Saturday, August 25, 2012

Thoughts about Titans vs Cardinals

The Titans hosted the first home game of the season Thursday night against the Arizona Cardinals and it was a great opener for everyone. Although it was preseason, the Titans posted another win by beating the Cardinals 32 to 27 before the home crowd. Fans were able to see all the improvements the Titans made at the field, including installation of the two 157’ x 54’ high definition video screens. The improvements were amazing and fans and players alike seemed to really enjoy the improved viewing. the name of the game was defense so let’s get to it. 

The Titans starting defensive rotation played extremely well. The Cardinals are more talented on offense than I thought and the starting defense held it in check pretty well. We still have trouble covering the middle of the field and we give up way too many plays to tight ends. That is an area we must work on before the season opener against the Patriots.

A lot has been made about the Titans defensive line and rightfully so. The combination of Kamerion Wimbley and Derrick Morgan looks strong. They have consistently gotten good pressure in the preseason. While the Cards were starting an inexperienced guy at left tackle Wimbley was still able to make consistently good plays while often times being held and even brought down. He was only credited with 2 sacks but the quarterback pressures were off the chain. It seemed like he got pressure on just about every play. It’s that kind of big play ability the Titans have been sorely missing and his presence is going to let Morgan show his talent as well. 

The backend of the defensive end position looks to be a battle. I have wavered on who will make the roster, Keyunta Dawson or Malcolm Shephard. Dawson has seemed to be the favorite somewhat but he really struggled against the Cardinals. Too many missed tackles and not very physical play. Shephard on the other hand played well. I don’t have a good feel for this coaching staff yet but I would definitely pick Shephard over Dawson. 

Our interior defensive line looks really good too. I have been somewhat critical of Tracy Rocker and perhaps I have been unfair. Marks is playing really well but I would still like to see more playing time for Karl Klug. Jurrell Casey is absolutely wreaking havoc and it’s not out of the question to think he could be an All Pro type player for years to come. Not only is he physical but he plays smart and is a hustler on the field. Not much more you can ask from a player and all that shows in his dominance on the field.

Zach Clayton appears poised to make this roster. He is a big guy, needs to work on his footwork a bit and I would like to see him play with a little bit more aggression. The good news is that he doesn’t appear to have met his ceiling so there is room for improvement. Mark Martin appears destined for the practice squad this year. One of the attractive things about Malcolm Shephard is that he can also play inside so all the more reason for him to make the roster.  

The Titans have a solid linebacking corp but we still struggle to cover tight ends and to guard the middle of the field. What more can I say about Colin McCarthy? The guy is a flat out stud in this group and is such a magnet for the ball. He ended up with 2 interceptions. He also led the defense with 6 tackles and 1 assist. Akeem Ayers is not to be overlooked either. He ended the night with 4 tackles and 2 assists and is very good in coverage and getting better. He is a hard hitting instinctive linebacker with a good feel for the game.

I hate to criticize guys I like and I really like Will Witherspoon, but coverage is a concern. He isa solid guy who has been a great free agency addition but it does appear the Titans want rookie Zach Brown to start eventually. Unfortunately, he struggled a bit against the Cardinals and I cannot pinpoint the cause. Perhaps the grind of his first training camp is getting to him but he didn’t play as dominate against the Cardinals as he did in the Tampa Bay game. He just seemed lethargic at times as well. This is definitely a battle to keep an eye on.

We have a young and talented secondary that is playing well together. I’m a bit unsure why Jordan Babineaux isn’t starting and why Robert Johnson is being hyped up so much. Not that Johnson isn’t playing well he is but Babineaux played very well last year and ended the season as the starter. Right fully so as he showed big play ability in the secondary. In my opinion he is a more consistent player and deserves to start. In any event, whatever shoulder injury Babineaux is nursing I hope it’s not serious as the Titans consistently use 3 safeties and the depth behind Babineaux, Griffin and Johnson isn’t strong.

Not a lot has been said about Michael Griffin but he is very quietly showing why the Titans signed him to a contract extension. He has been solid and I expect he is going to continue to be a steady presence in this secondary. We are also seeing the hard hitting Griffin we knew was there as evidenced by his rookie and sophomore seasons. Kudos to him for silencing his critics and showing what he can do in this secondary.

The depth at safety is terribly concerning. Initially, I had Al Afalava making the roster but I don’t think he will make it now. Now, I think Aaron Francisco is likely to make it before Afalava. I’m not sure what the Titans will do with Markelle Martin who is injured. I expect the Titans to look for safety help once teams start to make roster cuts. We have a real need for another good safety on this roster. 

Offensively, Jake Locker had a better game against a really good Cardinals defense. Locker is a calm guy under pressure and he doesn’t appear to get rattled by pressure or mistakes. Not surprisingly, he needs some work in various areas but he is improving every game and you can’t ask for much more. He needs to do a better job of leading his wide receivers instead of throwing behind them or making them come back for the ball. If he is going to do that he needs to utilize his tight ends as they are bigger targets and better able to do it. 

He also tends to zero in on a particular guy or a particular area and often misses guys who are wide open or who have beaten coverage. This is something that comes with time and experience and I do believe he will get better. He also does need to place the ball a bit better but that’s not something I am worried about. That touch will come as he gets used to the game. I’m also not terribly concerned about release point or other issues you hear some people talk about as you don’t win by style points. So long as he can get the ball into the end zone he is doing his job. Many great quarterbacks had similar issues. It's terribly overstated but really it does boil down to scoring and winning.

The Titans have an extremely talented group of wide receivers. Rookie Kendall Wright led all receivers with 4 catches for 44 yards and a touchdown. Jared Cook was next 2 catches for 40 yards. Nate Washington had a very good game against the Cardinals, finishing with 3 catches for 39 yards and a touchdown. There are other very talented players on the roster that hopefully will get a shot somewhere because the numbers just don’t support keeping more than 6 receivers on the roster.

Craig Stevens and Jared Cook obviously are locks at tight end. Taylor Thompson looks to have the 3rd spot locked up and I don't think we will carry 4 TE's. Cam Graham would get that spot if we do. 

The running game once again struggled to consistently move the football. I watched the replay of the game closely and it is difficult to pinpoint the issue. The offensive line does seem to struggle and open holes are hard to come by. Chris Johnson also hesitated a bit hitting some open lanes against the Cardinals. He did have a couple of really good runs. He finished with 27 yards on 13 attempts. Jamie Harper, who I like a lot, finished with 22 yards on 4 attempts with a touchdown and the play of the game with a front flip finish. 

Finally, one note about special teams, the return position and how I see the roster. Darius Reynaud does seem the favorite but he didn’t have as good of a game as he has had in the past. He finished with 2 kickoff returns for 31 yards average and a long run of 34 yards.  D.J. Woods finished with 2 kickoff returns with an average of 36 yards and a long run of 51 yards. The titans unfortunately lost solid receiver and return man Marc Mariani to injury and he is out for the season. 

Reynaud has played more receiver than running back and protection concerns keep me from putting him at the running back position on my roster. If I were picking, I would definitely go with Reynaud and Woods as the final two WR’s on the roster. Woods shows signs of being a good returner. He needs a little polish at the receiver position but he is fast and shifty. He is a guy who would be unlikely to dress on gameday unless something unforeseen happened and therefore he could watch and learn and perfect his craft. 

I am in the process of updating my 53 man roster so I hope you will check back soon for updates!


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