Our 10-point bye report on the Tennessee Titans:
Major issue: Chris Johnson’s totals are still fine, but coach Jeff Fisher pointed at the run game as a major issue heading into the team’s week off. Johnson is averaging just 3.2 yards a carry in the past two games and the yet Titans say there is no one issue. They are rotating through different problems -- a missed block, a well-played defensive snap, an incorrect read. They expect Randy Moss to back defenses off and help Johnson’s cause.
Strong seasons: I came into the season believing two veteran players who were first-round picks out of Texas needed to assert themselves for the Titans to contend. Vince Young has missed a game plus almost three quarters, but he’s been efficient and increasingly productive and currently ranks as the league’s highest-rated passer. Free safety Michael Griffin was a distracted guy last year, missing all kind of plays. His head’s on straight and he’s been great.
Close-game conclusions: Tennessee did great work finishing off Philadelphia in the final quarter. But the Titans were in range of Pittsburgh, Denver and San Diego at the end and didn’t really manage to threaten their leads. They probably aren’t going to win all those games, but they need to win more of them.
New contributors: The Titans have gotten nice contributions from veteran additions like defensive end Jason Babin (seven sacks) and Will Witherspoon and from rookies like play-making cornerback Alterraun Verner, steady return man Marc Mariani and receiver Damian Williams, who’s gotten more chances recently.
Line questions: Eugene Amano was moved to center and Leroy Harris inserted at guard on the offensive line heading into the season. Even halfway through the schedule, the line seems a bit unsettled and hasn’t matched last year’s effort in terms of run-blocking or pass protection. Jake Scott, Michael Roos and David Stewart also have not met their standards as the team absorbed 15 sacks in eight games, after yielding that many all of last season.
The big story ahead: Moss will arrive in Tennessee in the coming days and much fanfare will come with him. Players are raving about the move and may well be star struck. But for all the insiders that feel the team doesn’t get enough attention, the spotlight is coming. If a guy plays great or falls flat on his face now, more people will know about it.
Unsung: Linebackers Patrick Bailey and Tim Shaw were late acquisitions brought in to add depth and fill a lot of roles on special teams. The Titans have given up too many kick return yards, but otherwise, special teams have fared pretty well and they’ve helped the cause with a lot of tackles.
APB: Jared Cook needs to force his way onto the field. The tight end is a matchup nightmare, but he has not gained the team’s confidence. He semi-complained about having only a special teams role, then went on to drop a sure touchdown pass in San Diego. He’s only a year and a half into his career, but at this point it’s reasonable to wonder if the trade up to get him in the 2009 draft was worth it.
Backup effectiveness: In a league where plenty of teams have questions about their starting quarterback, the Titans have gotten efficient play from backup Kerry Collins. He’s cleaned up for a banged up Young in three games and started one. He won his start and the Titans are 1-2 in the other games. The team is pleased with his work, some of which he did after tearing up a finger on his throwing hand.
What’s to come: The Titans head to Miami and host Washington before the meat of the division schedule cranks up and they play AFC South foes five of the final six weeks of the season.