The Houston Texans are on the road to face the Tenneesee Titans in their second divisional game of 2011. The Texans can take a hold of the the division and go 2-0 with a good showing on Sunday.
In this installment of Behind Enemy Lines we get help from Brandonthe editor of Titan Sized a blog dedicated to the Titans. We discuss CJ2K, new addition Matt Hasselbeck, old Houston Oiler Mike Munchak, and the injured Kenny Britt.
Questions to Titan Sized
Tell me about the Titan's rookie class in 2011 and who is helping now going into week 7.
The big-name player, Jake Locker, impressed even the jolliest of fans expectations during the pre-season but will not be playing this season barring injury to surprise sensation Matthew Hasselbeck.
The biggest surprise has to be fifth rounder Karl Klug, a DE/DT tweener out of Iowa. Klug was the second drafted defensive lineman, after tackle Jurell Casey (USC). Amazingly enough, Klug worked his way into the starting lineup despite weighing in the 270s, which is about 20-30 pounds underweight for a 4-3 DT. You'll find him to be great for a rookie, he fills the penetrating roll.
RB Jamie Harper met my expectations (which were high) during the pre-season. If you want an idea of him, then think of an effective LenDale White, just an in shape version.
The second-best rookie would be second rounder Akeem Ayers, a LBer out of UCLA. Ayers fit the mold as an OLB, but UCLA would often use him as a 4-3 DE. The versatility he brought to the defense really added another layer. Look for Ayers to have a few moments of looking lost in coverage but mostly corralling to the ball. Ayers hits hard and brings a tough, physical element to the LBers on this team.
Did Chris Johnson set himself back with his holdout and how has the fan base reacted?
Chris Johnson did set himself back, but that's about 45% of the problem. I put most of the issues on the interior line. I'm not a believe in the run-blocking abilities of that group. They seem to pass-block well enough and that may be due to Hasslebeck more than themselves. As you can tell, I'm not the biggest fan. New talent should be brought in ASAP.
Is Matt Hassleback the reason the Titans are better as a team?
The Titans are a better team because there is a quarterback on the team that can consistently provide a passing threat. Titans fans nearly forgot what it looked like to watch that, unless forced to watch Manning or Schaub. Hasselbeck did wonders to the group and it really is a shame that WR Kenny Britt went down for the year, it would've been nice to see what he really had.
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What offeseason acquisitons have been the biggest for the Titans?
The biggest off-season acquisition for the team was hands-down Matthew Hasselbeck. The QB position remains the most important in sports and the importance in it seems to grow more every year. When you have a good QB (as Texans fans know) then anything is possible. When you don't, just hope you run for 2,000 yards, but as the Titans proved--that's not a guarantee to get in the playoffs.
How has new head coach Mike Munchak put his mark on this Titans organization?
Head Coach Mike Munchak put a stamp of toughness on this team. There's a no-nonsense approach. No whining, no believing that you will lose. That is now Titans football.
What have the Titans done to make themselves a better defensive team?
Defensively, the Titans moved DT Jason Jones to defensive end and that's been a great move. He can stop the run and whip offensive tackles--not all, but enough to be a strong starter. To fill the gap, the Titans promoted rookie Karl Klug, who I mentioned earlier. Klug penetrates the line, but that is no good unless you have a large, gap-filling individual. Shaun Smith came over from the Chiefs and his roughly 330 lb frame seems to help out in that department. At middle linebacker, the Titans lost Stephen Tulloch to the Lions in Free Agency. Tulloch stopped the run and did his best against the pass. Barret Ruud now mans that position and for all intents and purposes he is the complete opposite. SS Chris Hope is on the mend and has been replaced by Jordan Babineaux who seems to be doing nicely. The defense as a whole will be good but probably not great, but when they are on their A-game they play as a top-10 unit.
How has the loss of Kenny Britt changed the Titans offense and who has replaced him?
You don't replace Kenny Britt. You also don't replace Andre Johnson. The group tries and the only game we've truly seen the team prepare without Britt was the Steelers game. They're great against the pass and I don't feel that game fairly represented anything. Time will tell how the group plays but Nate Washington has consistently made noise this season so keep your eyes on him.
Who are some players to watch for on Sunday?
On defense, DT Karl Klug will probably have a few pressures. CB Jason McCourty has playmaking ability, and you've no doubt heard of Cortland Finnegan--the other starting corner. On offense, Nate Washington and TE Jared Cook should make the most noise. Hasselbeck seems to do good at finding both.
Is this game a good measuring stick for the Titans season?
I think this game will be a measuring stick for both teams. If you want to go to the Super Bowl, then the route starts Sunday for both teams. They're going to have a battle royale for the division. It won't determine the whole year or even who makes the playoffs, it will just prove a lot to the team that wins and vice versa.
What have been the biggest issues for the Titans in the previous 6 weeks leading up to now?
The biggest issue for the Titans have been that weird loss to the Jags in week 1 (Jags ran consistently and Titans could only slow them), the Texans surprising consistency, and the lack of run game. If the interior line could re-learn blocking, then Johnson wouldn't run tentatively and the Titans would enjoy a top-5 running and passing offense.
On defense, I think things have gone as good as anyone could have imagined. They're not perfect but when you consider the group, as a whole, is pretty young, then you'll notice that there are a lot of signs of growth along with good play and that's really all you can ask for.