The Tennessee Titans Need More Offensive Balance in 2012
Part of the reason why Tennessee didn’t have the 2011 season that they were capable of was because their running and passing games did not have consistent side by side success each week. CHRIS JOHNSON is of course still an elite running back, but the Titans need more than him on offense to seek their first playoff berth since 2008. With a back like Johnson, one would think it would be unfathomable for the Titans to rank last in the league in yards rushing per game (for good measure, the Titans ran the ball 376 times in 2011), but it happened. In 2012 the Titans need to have their running and passing games in sync because even though this football axiom is very tired, it is also true: To win in the NFL one must run and pass the football successfully.
Quarterback MATT HASSELBECK was the Titans big free agent signee in 2011. He didn’t exactly turn out the lights last year, but he was solid enough for opponents on their 2011 schedule to recognize that he can still play. He still has zip on his passes, he still has the vision and periphery skills that he showed in his heyday in Seattle, and he can move around a bit. He is not the Matt Hasselbeck from 2003-2007 when he was with the Seahawks, but he can still annoy defenses. For one thing though, his touchdown to interception ratio (18-14 in 2011) needs to improve. He was in his first year in offensive coordinator CHRIS PALMER’s system, so he gets sort of a pass for his shortcomings last year. But in 2012 he will be in his second year in this offense and in his 13th overall in the league and so there will be no more excuses.
Last year Hasselbeck, as well as the state of Tennessee, missed the services of their best wide receiver in KENNY BRITT, who missed 13 games due to tears to his MCL and ACL in Week 3 of the season. Their receiving game lost a lot of its luster when he went down, and they can’t have that in 2012 if it’s balance that the Titans want on offense. Number two receiver NATE WASHINGTON led the Titans in receiving yards, catches, and scores with 74 for 1,023 and 7 end zone prances. That was the best season of his seven-year career, but it’s doubtful he’ll put up numbers like that in 2012 if Britt can stay healthy, if number 3/4 receiver DAMIAN WILLIAMS can stop being such a tease, and Johnson has the season he is capable of. Then there is tight end JARED COOK, who is a talent with good hands and speed, but one has to wonder if he is a one year fluke (he caught 49 passes for 759 yards and 3 scores in 2011) or if the Titans will use him properly in the future.
Williams is a former USC star receiver and a budding talent in Tennessee. But as of now he just shows promise, with loads of talent. One can only imagine how lethal their receiving game could be if Washington, Britt, Williams, and LAVELLE HAWKINS can all stay healthy and come through for the Titans when they need them to. Hawkins is a possession receiver who can hurt a defense if they ignore him. He had his best season so far with 47 grabs for 470 yards and 1 score last year. The 2011 season represented the first time he ever scored in a regular season game. No one is scared of Hawkins yet, but he needs to find ways in 2012 to make defenses pay for paying attention to the other three receivers.
The 2012 season should be a test to see if MARC MARIANI can do more than just return punts and kicks. Mariani has talent but he is young and the Titans aren’t ready to unleash him on the AFC South.
Also, someone besides Johnson needs to step up in the run game. JAVON RINGER can be a very helpful option as a pass receiver out of the backfield and available for runs here and there, but he doesn’t have the body structure to be anything more than a 10-carry man. Big backs JAMIE HARPER and QUINN JOHNSON have been extra blockers in their young careers so far and that may be all they’ll be in 2012 if they make the team. Johnson does have some running ability and so does Harper but the Titans at this point could care less. The Titans need a running back similar in size to Johnson to aggravate defenses when Johnson doesn’t have his hands on the ball. On their roster they currently don’t have that.
The Titan offensive line ranked third in the league in sacks allowed with just 24 (19 of them on Hasselbeck). But they need to get better at run blocking because with the talent they had in 2011 on this unit, there are not too many reasons why their running game should have been last in the league. Free agent pickup and offfensive guard STEVE HUTCHINSON can still play, but he is not the player he was back in the last decade. He is a good addition to the line, as he takes over for right guard JAKE SCOTT who left in free agency. Scott was a solid and athletic player and in his prime and he won’t be that easy to replace.
MICHAEL ROOS is still the Titans best offensive lineman but LEROY HARRIS is a talent too. Harris is mean and nasty player who plays within the rules but he doesn’t have much regard for defenders. Roos is one of the better left tackles in the game with his movement and hand placement. Right tackle DAVID STEWART is an unsung player but he is a heck of a competitor. Center EUGENE AMANO has been operating in near anonymity for years but he is fine with that. Amano is one of the better drive blocking centers in the game coupled with a nasty streak. This offensive line must give Hasselbeck’s 37 year old body (he’ll turn 37 in the first quarter of the Titans 2012 season) the extra protection he needs, and they must improve in run blocking or the onus will be on the Titans passing game again just like it was last year.
By Matthew Robinson