Notes from a trip to Nashville

Pardon the belated nature of this post, but life has an annoying tendency of getting in the way of the rest of life.

I made my annual pilgrimage to LP Field for the game against the Kansas City Chiefs last week, and as I normally do I tended to write a post based on what I saw. Sadly, the rain prevented me from engaging in my occasional OCD-like note-taking habits, and I ended up soaking in the game experience similar to the way I do on most Sundays before beginning the important analysis with a re-watch. Further, one of the things I found valuable about going to games is getting a perspective you couldn't get from the TV film. With the all-22 now available (and I have been watching, though I haven't been writing about it), seeing Michael Griffin regularly line up 15 yards or so off the line of scrimmage was not news the way it at least sort of would have been in 2007. I still did notice some things, though.

I was going to write a post about the Tennessee Titans offense based on what I saw against the Chiefs, but it turns out I've already written that post. Twice. I first wrote that post in December 2011, after I attended the game in Indianapolis they lost to the theretofore winless Colts. I wrote a roughly similar post in December 2012, though that one I couched more about Jake Locker than about the offense as a whole. On balance, though, the point was the same, that the Titans offense looked fundamentally broken. I noted this piece on Twitter yesterday, but according to STATS ICE metrics the Titans' running game/offensive line this season has been just as ineffective as it was over the course of last season. This was not supposed to happen, not after they paid Andy Levitre $46.6 million and drafted Chance Warmack with the tenth overall pick. Yet, it has. 

I suppose it's now incumbent upon me to say something about Chris Johnson. What I wrote in November 2011 is still true; yes, he's stopped doing the asinine, horrific, and completely inexplicable things he did at times in 2011, but fundamentally those were not why I said I was done with him. He's still a back who is dependent on the quality of the blocking in front of him to gain yards. Dowell Loggains has been asked in his press conference about getting CJ to the second level; that's completely insufficient. He's just as much solely a function of his blocking at the second level as he is at the first level. 

This was beyond obvious on Sunday, when Jamaal Charles repeatedly made a move at the second level to turn a short gain into a medium gain, yet CJ never once did so. Getting CJ to be productive in the run game necessitates getting him to the third level, where he is one v. one on defensive backs in the open field, completely untouched. When that happens, he's a good player. Otherwise, he is not. I do not think this is news to anybody who has been paying attention, and I do not think anything has materially changed since at least 2011, plus a good chunk of it was likely true in 2010 as well (I never finished going back and watching the all-22 for that season).

Are things going to change? Rob Turner was not a high-priced free agent, and is playing like the sort of player coaches describe as a "battler." Brian Schwenke's time is coming sooner or later, though whether that time is the game in St. Louis after the bye or Week 1 2014 is impossible for me to say. The Titans are right, though, in that there's no "one thing" that they have to fix-it's everything. Warmack remains a work in progress. Offensive lines depend on continuity and the ability to work together, and that's a work in progress, especially with the three interior guys. Levitre is nowhere close to a healthy Carl Nicks-level run blocker, which is why I wasn't sure it made sense to give him even 80% of the contract Nicks got. The return of Shonn Greene will give them a more viable alternative to CJ's non-sustaining style than Jackie Battle, but the run game is the run game will be the run game, more or less.

As I normally do, once I got a look at the gamebook, I performed my usual success rate calculation. And the Titans actually had a 37% success rate on offense, up slightly from their 35% against the Jets. That's exaggerated slightly by the pretty meaningless final drive, but I think the general point is that the offense was not particularly successful in terms of sustaining in either game. It was just in the Jets game the Titans started three drives in Jets territory and finished all three of them with touchdowns. On Sunday, they started two possessions in Chiefs territory and finished one of them with a touchdown, a more normal performance. By my use of success rate, I'm not trying to minimize what the Titans did well against the Jets or what they didn't do well against the Chiefs. Rather, I'm suggesting we should think their performance on offense in the two games was less significantly different than it appeared to be, and while the Titans broke the 20 offensive points in regulation barrier against the Jets for the second time in Jake Locker's 14 NFL games (15 starts, not counting @HOU 2012 due to his early injury), they really weren't that great on offense.

The passing game? Eh. I never aspired to more than average. The Chiefs pressed the Titans into the ground, something I expect the Seahawks to do with even greater success this week. The field goal drive featured a couple plays where they got Wright open with some good plays, but aside from that chunks in the passing game were hard to come by. The first touchdown drive came on a scramble and a dumpoff with an extraordinary amount of YAC, both what I think of as just this side of the double-deflection long TD sort of sustainable. Ryan Fitzpatrick's two interceptions were both missed throws-the first one I think Nate Washington should have done a better job on, but if the throw is outside where it needs to be, it's not an issue. The second one he just missed. On the whole, watching him unsurprisingly reminded me a lot of watching Matt Hasselbeck, down to the crumbling before the big sack when Dontari Poe got him. That's probably why my mind went to the December 2011 post, where I noted Hasselbeck was neither the problem nor the solution. As I wrote before Sunday's game, I feel similarly about Fitzpatrick.

The defense was solid against an offense I still see as thoroughgoingly average at best outside the aforementioned Charles. They played well enough to win, as they have every game this season, but not well enough to win on their own, as was also true for about every game this season (more debatable, but I don't want to get into that discussion). Narrativity claims will be based on the blown fourth-quarter lead. Those are not wrong, but I also don't think that's the point. If the offense was any good, or if not for the horrible luck on that special teams score (seriously, it hits Damian Williams at the 22 and bounces into the end zone!?), maybe we're talking about a different outcome. Third downs are sort of overrated (it's complicated, another tangent I don't want to get into), but 1-12 is pretty good. The Fokou call was unfortunate, but them's the breaks. That's an extra defensive stop, on the eleventh drive of the game, defense wasn't able to make; see the second paragraph in this sentence.

I'll have more to say about the Seattle game in Enemy Intelligence tomorrow, plus another post that'll go up when I have the time to work on it. Maybe a second Saturday post if I can manage it; yeah, not ideal timing, but that whole life thing.

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