Jun 132013
 

Mike Munchak and Jake Locker10. Tennessee Titans
Head Coach: Mike Munchak
2012 Record: 6-10
2012 Offense: 330 points scored, 23rd in points, 26th in yards (22nd passing, 21st rushing)
2012 Defense: 471 points allowed, 32nd in points, 27th in yards (26th passing, 24th rushing)

Key Additions
QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, RB Shonn Greene, G Andy Levitre, TE Delanie Walker, WR Kevin Walter, WR Roberto Wallace, LB Moise Fokou, S Bernard Pollard, G Chance Warmack, WR Justin Hunter, CB Blidi Wreh-Wilson

Key Losses
RB Javon Ringer, TE Jared Cook, QB Matt Hasselbeck, G Steve Hutchinson, DL Sen’Derrick Marks, DL Dave Ball, LB Will Witherspoon, LB Zac Diles, DB Ryan Mouton, S Jordan Babineaux

Why 2013 will be better
Chris Johnson remains one of the best backs in the league, and adding Shonn Greene makes the Titan’s running game even more dangerous. Adding Levitre and Warmack immediately improves the offensive line and will give both Johnson and Greene better running lanes. Jake Locker had a so-so first year as a starter, but could be poised for a breakout year if he and new offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains get their heads together on the Titans’ variation of a read option offense. Locker is athletic and mobile, but injuries are a legitimate concern. His backup, Ryan Fitzpatrick, was a short-lived wonder in Buffalo who dried up as soon as he got paid. Will getting cut and becoming a backup fuel him if Locker should go down? Titans’ fans are hoping they won’t have to find out. On defense, the linebacker corps features Zach Brown and Akeem Ayers, two young players with complementary skill sets who promise to disrupt opposing offenses. Fouku joins the group inside along with Colin McCarthy, and as a group the Titans are capable of defending both the pass and the run with better proficiency than they did last season.

Why 2013 will be worse
Kenny Britt is the anchor of the Titans’ receiving corps, which is problematic for Tennessee given Britt’s proclivity for off-field mischief and his failure to put together a full season in four years as a pro. Nate Washington is a reliable target, but the team may be forced to find out early whether or not Justin Hunter was worth trading up for. Kendall Wright had a strong rookie campaign, and Delanie Walker is a serviceable receiving tight end, but the Titans’ receivers don’t give the appearance of a group that will scare teams. Still, the group doesn’t have to dominate to help the Titans win games; they simply need to complement what promises to be a run heavy offense. They have potential, but it is a generally unproven group. If the Titans are going to have a more successful 2013, it will be because there is significant improvement in the defense, and this will have to begin up front, where Derrick Martin and Kamerion Wimbley return as reliable defensive line bookends. The biggest improvement here is the addition of Sammie Lee Hill to Jurrell Casey and Mike Martin inside, but I’m not sure it’s enough; the Titans have depth on the line, but lack big playmakers. The secondary is also problematic, where Jason McCourty landed a big contract despite not being a solid #1 corner. He is good in zone but struggles in man coverage. The next two nickel spots are an open competition, but the Titans will continue to be susceptible to passing attacks like the ones they will face from Indianapolis, Houston, San Francisco, and Denver. At safety, Tennessee landed the physical Pollard, but Michael Griffin has decent range, but was mistake prone in 2012. He has to rebound in order to help the Titans avoid being a porous pass defense. The kicking game may also be an issue if Rob Bironas continues the decline he experienced in 2012.

Outlook
The Titans look to be improved from 2012, but only marginally. The biggest improvement seems to be in the offensive line, which should aid the Titans in pounding the ball, and keeping the defense off the field after a season in which the Titans gave up the most points in the league. Given that the Titans play the Jaguars twice and get to play the AFC West, it’s conceivable that the Titans will break even at 8-8 this season… somewhere between five and eight wins appears to be their range. But the team is still a year or two away from being a legitimate contender.

Sep 182012
 

I watched the Falcons beat the Broncos 27-21 last night and marveled at the defensive game plan put together by the Falcons’ defensive coordinator Mike Nolan. They confused Peyton early and often to stake the Falcons to an early lead and then held off the late Manning surge to escape with a hard fought victory last night. I noted that running back Michael Turner didn’t exactly have a great game last night, rushing for 42 yards on 17 carries with one touchdown.

What I didn’t know was that Turner’s night was about to get a whole lot worse.

According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, the Falcon’s running back was arrested early this morning for driving under the influence of alcohol and speeding. Turner was allegedly driving his Audi R8 97 mph in a 65 mph zone on I-85 northbound near Indian Trail Road just after 4 a.m.

Turner of course is now entitled to his legal process and presumption of innocence, and this article isn’t just about Michael Turner. Rather, the purpose of this post is to raise a simple question: what the hell are NFL players thinking when they choose to drink and then get behind the wheel of a car?

This has been quite a year for NFL players and DUI arrests. Since the end of the 2011 regular season, here is a list of the players arrested for suspicion of driving under the influence:

July 20 – Titans WR Kenny Britt (DUI)
July 19 – Chiefs CB Donald Washington (Possession, Driving under influence of drugs, Speeding)
July 14 – Seahawks RB Marshawn Lynch (DUI)
July 10 – Rams DE Robert Quinn (DUI)
July 2 – Buccaneers CB Eric Wright (DUI)
June 23 – Lions CB Aaron Berry (DUI)
June 10 – Giants OT David Diehl (DUI)
June 3 – Jaguars WR Justin Blackmon (aggravated DUI)
June 2 – Vikings FB Jerome Felton (DUI)
May 27 – Lions DT Nick Fairley (DUI, Eluding police)
May 9 – Raiders WR Darrius Heyward-Bey (DUI)
April 26 – Redskins S Brandon Meriweather (CUI)
February 1 – Broncos RB Knowshon Moreno (DUI)
January 27 – 49ers LB Aldon Smith (DUI)

You get the point… I could essentially put together a football team with the number of players arrested. So why are NFL players not getting the point? And what is the league going to do about it? This is the same NFL that has partnered with MADD to create a game-day designated driver program for fans but couldn’t get players to use a Safe Ride program set up by the league for players, which was ultimately shut down because it wasn’t used. So what gives?

Yes, the league regularly takes disciplinary action against players for various acts of misconduct, and no doubt Turner will face a penalty once the facts come out. But that is a bit like closing the barn door after the horse has gotten out. The past several seasons have been full of tales about the NFL’s increased focus on good citizenship and personal responsibility, yet it is still a cause for celebration whenever PFT’s meter for days without an arrest hits double digits. I get that these are young adults that think they are invincible. What they seem to fail to get is that playing football in the NFL is a privilege, and that privilege can (and should) be compromised when a player cannot meet basic behavioral expectations. Unfortunately, the coddling of athletes from high school through college and into the pros has too many of these young men thinking that there will always be someone else to fix the problems that they create and they can therefore avoid responsibility for their actions. The old argument raised by Charles Barkley that he wasn’t a role model isn’t even a question to many players anymore, and this is extremely disheartening, especially to a parent who attempts to be a role model to his own children and who is disappointed when athletes that his children idolize fall far short of being good citizens (thank you, Michael Vick).

I am not throwing the baby out with the bath water. There are many, many NFL players that “get it”, but as we all know if takes many pieces of good publicity to make up for just one bad one. And 15 DUI arrests of NFL players in 2012 is giving the NFL a black eye that no amount of positive news is going to overwhelm.

Dallas Cowboys’ owner Jerry Jones received some criticism for creating a personal code of conduct for Dez Bryant as a result of Bryant’s off-field issues. The plan was complete with a 24 hour security detail to protect Bryant from himself. Maybe Jones is on to something.

Sep 092012
 

Welcome to our live blog of the Patriots-Titans contest. This post will be updated as game events unfold. Feel free to leave your comments below. Be kind. :-)

Three Keys for the Patriots

If you are a Patriots fan, here’s what you are looking for in Week One:

1. 3rd down defense; The Patriots were the worst in the league last season for getting off the field on third down. Will the new look defense with Chandler Jones and Dont’a Hightower be able to get the ball back into the hands of Tom Brady with more frequency?

2. Offensive line; The line had troubles in the pre-season and looks to be without Pro Bowl guard Brian Waters, but Mankins, Solder, and Vollmer are all back on the field. Will they give Brady the time he needs to pick apart opposing defenses?

3. Better secondary; The front seven has a lot to do with how good any secondary looks, but what about the performance of the Pat’s corners and safeties? Will McCourty rebound from a tough sophomore year? Will Dowling stay healthy? Is Dennard a diamond in the rough? Will Gregory, Wilson and Ebner be a step up from last year’s nightmare rotation at safety? Locker and the Titans should only be effective if Chris Johnson is having a monster game.

Three Keys for the Titans

1. Is Jake Locker ready? Look for the Titans to try and spread things out to give Locker opportunities to make plays with both his arm and his feet. Locker looked adequate in the pre-season but was not close to stellar.

2. Will Chris Johnson return to Pro Bowl form? Is a full training camp and pre-season all that Johnson needs to return to form? The Patriots defense projects to be stout against the run, but Johnson is capable of turning any play into a big gain. This is a good early test for both sides.

3. Is the defensive line as good as the Titans think it is? The Titans greatest weakness of 2011 might well be a strength of 2012, if the Titans can bring pressure to bear on opposing quarterbacks. Expect the strength of this unit to be up the middle as the defensive ends progress more slowly, but injuries may make the middle susceptible this week.

Note – the Titans will be without wide receiver Kenny Britt, who is serving a one game suspension.

PREDICTION: Patriots 28 Titans 17

Players listed as “Out” or “Inactive”  are:

Patriots –
DE Jake Bequette
CB Alfonzo Dennard
TE Daniel Fells
DL Marcus Forston
DL Justin Francis
OL Nick McDonald
RB Shane Vereen <sarcasm>shocker</sarcasm>

Titans –
QB Rusty Smith
RB Javon Ringer
LB Zac Diles
T Mike Otto
T Byron Stingily
DE Pannel Egboh
DT Sen’Derrick Marks

GAME BLOG

Pre-Game: CBS reporting more trouble coming for the beleaguered New Orleans Saints as a result of a DEA investigation. A civil settlement is being negotiated but this will no doubt carry more penalties from the league. Nice ship you’ve been running there, Coach Payton.

Pre-Game. The game hasn’t started yet and I already love NFL Sunday Ticket! Also, wearing the silver “54” Bruschi jersey today. Let’s see how it goes. :-)

FIRST QUARTER
15:00 – It’s officially New England football season!

Titans possession:
Good containment on first two plays. Good pressure on third down but Titans convert for 17 yard game. Same problem as last season on third down. PI against Dowling. So far the Titans are giving Locker short, safe plays. Titans go on fourth down after bad spot for Johnson. Great pass from Locker to Washington for big gain. Pats stiffen up but McCourty gets away with obvious PI. Titans get field goal for early 3-0 lead.

Patriots possession:
Begin at 26 yard line after McCourty return. Hernandez nice catch and run for 9. Ridley looks tentative on short carry, but then tears off a big gain for 17. Lloyd misjudged ball and misses an easy touchdown. Walker drops a sure first down to end drive. Patriots punt.

Titans possession:
Tennessee starts on own 19 after short Mesko punt. Chandler Jones stuffs Johnson for three yard loss. Run defense looking stout so far. On third and twelve Pats stop Titans for quick three and out.

Patriots possession:
Patriots get nice punt return from Edelman to start at the at their own 32 yard line. Brady hits Gronk for big 28 yard gain. Ridley rips off another big gain for 16. Brady to Hernandez for 23 yard touchdown strike! 7-3 Patriots.

Titans possession:
Titans start at own 18. Locker starts with three straight passes as Titans convert on third down again. Need to see where the coverage breakdown was. Fourth straight pass for four yard gain as Pats maintain containment.

END OF FIRST QUARTER

SECOND QUARTER

Titans possession:
Titans open with stretch pass for first down. Pats pick off Locker on next play In the end zone. Gift wrapped for Tavon Wilson – welcome to the NFL.

Patriots possession:
Pats start with acrobatic catch by Lloyd for 28, challenged by Titans. Bad challenge as Lloyd definitely caught the ball; play confirmed. Ridley gets 7 on quick pass before getting stuffed on the next play. On third down Brady gets sacked by Wimbley, forcing a Patriots punt, which the Pats down near the 10. Wimbley’s knee hit Brady in the face, drawing blood. Giselle is not going to be happy. ;-p

Titans possession:
Pats snuff run again after Washington drops an easy pass. Hightower looks good so far today. Pats strip Locker of ball, Hightower gets easy touchdown. Pats up 14-3. This defense is definitely looking like an improvement over the 2011 model. Chandler Jones forced the fumble. Good day for Pats rookies so far.

Titans possession:
Titans start at own 18 after blatant hold on return. Chandler Jones stuffs Johnson on first down run. Short pass for two but Mayo shuts it down. Locker scrambles nicely for first down. Locker misses open pass after Pats shut down anoth run, bringing up third down. Johnson catches pass from Locker but comes up a yard short. Titans punt. Edelman muffs punt but the was pretty clear interference by the Titans. First down Patriots.

Patriots possession:
Ridley tears off 15 yard run to open drive. Sideline pass to Lloyd for 9. Brady muscles out first down on the sneak. Brady misses Welker on long pass. Woodhead makes smart play to create manageable third down. Injury timeout for a Titans defender. Hernandez takes direct snap for first down. Brady to Gronk for 7. Edelman for another first down. 5 more yards with connection to Welker. Woodhead runs it to the 10; third down. Titans confused on coverage assignment but Brady calls Pats first time out. Ridley takes it to the 2. First and goal. Brady to Gronk for two yard touchdown. Woot! Pats up 21-3.

Titans possession:
Cook stays in bounds after short completion but Reynaud gets out after first down catch. Locker sacked by Jermaine Cunningham. Williams catch brings up 3rd and 5 aft second Tennessee timeout (first used on challenge). Titans receiver Williams doesn’t use head on third down play, short of first down, forcing punt. Pats take second timeout.

Patriots possession:
Pats start at own 12 after short Edelman return. Pats take knee into halftime.

END OF SECOND QUARTER

Halftime reactions: Rookie defenders are looking great for the Pats. Troubling sign for Jake Bequette that he is inactive today. Locker doesn’t look bad at all, but Chris Johnson can’t find room to run on the defense and the Titans defense can’t keep up with Brady and Co. Ridley is looking like a premiere running back today. Patriots get the ball to start the second half.

THIRD QUARTER

Patriots possession:
Pats open on their own 20. Pass to Hernandez for 4. Ridley muscles out a first down- solid running day so far. Ridley another nice run for 7. Quick stretch play to Hernandez for another 12. Ridley loses one on nice play by Morgan. Brady misfires short on blitz. Edelman angry on called incomplete- looks like he caught the ball off his shoe. No challenge by Belichick and Patriots punt.

Titans possession:
Locker opens with big 35 yard completion to Jared Cook. McCourty breaks up next Locker pass. Chris Johnson gets 15 on short pass. Locker to Washington on pretty play as Locker was on his way to being sacked. Pats 21 Titans 10.

Patriots possession:
Brady opens with a bounce to Lloyd. Ridley gets 4 to set up a long third down. Gronk saves a low pass for a first down. Ridley ridden down for 4 yard loss by Jason McCourty. Hernandez gets five back to set up another third and long. Another first down completion to Gronk. Brady to Lloyd for another 11 yards, then to Welker for just one. Hernandez for 7 more. Brady can’t find a receivers on third down and throws the ball away. Patriots punt and Mesko pins the Titans at the 9 yard line.

Titans possession:
Johnson snuffed on opening pass. McCourty picks off Locker on errant throw, but it is a questionable pick. Play being reviewed. Play overruled – good call by official. Third and ten. Designed quartback for big gain, but Titans held, so the play comes back. Titans stuffed at 2 yard line to bring up punt.

Patriots possession:
Edelman brings punt to the Titans 47 to set up the offense. Brady to Gronk for six yards. Ridley runs throu a big hole to get it to the Titans 26. Lloyd for six more, then Ridley pounds another first down. Ridley to the one yard line. Patriots wearing down the Titans front line. Ridley touchdown. Pats 28 Titans 10.

Titans possession:
Johnson hammered for one yard loss. Fans booing, but the Pats defense is just soffocating the run. Locker incomplete as Wilfork hammers him. Locker to Williams for the first down. Wright for 12 to end quarter.

END OF THIRD QUARTER

FOURTH QUARTER

Titans possession:
Johnson underneath for three. Free play (offsides) covered by Chandler Jones. Second and short. Nate Washington hammered after big gain, loses ball to Patrick Chung. Locker gets Hurts left shoulder during the tackle. Washington not getting up; injury timeout. Clean hit to cause the fumble. Play overturned as incomplete, but Hasselbeck on field. Good call on replay. Hasselbeck to Johnson for big third down conversion. Williams for seven yards, then Hawkins for a first down. Raynaud runs for two. Mayo PI for another first down. Stevens for five on a screen. Wright on a quick pass to the Patriot two. Johnson snuffed by Wilfork for loss off four. Johnson now has 11 carries for 4 yards. Wow. Hasselbeck misfires on second down. Incomplete on third down; good no-call on Chung. Titans nail field goal. Pats 28 Titans 13.

Patriots possession:
Ridley catches a pass out of the backfield for 20 yards. Woodhead for three and then Brady to Lloyd for a first down. Lloyd looks good today – 5 catches. Woodhead runs for two. Welker for 8 after Phil Simms calls the Titans defense cows standing in a pasture. Woodhead for six. Woodhead for two more. Ridley rips through the defense down to the 10 yard line. Ridley for one yard. He has 123 yards today (unofficial). Patriots take first time out with 4:33 left. Connolly in locker room – Brian Waters might be getting a call soon. Ridley for two as Titans take first time out. Brady scrambles out of trouble but misses Hernandez in he end zone. Ghost makes it a 31-13 margin with a field goal. 4:15 left.

Titans possession:
Titans start at the 20. Wright for four. Next an incomplete pass. Hasselbeck misfires on third down, forcing a fourth down attempt. Bad pass by Hasselbeck leads to turnover deep in Titan territory. I question doing that on fourth down. The game is decided and now they are inviting the Patriots to step on their throats.

Patriots possession:
Brandon Bolden for nine, then for two more. First down. Bolden for two more as the Patriots take it to two minutes. Looks like the Patriots are invoking the mercy rule. Bolden stuffed on next run. This is Brady’s 125th, moving his past Fran Tarkenton. Bolden loses ground to the 15. Ghost adds three more for 34-13 advantage. 31 seconds left.

Titans possession:
Titans run out the clock.

END OF FOURTH QUARTER

FINAL SCORE: PATRIOTS 31 TITANS 13

Post-Game Analysis:

The Titans are a good team and appear to be in the verge of being a contender, but they were simply no match for the Patriots today. The Patriots displayed excellent balance on offense, with Stevan Ridley racking up 125 yards on 21 carries and one touchdown, and the Patriots defense looked much improved over last season, stuffing the run and forcing the Titans into a one dimensional offense. This game set a good tone that the Patriots hope to follow up on next week.

When the Patriots ran:

As noted Ridley racked up 125 yards and the Patriots rushed for 162 yards overall as the caught the Titans off guard with their attack. Ridley ripped off several large chunks of yards as the Titans could not contain the Patriots’ attack. Advantage: Patriots

When the Patriots passed:

Tom Brady was his usual efficient self, going 23 for 31 (74%) for 236 yards and two touchdowns, with no interceptions. Gronkowski and Hernandez each had six catches and Brandon Lloyd had five in his Patriots debut. The balance among receivers also had the Titans guessing all afternoon. Wes Welker had a quiet three receptions for 14 yards, and was a non-factor in the game. Advantage: Patriots

When the Titans ran:

Chris Johnson finished with 4 yards on 11 carries, and the Titans only rushed for 20 yards. The Patriots front seven simply suffocated the Titans run game all day, and Titans had no answer for Vice Wilfork, Chandler Jones, and Dont’a Hightower. Advantage: Patriots

When the Titans passed:

Although the Titans were turned into a one-dimensional offense today, Locker performed admirably. He was 23 of 32 (71%) for 229 yards with one touchdown and one interception before leaving with an injured left shoulder. Matt Hasselbeck went 6 of 11 for 43 yards when the game was well out of hand. The 272 yards of passing offense was commendable, but the Patriots limited the Titans to short catches for the most part, with the longest plays being for 35 and 29 yards. Advantage: Tie

Special Teams:

No major plays on either side, and no major blunders. Both kickers posted two field goals. Advantage: Tie

 

Key Moment: Chandler Jones’ strip of Jake Locker that Dont’a Hightower brought in for a touchdown

This week’s game ball goes to Stevan Ridley