Division Decision: Tennessee Titans

The Titans took the division crown from the Colts last season, but how do they stack up against Indianapolis in 2009? ColtPower has a position-by-position breakdown.

Quarterback:

It's no secret that there is no quarterback in the division — and only one other quarterback in the league — that can stand toe-to-toe with Peyton Manning in terms of production and success in the league.


Young hasn't lived up to his considerable potential
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

After Manning, though, things get a bit dodgy.  Jim Sorgi has held the backup job for a number of years, but has very little in-game experience, since Manning rarely misses a snap and has not missed a game in his career.

After Sorgi, the slope gets even more slippery, with rookies Curtis Painter and Chris Crane as the other options.  Manning has not missed a game yet, though, and Colts fans will take him against the field.

Kerry Collins is the incumbent starter for the Titans, but is entering into his 16th season.  He played well as the starter last season, guiding the team to a 13-3 record, but he is certainly no match for Manning.

Where Tennessee holds a huge edge is depth.  Vince Young proved in 2007 and 2008 that he can win games and be successful as a starting quarterback, but has had his fair share of issues.  Behind him is former first round pick Patrick Ramsey, who, like Collins, could be an effective signal caller if he found the right situation.  Everyone may find out whether or not Tennessee is the right fit for Ramsey if anything should happen to Collins.

Big Edge: Colts


Running Back:

Joseph Addai and Donald Brown both have first-round pedigrees, but it remains to be seen how both will fit into the offense.  Both men are good fits for the system, so they should get their yards when they get their touches.

Mike Hart is recovering from knee surgery, but should be ready to go for the 2009 season, hoping to build on the momentum he established before he got hurt last year.

The well-known combination of Smash and Dash — otherwise referred to as bruiser LenDale White and speedster Chris Johnson — tore up opposing defenses in 2008 and show no signs of slowing down in the coming season.

White gets a lot of the short yardage and goal line carries, while Johnson catches more passes and runs more sweeps, but both get plenty of opportunities.  If Indianapolis is looking to model their two-back system after another NFL team, they should take a look at how their division rival handled things with this talented duo last season.

In addition, the Titans have a good deal of quality depth, with reserves Chris Henry, Quinton Ganther, and rookie Javon Ringer.

Big Edge: Titans


Wide Receiver:

Reggie Wayne and Anthony Gonzalez are established players that know the system.


The Titans brought in WR Nate Washington in free agency
AP Photo

After them, things become muddled, with Taj Smith, Austin Collie, Roy Hall, and Pierre Garcon fighting to become the team's third receiver.

This is the first season in a long time where the third receiver for the Colts was not decided going into training camp.  It will be interesting to see how this mix of talented youngsters shakes out.

One would assume that Justin Gage and free agent acquisition Nate Washington will be the starting receivers for Tennessee when the 2009 season opens.  Since the Titans use mostly two-receiver sets and the only real competition is Kenny Britt, that would appear to be a safe assumption.

Especially considering it would be a major upset if Phillip Morris, Dudley Guice, Mark Jones, Paul Williams, or Dominique Edison were to unseat any of the favorites.

Also, Lavelle Hawkins could make some big plays in sub packages.  However, this is a team with several number two and number three receivers, but no clear cut number one.

Edge: Colts


Tight End:

Bo Scaife and Alge Crumpler split starts and catches for Tennessee last season.  While both men are accomplished players and serviceable blockers — with Scaife holding an edge over Crumpler — they are also primarily looked upon as outlet, emergency, and short area options. Craig Stevens and Jared Cook could provide more of a home run element for the Titans in 2009, but the position is mostly seen as an extra blocker or a checkdown option.

Dallas Clark is consistently one of the top five players at his position and can stretch the field in the passing game.  Jacob Tamme is a Clark clone and should be able to press the seam if given the opportunity.  Throw in the blocking ability of Gijon Robinson and the versatility of Tom Santi, and this is a position of strength for the Colts.

Edge: Colts


Offensive Line:

Now that the 2008 rookie class has a season under their belts, they should be able to improve and diversify in 2009.  Ryan Lilja will be back, Charlie Johnson has another year of starting experience, and Tony Ugoh should be settled in at left tackle.

Jeff Saturday runs the show, returning as the quarterback of the offensive line.  This unit should be much improved in the coming season.

But, if the Tennessee line returns to their 2008 form — where they pulled and trapped better than any unit in the league in the running game and only allowed 12 sacks in the passing game — they will again be one of the best lines in the NFL, and certainly the best in the division.

Edge: Titans


Defensive Line:

Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis both made the Pro Bowl in 2008, but the depth behind them — second-year players Curtis Johnson and Marcus Howard — is unproven.  Defensive tackle was a point of serious concern all last season and, although the Indianapolis front office took serious steps to improve up the middle, could be an issue again in 2009.

The Titans will no doubt feel the loss of Albert Haynesworth, but Jason Jones, his replacement, has the athleticism to play both end and tackle and excels at rushing the passer.  They still return Kyle Vanden Bosch, Jevon Kearse, Dave Ball, Tony Brown, and La Juan Ramsey.

They also added two players that the Colts had their eyes on through the draft in Mitch King and Sen'Derrick Marks.  Last year, they had a very effective and capable eight man rotation on the defensive line.  They will have that again in 2009.

Edge: Titans


Linebacker:

Indianapolis was able to bring Freddy Keiaho and Tyjuan Hagler back and defensive captain Gary Brackett returns at middle linebacker.  They have depth and talent at the position as Jordan Senn, Clint Session, and Adam Seward all have starting experience.


Bulluck is a veteran of many Colts-Titans battles
AP Photo/Judi Bottoni

The fact that they don't have any game-changing players at the position is where they fall short, but all these men are excellent fits for the system and second-year man Philip Wheeler should be able to flash some of his pass-rushing ability with the wrinkles that Larry Coyer will add.

For Tennessee, starters David Thornton, Stephen Tulloch, and Keith Bulluck have all been together for some time and work well together.  Depth is a concern, as is the age of the starters, but these three have managed to keep it together for some time, so it is safe to assume that they will again in 2009.

Both units have their strengths and weaknesses.  Both are solid, but unspectacular.  It is up to their respective coordinators and position coaches to get the most out of what these men have to offer.

Edge: Even


Cornerback:

Cortland Finnegan was a first team All-Pro in 2008 and Demarcus Faggins and former Colt Nick Harper held the other side of the field in check.  Finnegan has a penchant for the big play, but also has a tendency to commit the occasional head-scratching penalty.

All in all, though, these men give the Titans the ability to bring pressure when they need to, without worrying about coverage breaking down on the back end.

Marlin Jackson returns from a knee injury and Kelvin Hayden will set to the task of earning the rich contract extension he received in the offseason.  They are both solid performers and are backed up by very capable young players who, if 2008 is any indication, are ready to step in and perform if need be.

Still, the Colts don't have an All-Pro at the position, so...

Slight Edge: Titans


Safety:

Antoine Bethea and Bob Sanders both made the Pro Bowl in 2007 and Sanders was named the Defensive Player of the Year.  When they're both healthy, they represent the best safety tandem in the NFL, with Sanders playing closer to the line and making the big plays and Bethea playing center field, trying to keep everything in front of him.

They are backed up by the very capable trio of Matt Giordano, Melvin Bullitt, and Jamie Silva, representing probably the deepest corps of safeties in the league.

Unfortunately for Chris Hope and Michael Griffin, they happen to be the second-best safety tandem in the NFL.  Hope plays closer to the line and makes more plays in the running game for the Titans and Griffin is more in the center fielder role, but both men play their respective positions extremely well.

Hope made the Pro Bowl in 2008, so there is plenty of hardware to go around.  However, since Sanders and Bethea both enter 2009 healthy, the edge goes to the Colts.

Slight Edge: Colts


Special Teams:

Adam Vinatieri would hold the edge over most placekickers, given his clutch performances and accuracy.  Whoever wins the battle between punters Tim Masthay and Pat McAfee will likely suffer through some rookie mistakes.

The return jobs on punts and kickoffs are still in play, but it's hard to imagine that whoever wins the right to return kicks for the Colts could do much worse than they did in 2008.

Rob Bironas was a first team All-Pro selection in 2007 and is one of the more highly regarded kickers in the league, but he's no Vinatieri.  Craig Hentrich is getting a little long in the tooth, heading into his 17th season, but is still a reliable directional kicker with some pop in his leg.

Although the Titans didn't overwhelm anyone with their return game in 2008, they were suffocating in coverage and only look to improve next season.

Edge: Titans


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