The Tennessee Titans added veteran quarterback Kerry Collins to the roster in hopes of bringing their top pick, Vince Young, into the offense gradually. But after floundering early, Collins has been benched and Tennessee appears to be committed to using this year to develop their exciting rookie with game experience, just as the Colts did with Peyton Manning back in 1998.
The Titans are off to a rocky and demoralizing 0-4 start, and there's not much sign yet that things will get better for them. They have the worst turnover ratio in the NFL (-7) and have surrendered the ball 11 times in those four games -- 9 times through the air. After an embarrassing 45-14 loss against Dallas last week, things don't get any easier when they face the Colts today.
This is a team in search of its new identity. And so far they appear to be on a path where the passing game will be their focus, which is surprising considering they opened the season with Chris Brown, Travis Henry and rookie LenDale White in their rushing game arsenal. But they haven't been able to get anything going on the ground and average just 70 yards per game rushing, 30th in the NFL in that category. They've had to rely on the pass so much that they don't have a single down of play that shows any tendency to lean towards the run. On first down, they pass 55 percent of the time, 58 percent on second down, and then they end up passing 84 percent of the time on third down because of their inability to set up short-yardage situations after the first two plays. Even on the six occasions when they've gone for if on fourth down, they've tried to pass for the first down every time.
The Titans are not only struggling to score points, they're struggling to simply move the chains. They are 30th in scoring average with just 11.8 points per game, partially due to dismally slow starts. Over their first four games, they've scored just 13 points in the first half, just over 3 points per game. If they follow suit against the Colts, this game could be ugly by halftime. A big part of the problem is their inability to sustain drives which provides the opposing offense too many opportunities and wears downs the Titans defense. Tennessee is the league's worst team in time of possession. And get this -- they've scored just 47 total points so far this year, which ironically is equal to the number of points the Colts have posted in the fourth quarter alone this season.
Here's some straight talk about what you'll see from the Titans today based on their stats to date and our review of last week's game tape...
Someone better tell Vince Young that he's not running a college offense anymore. He may have gotten that message last week when the fleet-footed quarterback learned that the speed of NFL defenders is significantly better than what Young saw while at Texas. The rookie quarterback took off five times in an attempt to use his running skills, but gained just 3 yards. Just as interesting is the fact that he made more than half of his passing attempts out of the shotgun last week -- a clear indicator that offensive coordinator Norm Chow knows that his rookie signal-caller needs some extra time to assess what's going on in front of him. Young predominantly looks to his wide receivers, but relies heavily on his tight ends as well. But unless the Titans deviate heavily from what we saw on the tape from last week's game, don't expect him to use his running backs much in the passing game.
In addition to all the shotgun formations, Young ran two designed quarterback run plays and two option pitch plays. Yep, you read that right. The Titans have inserted some option pitch plays like you would see at the college level. Young went to play-action eight times during the game, but didn't fool anyone. He's really not selling it, which could be why the team has opted to make him primarily a shotgun quarterback until he improves in that area.
Despite having the extra time provided by the shotgun, Young is completing just 45 percent of his passes and is ranked 29th in the league in QB rating with a score of 51.5.
Everyone thought the Colts would have an easy time with the Jets' rushing attack last week, and that simply wasn't the case. And while this is another game where the rushing attack should be minimized, don't count on it. While the Titans haven't performed well to date in this area, they do have some momentum building with their rookie running back and number two draft pick, LenDale White out of USC. The Titans only activate two running backs for their games, and White was initially the odd man out early on. But last week, it was Travis Henry how was on the inactive list and White impressed with his north-south, bruising running style. Although he had just nine carries, he put up 39 yards versus Chris Brown's 12 carries for just 33. Don't be surprised if Jeff Fisher rips a page out of Jack Del Rio's approach a few weeks ago where he inserted rookie Maurice Jones-Drew, who gashed the Colts for big gains in the first half. Fisher might unleash White this week as the primary back in the tandem based on some glowing comments he made about his rookie running back earlier this week.
Neither Brown nor White have a rushing touchdown yet this season. The team has just two, both scored by Travis Henry in their season opener versus the Jets. And so far, none of the running backs have broken a run longer than 11 yards after four games of play. The group's 3.02 average gain per rush is 28th in the league, but keep an eye on the single back out of the shotgun formation this week. Against Dallas, they were primarily used for blocking. It wouldn't be surprising for Fisher to know that the Colts will notice that on tape and switch things up a bit this week, using some delay handoffs or an occasional screen out of that formation.
Talk about bad news for Young, his number one receiver is entering the game recovering from a quad injury. But that won't stop the tandem from trying to hook up as often as possible as Bennett leads the team in catches. But the news is worse regarding the team's offseason free agency acquisition David Givens. The former Patriot will miss this game with a thumb injury. So expect Young to look at tight ends Bo Scaife (second in receptions) and Ben Troupe more often in this game. They have already established themselves as primary red zone targets, pulling in two of the three Tennessee passing touchdowns.
Kicker Rob Bironas simply hasn't gotten many opportunities to show what he can do this season. So far, he's been highly reliable, hitting three of four attempts over the past two games (he didn't get any chances the first two weeks). His longest successful kick so far has only been from 39 yards out and his only miss was a 51-yarder against the Dolphins.
While Colts fans bemoan Indy's rush defense, they can take heart from the
fact that today the Colts will be facing the league's worst rush defense.
Tennessee is allowing an average of 177 rushing yards per game, 708 total yards.
By comparison, the Colts have allowed their opponents to run for 620 yards
during the same stretch. Against the pass, you would guess that the Titans are
bringing some pretty good heat since they have 8 sacks so far this season. But
against Dallas, it was truly sporadic. They really didn't get any consistent
pressure on the quarterback and it showed in the final score. The defense is
also not helping the team when it comes to the time of possession stat
referenced earlier in this article. They're allowing an average of 22 first
downs per game which has put them 29th in the league in that category.