Naughty Nurse: Tennessee Titans have personality disorder

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Apr 23, 2012



(Our Russian mail-order Naughty Nurse checks the statistical vital signs of each NFL team after each season. She breaks out her pigskin probe and uses her soothing, healing hands to take the temperature, and maybe a few liberties, with the Tennessee Titans. See her statistical analysis of other NFL teams here.)

By Scott Kacsmar (@CaptainComeback)
Cold, Hard Football Facts’ Freud

 
There may have been no team harder to read last season than the Tennessee Titans. Never stringing together more than three wins or two losses, the Titans marched in place to a 9-7 record, leaving little sign of where they’re headed next.
 
The 2011 season was to mark a new era for the franchise, as Jeff Fisher ended his 17-year tenure as head coach. He was replaced with rookie head coach and former Houston Oilers great Mike Munchak.
 
However, not much should have been expected to change, as Munchak joined the team’s coaching staff the same year as Fisher – way back in 1994. After doing offensive quality control for three years, Munchak moved to offensive line coach in 1997 and remained there until his promotion to head coach.
 
As a Hall of Fame guard, Munchak of course is invested in the running game. Their star running back, Chris Johnson, threatened to spoil that plan with a training camp holdout. The Titans eventually caved and Johnson signed a new deal worth $30M guaranteed.
 
Armed with a paid CJ2K, a new veteran quarterback in Matt Hasselbeck from Seattle, the Titans received good news on the suspension front: a blindfolded Roger Goodell used his “Jump to Conclusions” mat and landed on “No Suspension” for Kenny Britt. We said before the season that, based on regression, the Titans were a team to improve after their 6-10 finish in 2010, and that they did.
 
It could have been a playoff year if they ever showed any consistency. After a bad season-opening loss to Jacksonville, Tennessee won their next three games, including a stunning 26-13 victory over Baltimore in Week 2. Showing little ill-effects from the lockout, Hasselbeck was playing very well (8 TD, 3 INT, 104.7 passer rating), and the defense surrendered a league-best 14.0 PPG. Chris Johnson struggled in a big way, but the biggest loss was Kenny Britt’s torn MCL and ACL; losing him for the rest of the season.
 
But that 3-1 start would be the peak for Tennessee in 2011. When faced with a real challenge, they always folded. They took their top-ranked scoring defense into Pittsburgh, and Ben Roethlisberger, playing on an injured ankle, threw five touchdown passes as the Titans fell 38-17.
 
Things got worse when, after a bye week to recoup, the Titans hosted Houston in an early-season showdown in the AFC South. Houston dominated the game, winning 41-7 and never looking back in the division. As Tennessee picked up some wins over teams like the Colts and Panthers, they failed to overcome playoff teams like Cincinnati and Atlanta.
 
Their lowest point came in December. A week after a hard-fought loss to the Saints, the 7-6 Titans went into Indianapolis to take on the 0-13 Colts. Still in contention for the playoffs, the Titans fell behind 20-6 after Hasselbeck threw a pick six, and later allowed an 80-yard touchdown run to Donald Brown. The Colts shockingly picked up their first win of the season, 27-13. The game only strengthened Tennessee’s case as the team no one could figure out.
 
The Titans would pick up two wins to end the season, but they missed the playoffs in virtue of their head-to-head loss against Cincinnati; a game they held a 17-7 halftime lead in, before being outscored 17-0 in the second half.
 
After Hasselbeck’s second-half decline, a young quarterback in waiting (Jake Locker), Kenny Britt’s return from injury, Chris Johnson’s bizarrely bad season, and more free agent losses than additions, the Titans remain as one of the league’s great enigmas heading into 2012. Some changes should be in store for Mike Munchak to build a sense of identity for his team, or else…
 
Remember the Titans? They couldn’t figure out who they were.
 
The 2011 storyline: Consistently inconsistent. Even though they had a better record in the second half of the season (5-3) than they did in the first (4-4), the Titans were an afterthought down the stretch due to their erratic play and inability to string together wins. A telling sign is their ranking of 16th – perfectly average – in CHFF’s Quality Stats Power Rankings. This means the AFC South had the teams ranked 1st (Houston), 32nd (Indianapolis), and then there were the Jaguars.
 
The Vital Signs
Coach (record): Mike Munchak (9-7 with Tennessee, 9-7 overall)
2011 record: 9-7 (20.3 PPG – 19.8 PPG)
Record against the spread: 6-8-2
Record vs. Quality Opponents:  2-5 (17.7 PPG – 26.1 PPG)
Record last five seasons: 46-34 (.575)
Best Quality Stat in 2011: Bendability (5th), Defensive Real Passing Yards per Attempt (5th)
Worst Quality Stat in 2011: Defensive Hog Index (30th)
 
2011 Quality Stat Rankings
OVERALL QS SCOR BEND RPYPA DRPYPA QBR DQBR OPR DPR PRD OHI DHI REL
16 11 22 5 14 5 12 20 14 18 15 16 30 19
Overall = Overall position in Quality Stats Power Rankings; QS= Quality Standings; SCOR= Scoreability; Bend= Bendability; RPYPA= Real Passing Yards Per Attempt; DRPYPA= Defensive Real Passing; QBR= Real Quarterback Rating; DQBR= Defensive Real Quarterback Rating; OPR= Offensive Passer Rating; DPR= Defensive Passer Rating; PRD= Passer Rating Differential; OHI= Offensive Hog Index; DHI= Defensive Hog Index; REL= Relativity Index.
 
Statistical curiosity of 2011: Where were the sacks?
If you watched the whole season for Tennessee last year, you only saw 52 sacks. That number includes the total against their offense (24) and the number their defense (28) generated. Only Buffalo (23) allowed fewer sacks on offense, and only Tampa Bay (23) had fewer on defense.
 
While it’s a good sign the offense continued to keep the quarterback clean (2nd fewest hits in 2011; fewest in 2010 and 2009), the defense’s lack of finishing plays with pressure led to a modest 23 takeaways (11 interceptions, 12 fumbles).
 
Best game of 2011: 26-13 win vs. Baltimore (Week 2). Like Jacksonville, the Titans brought out their best for one-time rival Baltimore. After an early exchange of three and out drives and interceptions, the Titans drove 80 yards for a touchdown just before halftime to take a 10-7 lead. However, Baltimore responded after a long kick return to tie the game at 10.
 
Tennessee started the third quarter with a 75-yard touchdown drive; capped off by Javon Ringer’s 10-yard run on 4th and 1. The Titans put together a fourth consecutive scoring drive against Baltimore’s vaunted defense for a 20-10 lead. After intercepting Joe Flacco in the fourth quarter, another field goal was added to the lead.
 
Baltimore made a strange decision to kick a field goal when down 23-10, and the Titans made them pay with a long, time-consuming field goal drive of their own for a 26-13 lead with 0:26 left. That all but sealed it, as Flacco was sacked to end the game.
 
Even though Chris Johnson struggled with 24 carries for 53 yards, Matt Hasselbeck was 30/42 for 358 yards, TD, INT, and a 95.1 passer rating. Kenny Britt had 135 receiving yards, and Nate Washington had 99 yards. The 432 yards of offense was a season-high for the Tennessee offense, and the second most allowed by Baltimore’s defense in 2011.
 
Worst game of 2011: 41-7 loss vs. Houston (Week 7). In what was supposed to be a battle for AFC South supremacy, quickly became a massacre of the Titans on their home field. Matt Schaub was nearly perfect (18/23 for 296 yards, 2 TD, 147.7 passer rating), while Hasselbeck struggled mightily (14/30 for 104 yards, TD, 2 INT, 38.8 passer rating). Houston rushed for 222 yards, while Chris Johnson had 10 carries for 18 yards.
 
Houston drove 87 and 94 yards for touchdowns in the first half to build a 20-0 halftime lead. After a 92-yard drive, it was 27-0. Another touchdown by Arian Foster made it 34-7 in the fourth quarter, and Hasselbeck then threw a pick six to close out the scoring at 41-7.
 
Tennessee was competitive in most of their other losses, but they never showed up for this very important game, which came after a bye week.
 
Strength: Offensive line/pass protection. As mentioned before, the Titans have been doing an excellent job the last few seasons in not allowing their quarterbacks to be hit. This has held constant no matter if it was Vince Young, Kerry Collins or Matt Hasselbeck behind center.
 
Mike Munchak has been coaching the line and team through all of it, so with the addition of Steve Hutchinson at guard, this should not change in 2012. An upgrade at center would be better for the team, as Eugene Amano struggled last season, specifically against the run.
 
Weakness: Unreliable skill players on offense. While Tennessee has some serious talent offensively, they are players that aren’t reliable to produce every week, which can explain a lot of the inconsistency the team had last season. They ranked just 22nd in Scoreability.
 
Despite the lockout taking away the off-season programs, Matt Hasselbeck came in fresh and had a strong start to the year. But by midseason, Hasselbeck started to struggle, putting up numbers similar to his subpar 2010 season in Seattle.
 
Matt Hasselbeck's 2011 Decline
Games Record Attempts Comp. Pct. Yards YPA TD INT Rating
First 8 4-4 285 178 62.5 2014 7.07 13 6 90.0
Last 8 5-3 233 141 60.5 1557 6.68 5 8 73.2
 
In fact, Hasselbeck’s passer rating in 2010 was 73.2 – exactly the same as his rating in the final eight games of 2011.
 
As he turns 37 in September, look for Hasselbeck to be on a short leash as Jake Locker is ready to play. Of course, the knock on Locker from his days at Washington was his lack of accuracy, which can stall an offense (Tim Tebow anyone?). Still, Locker offers more playmaking ability and mobility than Hasselbeck at this stage of his career.
 
Kenny Britt has exploded into a dynamic receiver, but his biggest problem is being available every Sunday for his team. Whether it’s his various run-ins with the law or his injured knee ligaments last year, Britt has played in 15 of the last 32 games for Tennessee.
 
In Britt’s absence, Nate Washington had a career season with 74 catches for 1,023 yards and 7 TD. Known for his suspect hands early in his career, Washington is a capable starter, but the Titans are thin as can be once you get past him at the position.
 
Then there’s the case of Chris Johnson. After not reporting until September when he ended his holdout and became the highest paid RB in the league, Johnson got off to the worst start of his career.
 
Through seven games, Johnson managed 107 carries for 302 yards – a paltry 2.82 yards per carry. And fans used to joke about Eddie George’s average?
 
What does not help the offensive line is Chris Johnson’s boom-or-bust style of running, which was well on display in 2011. Javon Ringer averaged 3.49 YPC on 35 carries during the same span of games.
 
To his credit, just as Hasselbeck was slumping, Johnson picked up his production. In the last 9 games of the season, he carried the ball 155 times for 745 yards (4.81 YPC), which is very much in line with his previous career figures. He still only scored 4 touchdowns all season; unable to show that homerun threat he became an instant star for, but from a rushing standpoint, he was able to fix himself.
 
Which Hasselbeck, Britt, Washington and Johnson will show up in 2012? The Titans can’t be sure. They can just hope it’s the right ones. If all are playing well together, to go along with the line and TE Jared Cook, then the Titans will field a formidable offense.
 
General off-season strategy/overview: Tennessee hasn’t won a playoff game since the 2003 season, while every other team in the AFC South has done so since 2007 at the earliest. There is pressure to start winning now, evident by Bud Adams desperately calling out for Peyton Manning. Adams even offered a “life contract” to the 4-time MVP. However, Manning chose Denver, so the Titans need to stick with building around the 8th overall pick from last year, and that’s Jake Locker.
 
Like many teams, the Titans must establish their identity in year two of the Mike Munchak era. Are they a ground-and-pound offense like Jeff Fisher was so accustomed to? Are they a big-play offense with Johnson’s speed and Britt’s big-play ability leading the way again? Where will the pass rush come from?
 
The defense was the strength of the team in 2011, but they’ve been hit with losses in free agency. Pro Bowl corner Cortland Finnegan followed Fisher back to St. Louis, as did DE William Hayes. Two more starters, DT Jason Jones and LB Barrett Ruud, joined the Seahawks.
 
Kamerion Wimbley and Steve Hutchinson are the biggest signings, but Hutchinson will be 35 and Wimbley (13th overall pick in 2006) is now on his third team; never surpassing his rookie sack total of 11.0.
 
With the 20th pick in the draft, some feel the Titans will target CB Stephon Gilmore (South Carolina) to replace the departed Finnegan. Hard to fault any team that feels the need to go after a CB in today’s NFL. However, the defensive line is in more need of talent, and getting someone that can get in the face of an Andrew Luck or Matt Schaub might be more valuable than someone that tries to cover the receiver down the field with these lenient passing conditions. That would mean the likes of Whitney Mercilus (Illinois) or Michael Brockers (LSU).
 
Tennessee desperately needs more pass rush. Coverage is always nice, but the quarterback will still find a receiver open if no one’s getting after him.
 
Totally premature 2012 diagnosis: After finishing second in the AFC South, Tennessee could very well compete for the division again this year. However, they will need a motivated Chris Johnson running the ball like he did his first three seasons, and Kenny Britt must stay on the field all season. Pairing those two with the likes of Nate Washington and Jared Cook will make for a strong enough offense to compete in a Peyton Manning-less division that is full of offenses defined by their running backs.
 
As Matt Hasselbeck turns 37, it’s hard to imagine he’ll recapture the early-season magic he had last season. We see the team turning to Jake Locker early in the season (possibly outright handing him the job in the preseason) and learning if the young gunslinger can be a franchise quarterback.
 
In limited play time last season, Locker made things happen, including leading a near-upset win over the Saints. His accuracy is always a question, and he completed 51.5% of his 66 attempts in 2011, but he has the playmaking ability to get out of the pocket and find these big-play receivers down the field. He had 4 touchdowns and no interceptions last year.
 
Locker’s development, Chris Johnson’s consistency, and whether or not Tennessee can rush the passer will likely be the three biggest stories about the team on the field in 2012. There’s enough talent on the roster that with a consistent effort, they can win the AFC South in 2012 and be a tough out for some of the other playoff teams.

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