, but the closest thing I've had to a draft mancrush this season has been Star Lotulelei. Sen'Derrick Marks has played better this season, and their better defensive efforts have come when he's played a lot, but some games, like against the Jets, I don't notice him that much. Jurrell Casey's not bad, but I believe the Titans could really use a standout defensive tackle. With the win against the Jets, they're probably out of the running for Star and, given how often they listen to me, may reach for a running back or something. As long as they don't draft a kicker in the first two rounds, though, I'll live with it. Take that kicker, though, and I may go find another team to root for.