The Titans’ 2009 season was a tale of two halves, so their first goal should be to ensure is that they don’t start 2010 season like last year.
That much is certain.
Instead, Tennessee needs to build on a strong finish to the season with which it almost pulled off the improbable and made the playoffs. Success will take a few people stepping up and a few others finding the form that helped the Titans to the best record in the AFC in 2008.
THE GOOD NEWS
1. BROWN TURNS FROWNS UPSIDE-DOWN
The loss of Albert Haynesworth was always going to be tough to cope with. The Titans had some difficulty stuffing the run, with Jovan Haye failing to get anywhere near replacing Haynesworth’s input (he ended the season with a -20.3 rating).
But the 2009 season was further reinforcement of just how good a penetrating defensive tackle Tony Brown has become. He was good in 2008 — registering 38 total pressures while playing next to Haynesworth — but without the big fellow, Brown managed to improve to a DT-leading mark of 45 total pressures.
Brown still has issues with his discipline, can get a bit overaggressive at times (seven penalties in 2009 are far too many but it’s an improvement on the ridiculous 14 he was flagged for in ’08), and his run defense wasn’t great (-3.9). But the man with the highest grade of any defensive tackle for pass rushing (+16.0) has to be viewed as one of the most disruptive linemen in the league.
2. A GREAT BRITT IN THE MAKING
Despite the Titans’ aversion to three-receiver sets, there was enough demonstrated by Kenny Britt to suggest he could be a big-time player in the NFL.
The offseason may not have gone exactly to plan for Britt, but with Justin Gage likely to miss the start of the season and Nate Washington dealing with a troublesome left wrist, the onus could fall on Britt to build on his 2009 season, when he was targeted 70 times. Which, from what we’ve seen from Britt on the field (a +4.3 rating), is something he is more than capable of.
Britt looked talented and more explosive (forcing 9 missed tackles) than any of his colleagues in grading out as the highest-rated Titans receiver. If Britt can outgain both men in yardage with fewer balls being thrown his way and less playing time, what could he do with more? The answer could make the Titans’ offense a lot more potent.
THE BAD NEWS
1. TACKLING A DOWN YEAR
One of the great tragedies of the modern game is that despite all the access to games and fancy camera angles, offensive linemen are massively misjudged.
Take Michael Roos for example. The Estonian-born left tackle was excellent in 2008 (ranking second overall among left tackles), when he surrendered only 14 total pressures. This didn’t completely go unnoticed and, as fashionable name, he started to garner some credit to the point it was widely accepted that he was one of the best left tackles in the game. Fast forward to the NFL 2009 season, and Roos gave up 33 total pressures and ranked 31st out of all tackles.
The same player who dominated in 2008 was routinely beaten in 2009 but still garnered praise that should have rightly gone to David Stewart (fourth-ranked right tackle in 2009). The hope for the Titans is Roos plays like he did in 2008, as a surefire way to lose ground to the Colts is to have a tackle primed to get beaten by Dwight Freeney on a consistent basis.
2. TAKING THE MICHAEL
It’s rare that a player acknowledges how poorly he has been playing, but so bad was Michael Griffin in 2009 (-20.5 rating) that he could do nothing else.
Back in ’08 Griffin graded out as our 12th-ranked safety overall with a +6.7 grading, so we know he has talent. But his continual biting on play fakes and shoddy tackling (he managed to miss 5 tackles in one game against the 49ers) were something of a surprise in 2009, ranking him 87 out of 88 safeties. Indeed, his 5 touchdowns given up were only topped by two safeties, exposing him as the liability he became.
So we head into the season wondering if the problems that made him so poor in 2009 gone away and if will he be a better player for the off season surgery. Being the cautious guys we are, we’ll wait to see it.
We still have some pretty big concerns about the Titans. Is their defense consistent enough to deal with the explosive offenses of the AFC South? And just what Vince Young will turn up? We haven’t mentioned the Chris Johnson affect and whether he can handle such a heavy load, but they’ll need him to be at his explosive best if they’re to stand any chance of making the playoffs.