I discussed this in my Levitre-Watt post, but winning the division can drive a lot of what teams do. This isn't anything specific to the Titans-the Ravens apparently look for tough players because they know they'll need to beat the Steelers and the Steelers had a well-developed culture of toughness. Since the Ruston Webster and Mike Munchak are in something at least very close to a win-or-you're-out situation in 2013, a greater focus than normal will be on winning immediately. With that in mind, let's look at the other AFC South teams and how they might affect how the Titans draft. Note this will be sort of "what I think they're thinking" more than "what I think they should be thinking"; undoubtedly it'll be influenced by my biases, but I'm trying to limit just how much.
Jacksonville Jaguars: We can't believe we lost to this team last year. We had no business losing to this team. They have nothing at the quarterback position, and they'll still have nothing after this month's draft, at least from a 2013 perspective. They'll have to rely on the run game, and MJD is getting up there, and a defense that was as bad as or worse than ours was last year. Sure, new head coach Gus Bradley may have them playing hard and we can't just assume we'll win beat them twice. Still, if we're not a lot better than them in 2013, we have no shot of being here in 2014.
Indianapolis Colts: We can't believe this team made the playoffs last year. They hardly had any more business going 11-5 than we did, winning a lot of close games against bad teams. Yeah, that Andrew Luck kid is going to be a real headache for the next 10 years. He'll probably be awesome in 2018, but he made a ton of rookie mistakes in 2012 and will probably make plenty more mistakes in 2013. He's good, but he's not Peyton Manning or Tom Brady yet. Reggie Wayne was the guy who gave us the most problems last year, especially when they moved him into the slot. He didn't burn us, but he was consistently productive. Jerry Gray moved Alterraun Verner out of the slot when he got here; is he really comfortable putting him there again? We hope so, because we're either depending on Coty Sensabaugh improving a lot this offseason or a rookie.
The other thing the Colts had success with was something everybody else did, which was spreading us out and running between the tackles. Ballard's not a special back, but he does have some toughness. We got bigger and better between the tackles with Sammie Lee Hill replacing Sen'Derrick Marks. A healthy Colin McCarthy would make a lot here; he's done some nice things, but we need him on the practice field, too, not just on Sundays.
Defensively, even with the talent upgrades in free agency, they don't scare us. We just have to do a better job of keeping our house in order on offense. We didn't do a good enough job of that last year. There's not a player on that defense that really affects our planning.
Houston Texans: Obviously they've won the division the past two years, and that's because they've been the best team in the division the past two years. At the same time, this team isn't that scary. They had opportunities both of the past two seasons to clinch home-field advantage in the playoffs and couldn't get the job done. Yeah, yeah, they lost Matt Schaub the year before, but this is not the Patriots or the Broncos. They're not built around their quarterback, even if you just look at the offense. No, they're not quite as soft as the Colts from the early AFC South days, but this isn't a tough team like the Ravens or Steelers. We haven't been tougher than them, but we can be, and that's part of what we've tried to do this offseason. Let's continue that in the draft.
Andre Johnson is one of the best wide receivers in football, but one of the big reasons we paid Jason McCourty is because Johnson doesn't have a physical mismatch against him the same way he did against Cortland Finnegan. Johnson didn't do that much against us last year, either, with only 56 yards in each game. Owen Daniels can't run like he used to, and even if he could Zach Brown's as fast as he was or faster. Even Arian Foster didn't do that much against us last year, and they killed us in Nashville in 2011 running the ball with their two TE sets against our nickel package. With Greg Jones, they'll probably play more 2 RB, and with Bernard Pollard and George Wilson, we like our big nickel against their two TE sets more than like we liked having our slot corner setting the edge. Defensively, we really didn't do too badly against the Texans last year.
The one place where the Texans really punished us offensively was with their play design, especially early in games. We need our coaching staff to do a better job of not letting them take advantage of it. They're about the best team in the league at that, so it's a real challenge, but we think we can do better. Their offense doesn't work nearly as well when they don't score a touchdown on their opening drive, which they did both games against us last year.
Defensively, last year they showed they were vulnerable to spread-it-out passing attacks with great quarterbacks that could pick them apart. It would be nice to be able to do that against them, but we're not that team. One thing we saw the Patriots do against them is use their speed no-huddle and confuse them with shifting. We haven't been able to do much shifting the past couple years, and we're not about to turn into the Patriots, but Delanie Walker gives us the ability to incorporate more movement t and is an asset in the run game. If we can get J.J. Watt blocked, we can use Walker to lighten out the box and create favorable matchups in the run game or give Locker well defined reads that put our receivers in good position in the passing game, either in holes against zone or opportunities to win 1v1 in the passing game. Kenny Britt is such an unreliable knucklehead, but he's also shown he can be the guy who does that, even against a corner like Johnathan Joseph. That, plus he's cheap, is why he's still around.
Yeah, maybe we're a bit too optimistic here. But just like the Texans were more than one game better than we were when they went 10-6 and we went 9-7 in 2011, the difference between us now isn't really as great as the six game difference between our records in 2012 might make it seem. We're a better team than we were when the season ended. They're not as good as they were, and they weren't that great. We have to find somebody who can block J.J. Watt, and if that means using the 10th pick on a right guard, then we'll use the 10th pick on a right guard. Beyond that, we think we have all the key pieces in place. Now it's just a matter of doing it and relying on our coaches to build a team capable of punching the Texans in the face, because if we do we can beat them.
As I said in the introduction, hypothetical opinions of the Tennessee Titans do not necessarily overlap with my opinions.