2011 in a Nutshell: 9-7
For a team that was breaking in a new quarterback, a new head coach, had a star player struggling for form and lost their best receiver very early in the season, a 9-7 record actually lead to a surprisingly successful season. With the turnover the team experienced going into 2011 the Titans were expected to have a bridging season with the new quarterback Matt Hasslebeck holding the fort while rookie Jake Locker learned the system. A late season run took the team over .500 and into playoff contention but they missed out on the final wildcard spot on a tiebreaker thanks to a week 9 loss to Cincinnati. There were plenty of bright sports for the Titans during the seasons however they were never able to be consistent enough to truly challenge.
2012 Season Motto: Time to step up!
Free agency saw the Titans lose their biggest contributor on defense as cornerback Cortland Finnegan to former coach Jeff Fisher in St Louis. To replace him the Titans will be looking at fourth year player Jason McCourty who had a stellar year in 2011 leading the club in pass breakups and interceptions. Finnegan was not the only loss in the Titans secondary as safety Chris Hope moved on to Atlanta, Hope however had lost his starting place to Jordan Babinaux so his loss will not be as big as it could have been. The pass rush received a boost in free agency with the signing of former Browns and Raiders player Kamerion Wimbley, a former first round pick who has shown plenty of potential so far but has not been able to stick with one team yet.
In the draft the Titans focused on making their good defense better by using five of their seven picks on that side of the ball. In the second round they picked up linebacker Zach Brown from North Carolina. Brown is a fast, rangy linebacker with some good pace who will be able to contribute on special teams right from the outset. The Titans did not ignore their offense in the draft and spent their first round pick on receiver Kendall Wright out of Baylor. Working with new Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III during his college career Wright was a consistent receiver who exploded during his senior year posting numbers an NFL receiver would be happy with of 108 catches, 1633 yards and 14 touchdowns. At 5’10” and 190lbs, Wright is more of a speedy receiver who should work out of the slot or as the number two option and take advantage of favourable matchups.
Key Player for 2012: Chris Johnson – RB
As if the start of the 2011 season wasn’t difficult for every player with the lockout disrupting offseason preparations, Chris Johnson decided to take things a step further by adding two more handicaps to his preparations. First he held out from training camp, unhappy with his contract situation which is never a good thing for an NFL player, missing out on preparation time with his teammates. The holdout had its desired effect as the Titans gave Johnson a four-year extension worth up to $53.5million, unfortunately as players like Shaun Alexander can attest to, getting that big payday could be the last major contribution you have to your team. It lead to a disappointing 2011 campaign for Johnson where he had his lowest production yet in his career rushing for only 1047 yards and four touchdowns. With the uncertainty at quarterback, the Titans will be hoping for a major bounce back season from Johnson as he can shoulder the load.
As mentioned earlier, it is very important for the Titans to get plenty of production out of their running game this year thanks to the uncertainty at quarterback. Veteran Matt Hasslebeck is battling with last year’s eighth overall pick Jake Locker for the starting job and right now it looks like a neck and neck contest. Based on his performances in training camp and in the first preseason game, it looked like Locker would get the leg up over Hasslebeck but a poor showing against Tampa Bay brought him back to earth. His night was summed up by his ugly interception that really did not need to be thrown. Tennessee knows what they have with Matt Hasslebeck, a solid, reliable veteran who will come out and consistently produce while Locker will have more spectacular plays but more mistakes as well. If the Titans view themselves as legitimate playoff contenders this year they will give Locker another year on the bench and let Hasslebeck take the reins and hand off to Chris Johnson, who showed some nice burst against Tampa. When Kenny Britt returns to the lineup off PUP then it should open up the passing game a bit more and allow a bit more diversity when throwing the ball.
Last year the Titans defense played better than its 18th ranking and it will look to make the jump into the top 10 by performing more consistently and avoiding the blowouts that plagued their season. Their safeties are an area of strength and should generate some big plays when needed to, free safety Michael Griffin is the leader of the group and he was rewarded for that position with a new five year contract extension to replace his franchise tag. The key area the Titans will need to improve on is their third downs allowed percentage, last year they gave up around 41% and that number will need to be lowered to help the team out.
If the Titans are going to make the leap in the playoffs this year, they will have to overcome some very tough games. They open the season at home against New England which is never an easy start as New England will likely be in revenge mode coming off the Super Bowl loss. They have to face the NFC North as part of the divisional rotation starting with a visit from the Lions in week three. They get two primetime games this season, hosting Pittsburgh in week 6 on NFL Network as well as a Monday night appearance against the Jets in week 15.
Final: Will they be better or worse off than last year?
A tough schedule and uncertainty at quarterback will make things tough, the Titans will have a rough start and could go until week 5 without a win but this team is tougher than that and should win more game than expected. 9 wins was impressive last year and they will probably level off around 8 or 9 again comfortably finishing second in their division.