The Titans are yet another outfit picking high in the draft following a disappointing 2013 campaign. On the face of it, a 7-9 record and second place in the AFC South is not such a bad performance – but this glosses over the fact that the division included the Texans and Jaguars, who both fared even worse. A slight improvement on 2012’s 6-10 record brought a fifth consecutive season without the playoffs and cost Mike Munchak his job. A series of eight losses in 10 games from week 5 (including two against division winners Indianapolis) cost them any chance of topping a weak division. More consistency is needed in 2014 to take the fight to a Colts team that is only going to get better in the coming years.
Quarterback remains an issue in Tennessee. Is Jake Locker the man for the future? He had another season which was curtailed by injury and, beforehand, in which he showed more promise with 1256 yards, eight touchdowns and a passer rating of 86.7. In his absence, Ryan Fitzpatrick clocked up 2454 yards, 14 touchdowns, 12 picks and a rating of 82. The role of starting QB for 2014 is still very much up for grabs. Chris Johnson failed to live up to his high standards, averaging just 3.9 yards per carry and, with 1077, nearly breaking the 1000 yard mark. Kendall Wright (94 catches for 1079) yards was the standout receiver, with Nate Washington (58 catches for 919 yards) and Delaine Walker (60 catches for 517 yards and six scores) providing the only real alternatives. Offensive improvement will be needed to make progress in an AFC which will include stronger Texans and Jaguars teams next season.
The Titans ranked 16th in terms of points allowed and 14th in terms of total yardage. Not the worst in the league, but there is definitely plenty of room for improvement. Bernard Pollard (with 99) and Zach Brown (with 91) topped the charts in terms of tackles, but the standout players were undoubtedly Jurrell Casey (who racked up 10.5 sacks) and defensive back Alterraun Verner. Verner recorded a team high five picks (and a score) and a huge 23 passes defended. Only Pollard (with 10) also recorded double figures, whilst Derrick Morgan’s six sacks were second on the team. Tennessee will definitely need to improve on their low total of just 13 interceptions to become more competitive next year.
Leon Washington averaged 30.1 yards per kick off return, including a 95 yard return that somehow failed to make it into the End Zone! He outperformed Darius Reynaud on kick off and punt returns, but no Titan managed a return touchdown. Brett Kern will need better than a punt average of 43.4 to feel secure in his job, whilst kicker Rob Bironas managed to convert 86.2% of his Field Goals, missing only one of less than 40 yards.
After three years at the helm, Head Coach Mike Munchak paid for a lack of progress in terms of reaching the postseason with his job. The first appointment after the death of owner Bud Adams saw the Titans appoint former Cardinals’ Head Coach and Chargers’ Offensive Coordinator Ken Wisenhunt to the role. Wisenhunt has one clear objective – get the Titans to the playoffs! Improving the defence, whilst adding more consistency at quarterback (and offensively in general), are the rather large obstacles that stand in his way.
DRAFT/FREE AGENCY NEEDS
One of the biggest threats to defensive improvement is the fact that star cornerback Verner is a Free Agent who will attract envious glances from many other teams around the League. The Titans may be forced to use the franchise tag on Verner, or risk losing him to one of the many other teams who have both cap room and the need to improve their secondary. Pollard is also a Free Agent; if they both leave then reinforcements in the secondary will be badly needed. These are by far the two highest profile potential casualties; expect the Titans to try hard to keep one, if not both of them.
Even if both players are resigned, Wisenhunt will be looking for reinforcements at safety, whilst pass rushing support for Casey is a must in terms of putting more pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
The biggest question hanging over Tennessee is that of quarterback. Wisenhunt must decide if Locker or Fitzpatrick can be the answer. If not, he will need to look to Free Agency or the draft to give him more options. Don’t be surprised if more competition is added for the current incumbents to try to ensure the highest level of play from such as key position.
With Johnson’s poor season fresh in the memory, a running back may also be picked up in the later rounds of the draft.