With an outside chance of making the playoffs, this was it for the Tennessee Titans and first year head coach Mike Munchak. Could they beat a severely depleted Houston Texans side, and would it matter?
Unfortunately while the answer to the first question was yes, it ultimately proved only of consequence to their draft stock as results went against them. A disappointing end to an encouraging season where the Titans got plenty of rookies plenty of playing time, though the nature of this victory against a largely second string Texans side shows there is a lot of work to be done.
As for Houston they march into the playoffs and will consider this game a success, presuming T.J. Yates is at full health as they host their first ever playoff game. After all they got Andre Johnson some snaps, didn’t lose anyone to injury, and got their depth some playing time. Let’s look at how that depth, and others, performed.
Tennessee – Three Performances of Note
End of the line?
You don’t spend a first round pick on a quarterback without expecting him to see playing time sooner rather than later. With that in mind, and looking at the spark Jake Locker provided at times, there’s a possibility this was Matthew Hasselbecks’ (+3.8) last game as the number one QB for a franchise and he didn’t disappoint. After a rough second half to the season the former Seahawk has rolled back the years the past two weeks and he went to work on the Texans, particularly on intermediate throws (10-19 yards) over the middle of the field where he completed 4-of-5 for 63 yards. That isn’t to say he didn’t have success down field, completing two of his five attempts and being robbed of another by a Donnie Avery drop. The last two years have shown Hasselbeck isn’t the player he was, but he still has flashes that make him a viable starter, and possibly even more valuable backup to a young developing quarterback.
Rookie report: Part One (The Bad)
When you get rookies you’re bound to notice negative traits that require a lot of work. This game provided a great example of this for the Titans, and an in particular, Colin McCarty (-2.4). Playing a zone blocking team like the Texans brings with it its own challenges, one of which is having the patience not to commit too soon and take yourself out of the play. McCarthy didn’t, and all too often would move laterally at such a speed he was out of position by the time the Texans running back was cutting back, or was prone to a lineman getting to the second level and ushering him towards the sideline and away from the ball carrier. I’ve liked what I’ve seen from McCarthy this year, and he certainly seems capable of making plays, but he’ll need to iron these creases out of his game given that the Texans aren’t going anywhere in the AFC South.
Rookie report: Part Two (The Good)
I’ve not been shy this year about praising the impact of underrated defensive tackle Jurrell Casey (+3.1). He doesn’t put up the right type of stats for a lot of people given that he’s a fairly pedestrian pass rusher (as much as his sacks in the this game may convince others otherwise). But he’s the kind of force in the run game that teams are soon going to learn, will require more than just one man to slow him down. He added three defensive stops to his two sacks, including almost picking up a safety with 9:33 to go in the first half. A fine end to a great year for the third round pick, it will be interesting to see how he builds on such a fine campaign in 2012.
Houston – Three Performances of Note
The Texans switch to a 3-4 has largely benefited their personnel, but if there’s one player who has looked a little out of place at times, it’s been Earl Mitchell (+2.6). Granted he hasn’t seen much action, but he’s never looked like being the type of nose tackle (the disruptive Jay Ratliff type) many had hoped. Perhaps that owes something to his lack of playing time, as in his most significant action of the season (32 snaps) he produced his best display. Put it this way, in 15 previous games Mitchell knocked up 12 defensive stops – in Week 17 he managed five. He comfortably won his battle with Eugene Amano and with Shaun Cody not setting the world on fire at NT, maybe there’s a competition brewing in 2012?
Cool like Casey
With Owen Daniels rested the Titans needn’t fear the Texans tight end right? Wrong. In a display that made us want to see more, James Casey (+3.7) caused the Titans all sorts of problems. An active blocker who won and lost his fair share of battles on the edge, Casey made his mark as a receiver, picking up 91 yards and catching all seven of the balls thrown his way as he managed to beat the zone coverage of the Titans. The real shame is he’s buried on the depth chart behind an excellent and complementary set of tight ends in Daniels and Joel Dreesen, because it may be a while before we see him get an opportunity to show off his skillset as he did here.
I’ve always liked Wade Smith (-2.9). He was criminally undervalued when he fit free agency and the Texans got themselves the bargain of the 2010 off season when they picked him up on the cheap. He repaid them with a Pro Bowl worthy 2011, yet this year has struggled. It seems an odd regression in a line that has played so well but Smith has been poor for most of this year and against the Titans was no different. He had problems with Jurrell Casey and was far from imposing at the second level as he struggled to maintain blocks (and was bailed out by Titans linebackers missing tackles after getting past him). A down year? A slump in form? A sign of things to come? As the weak link in the Texans line it’s going to be extremely interesting watching Smith in the playoffs, particularly if he gets a dose of the dangerous Geno Atkins.
– Texans TE Garrett Graham didn’t just see eight snaps on offense – he saw two on defense as well.
– Donnie Avery saw his most significant action of the season (39 snaps) and had a mixed day. He picked up a touchdown on one play, a nice 23 yard gain on another, and dropped two passes.
– 23 Texans players took defensive snaps for the team.
PFF Game Ball
Maybe I’m getting needlessly sentimental in my old age, but if this was Matthew Hasselbecks’ last game as ‘the man’ for a team, then it was an impressive way to go out.