Tennessee Titans 2013 Offseason Preview
2012 Season Recap
An inauspicious start doomed the Titans, who were blown out by the Patriots and Chargers by a combined score of 72-23 in the first two weeks. An overtime victory over the Lions in Week 3 revealed some offensive firepower -- the Titans put up a season-high 44 points and won in overtime -- but the defensive woes continued: Detroit scored 25 in the fourth quarter and finished with 41. Tennessee ultimately started 1-4 following two more blowout losses to the Texans and Vikings. The combined score in those games: 68-21.
Remarkably, the Titans responded with back-to-back wins over the Steelers (26-23) and the Bills (35-34), putting themselves in position to improve to .500 in a Week 8 showdown against the Colts. But that didn't happen and their season began to spiral out of control. Blowing a seven point lead in the fourth quarter, Tennessee fell in overtime, 19-13, then lost the next week, 51-20, while turning the ball over five times to the Bears.
Turnovers defined the season. In the Titans' six wins, they lost the ball just three times. In their 10 losses, they gave it up 25 times. There were moments to feel good, such as the 37-3 thumping of the Dolphins in Week 10, but those vibes were fleeting. Following their bye, the Titans went on a three-game skid starting in Week 12, losing to the Jaguars (24-19), the Texans (24-10) and the Colts (27-24) to fall to 4-9. They committed 10 turnovers during that stretch, including a season-high six to Houston.
If there was a silver lining, it's that Tennessee won two of its final three games. The loss was a bad one, a 55-7 beatdown by the Packers in Week 16. Even worse, the two wins were over the lowly Jets (14-10 in Week 15) and the two-win Jaguars (38-20 in Week 17). Against playoff teams, the Titans went 0-7. Of the six teams Tennessee beat, none finished better than .500. Most telling, the Titans had the league's worst margin of defeat (20.4 points).
Stat To Feel Good About
If It Ain't Broke ...
Big play potential is one thing, but questions remain about Johnson's consistency. The three-time Pro Bowler predicted that he would lead the league in rushing last season, but he barely finished among the top 10. His 1,243 yards ranked ninth, and he hasn't come close to matching his 2009 production, when the then NFL sophomore led the league with 2,006 yards. His output fell to 1,364 yards in 2010 and 1,047 in 2011. Seems broken, right? Last season's uptick of 196 yards is a sign that Johnson shouldn't be cut, as some have argued this offseason. (The team agreed, having picked up his $10 million option for 2013.)
The Titans might have ranked 21st in rushing, but Johnson wasn't the sole problem, even if he finished five games with the following rushing totals: 4, 17, 24, 24, 28. According to Pro Football Focus, the offensive line ranked 16th in run blocking. Of the nine other backs to finish among the top 10 in yards, only two (the Buccaneers' Doug Martin and the Bills' C.J. Spiller) ran behind lines that ranked worse than the Titans' in the PFF analytics model. Tennessee should keep giving Johnson the ball, but draft some big bodies who can regularly move the line of scrimmage.
Must Fix It
The defense ranked last in points allowed last season, surrendering 29.4 per game. The secondary gave up 55 passes of 20 yards or more, the eighth-worst mark in the league. Just how easy was it to move the ball against Tennessee? Opponents racked up 358 first downs -- more than all but two other defenses allowed -- and converted on third down 39.7 percent of the time. Opponents also averaged 375 yards of offense per game, more than all but five other defenses allowed.
The solution is simple: If the unit continues to falter under coordinator Jerry Gray, who enters his third season overseeing the defense, replace him with Gregg Williams. It's no secret that Williams was hired for his fiery personality and aggressive coaching style. Reports have surfaced that he might encounter trust issues with players following his role in the Saints' Bountygate scandal, but if the defense falters in 2013, Williams may be the guy to turn things around.
More On The To-Do List
What We'll Be Saying In July
The job security of head coach Mike Munchak will dominate the conversation. In two seasons he's gone 15-17, and his Hall of Fame credentials as a player will do little to mitigate a poor start. He couldn't be in a tougher spot. The pressure to win is immense, but quarterback Jake Locker enters his third pro season having started only 11 games. He went 4-7 last season, completing 56.4 percenty of his throws for 2,176 yards. His interceptions (11) outpaced touchdowns (10). And he isn't just working through growing pains; he also had offseason surgery on his left (non-throwing) shoulder after dislocating it twice last season.
Expect these questions to be debated throughout training camp and beyond: How much patience will Munchak have with Locker before turning to veteran backup Matt Hasselbeck? To what degree would that change cripple the long-term plans for the franchise? Can Chris Johnson return to Pro Bowl form? Did the Titans get the right pieces in the draft to help him? Is the defense salvageable? Will Kenny Britt respond to the challenge? And, most important, can this team win?