Posted by ESPN.com’s Paul Kuharsky
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- How does a team that started 10-0 a year ago and posted a league-best 13-3 mark plummet to an 0-4 start just a season later, especially when it returned 20 of 22 possible starters on offense and defense and all but one coach?
It’s a tough question to answer, but here are some of the main ingredients in the reversal of fortunes for the Titans, who play the division-leading Colts (4-0) on Sunday night:
Production: That big 2008 produced eight Pro Bowlers and seven returned. Of them, only Chris Johnson is close to playing at a similar level. Michael Roos hasn’t been bad. The rest of the bunch have all dropped off at least to some degree, with free safety Michael Griffin and quarterback Kerry Collins nowhere close to 2008 form.
A year ago, they were excellent in giveaway/takeaway ratio (plus-14), fourth-quarter scoring differential (plus-59) and sack differential (plus-32). Now they are minus-5 in turnovers, minus-5 in fourth-quarter points and minus-4 in sack differential.
Age: I can’t fault the Titans for their frontline roster construction. Coming into the season, it would have been very difficult to choose which guys might slip and address their spots.
While Collins (38) and Kevin Mawae (36) are the team’s oldest players and Alge Crumper (31) is in the over-30 circuit, the defense has six guys who all appear to be showing their age and losing a bit at the same time -- Nick Harper (35), Jevon Kearse (33), Keith Bulluck (32), Kyle Vanden Bosch (30), David Thornton (30) and Chris Hope (29). Combine at least a little drop-off from all of them with their learning to play without departed dominant defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth, and there is a painful cumulative effect.
Leadership: The veteran element of this team has a lead-by-example quality to it, not the sort of fire-and-brimstone one that might change a bad tone. Consider that ever-steady Jeff Fisher’s big shake-up this week was altering the team’s practice schedule.
Bulluck has always said he takes care of his business and expects everyone else to do the same. Collins, Mawae and Crumpler are low-key guys on offense, where Marine veteran Ahmard Hall has as much fire as anyone but still rates as less experienced and isn’t in position to jolt the team to life.
The defense also lacks a player suited to lead in these circumstances. Vanden Bosch can do it, but since he’s not producing he knows he carries less weight and he’s the type to be quiet if he’s not taking care of his own business. Cortland Finnegan is a spark plug who can have too much temper, and that may mean he’s not ready yet to drag guys to the light if he knows where it is himself.
Identity: Every good team in the league can easily answer these core questions: Who are we and what do we do?
The Titans know what they want to be: a run-first offense that eats clock and a defense that forces long drives, gets off the field on third down and limits points. But that’s not what they’ve been through four games. Just look at where they rank in some of their key categories: tied for 26th in points a game allowed (27) and ahead of only Buffalo and Oakland in time of possession at 26:23.
Johnson’s explosiveness means they’ve scored quickly at times, but they have to find ways to piece together long drives on other possessions.
There is no defensive swagger and players on that side of the ball are looking to a first-year coordinator, Chuck Cecil, who's still figuring out some elements of his job and has not crafted a unit that reflects his playing personality.