2013 Team Needs: Tennessee Titans
As the raw talent of the Titans continues to tease their fans, John Breitenbach explores how a few key free agents could push them toward the playoffs.
2013 Team Needs: Tennessee Titans
After a successful first season at the helm, Mike Munchak’s Titans took a step back in 2012. Their win total fell from nine to six, and Jake Locker failed to show the kind of improvement as a passer that Titans fans might have hoped for. Chris Johnson also failed to break out of his funk and continues to look like a shell of CJ2K.
In fact, failing to live up to potential is a trademark of this Tennessee team, epitomised by the absurdly frustrating Michael Griffin. He has all the talent in the world, but for some reason only occasionally plays like it. There are some seriously talented players on this team but they’re surrounded by underachievers, making it incredibly difficult for the Titans to make the playoffs. Let’s take a look at three positions which need the most attention this offseason — and you can see their own potential free agents here.
In my opinion there’s no more frustrating player in the league than Michael Griffin. After finally putting it all together in 2011 in his fifth year as a pro, Griffin returns this season and ends up our third-worst ranked safety of 88 qualifiers. He missed an appalling 22 tackles, the most of any safety to play at least 25% of snaps, and gave up seven touchdowns. Griffin was only saved the title of worst in the league in that statistic by Donte Whitner. The four interceptions may look good, but the -10.1 grade in coverage (87th) certainly does not.
His partner for much of the season, Jordan Babineaux, was poor as well. He’s an expert at flying up out of control and missing tackles. Babineaux was also poor in coverage, allowing four touchdowns and a QB rating of 106.3. The Titans kept trying to bench him, but whenever they did Robert Johnson (-2.1) would come in and miss a tackle himself. He made only seven solo … and missed five. It wasn’t until Week 15 when Al Afalava (+0.6) got a chance that Tennessee found some stability. He made just 12 tackles and missed five, but at least he graded positively. Still, it would be risky relying on the tape of just a pair of games going forward.
The Free Agent Fix: Kenny Philips
He may be injury prone but Philips, and his zero in the missed tackle column, is exactly what the Titans’ secondary needs. They have two promising corners in place and supplementing them with a player of Philips’ quality would make this a dangerous unit. His dependability is a quality Tennessee fans haven’t seen in a starting safety in a while. As capable in coverage as he is against the run, Philips is the perfect remedy for the inconsistency of the past few seasons.
Interior Offensive Lineman
The Titans found a good one in C Fernando Velasco in 2012. He played every single one of their offensive snaps and had success both in pass protection (+5.6) and as a run blocker (+8.1). In total, he allowed his QB to be knocked down only twice in 643 drop-backs which is very impressive indeed. Unfortunately, he’s scheduled to become a free agent, so the Titans will need to pay for his return though it’s hard not to see them stumping up.
Aside from Velasco, however, the Titans have very little on the interior of their offensive line. Steve Hutchinson (-2.3) is 35 and coming off season-ending surgery. Leroy Harris played well in 2011 but struggled this season before partially tearing his ACL. He’s another who is set to become a free agent. It’s the same story with Deuce Lutui except he’s never flashed much talent. Kevin Matthews and Kyle Devan don’t have much going for them either, and the less said about Eugene Amano the better. There’s a lot of guys they’ve tried to get production out of … unsuccessfully.
The Free Agent Fix: Brandon Moore
The Titans have a good group of pass protecting offensive lineman, but they really don’t have that road grader who can mash defensive lineman in the run game. Moore is that guy. If Chris Johnson is ever to become the player he once was, he’ll need some help, which Moore can provide. He was the fifth-best run blocking guard in the entire league last year and really found form in the second half of the season, grading in the green for each of the last nine games. Moore is also a good pass protector (+5.6), allowing just two sacks, four hits and 14 hurries.
The Titans have done a good job in recent years of drafting young linebackers. Akeem Ayers and Zach Brown are a solid, up-and-coming duo but they’re still missing that third guy to make a complete unit. They thought Colin McCarthy might be that guy after a decent rookie season, but he quickly proved that not to be the case. After amassing a -2.6 grade in 542 snaps in 2011, McCarthy regressed significantly in his sophomore year, gaining a -15.3 grade in just 388 snaps. There’s still hope for the fourth-round pick out of Miami, Fl but the Titans’ can’t be comfortable with him going into 2013.
Will Witherspoon was given the opportunity when McCarthy faltered, but he proved a liability, especially against the run. Witherspoon made just 12 stops and missed six tackles in 164 run snaps. He does at least have some ability as a pass rusher and in coverage, but that’s obviously not as important when you’re only playing on first and second down. The fact Witherspoon’s a free agent makes it almost certain he’s gone. Tim Shaw also saw some action toward the end of the year, as well as in the short yardage package. He might turn out to be what the Titans’ need (+1.3 against the run) but he struggled mightily in one of his two starts against the Jets (-4.0 overall, -2.1 against the run).
The Free Agent Fix: Kaluka Maiava
With Akeem Ayers best served moving to defensive end in the nickel and kept out of coverage situations, the Titans need a guy to play next to Brown when they go to five DBs. Maiava is a guy who played really well at a strongside linebacker for the Browns this season, especially in coverage. He allowed a QB rating of just 72.5 by conceding only 78 yards, with two pass deflections. Maiava can play the run too, as his +1.7 grade shows. In fact, he graded in the green in every facet of his game, even contributing as a pass rusher (three sacks, a hit and three pressures). He’s going to want to step up to an every-down role and Tennessee could provide an ideal spot.
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