Coming off of a 10-6 record and a playoff appearance in 2007, the Tennessee Titans were looking to attain bigger and better things in 2008.
Contrary to the dire predictions handed out by the so-called media experts, the Titans ended the 08 regular season with an impressive list of accomplishments: a division crown, the league's best record and for the icing on the cake, homefield advantage throughout the AFC playoffs (Take that, Peter King!).
Let's take a look at some of the main reasons behind the regular season success of the 2008 Tennessee Titans.
1. Chris Johnson's impact
I'll give the experts a "dash" (pun intended) of credit for correctly suggesting that the Titans were in need of a difference-maker on offense. However, many believed that this impact player would come in the form of an athletically-gifted wide receiver.
In the words of Lee Corso, "Not so fast, my friend!"
Rookie RB Chris Johnson a.k.a. "Dash" has been the answer to the Titans' prayers on offense. Finishing 2nd in the NFL Rookie of the Year balloting, the speedy Johnson averaged nearly five yards per carry en route to 1,228 yards and 9 touchdowns.
Johnson was the missing piece to the Titans' offensive puzzle. His presence finally gave the Titans a skill position player that would serve as the source of frequent nightmares for opposing defensive coordinators.
2. The return of Dinger
Perhaps the biggest move made by the Titans during the offseason was their decision to replace Norm Chow with former Titan offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger.
Dinger's return ushered in an improved performance on the offensive side of the football in 2008. Unlike last year's Titans, this year's group actually scored touchdowns in the red zone (more on this, later). In terms of points, the 2008 Titans outscored their 2007 counterparts 375-301.
Needless to say, Dinger's return to the sidelines has been a welcome sight for the Titans.
3. Better QB play
In 2007, the Titans went 10-6 despite starting QB Vince Young having a lackluster season. His interception-to-touchdown ratio was almost 2-1 and nagging leg injuries prevented Vince from being the rushing threat that he was during his sensational rookie year.
In 2008, Kerry Collins has been a stabilizer at the QB position. The veteran signal-caller has minimized his mistakes (7 interceptions) while effectively performing his role of game manager. On a few occasions, Collins has also stepped up by leading the team to victory via his throwing arm.
4. The red zone is no longer the dead zone for the Titans
Unlike the 2007 bunch, the 2008 Tennessee Titans were able to punch it into the end zone on a frequent basis during their visits to the red zone. Dead-last in producing touchdowns inside the opponents' 20 in 07, this year's group finished the regular season ranked as the league's 3rd best red zone team.
Why were the Titans better in the red zone in 2008? To answer that question, I'll simply refer to two of the factors that I've already mentioned as being the reasons behind the team's overall success this year.
Chris Johnson: defenses have to account for this guy and by doing so, it creates opportunities for other Titans. Of course, he's quite the playmaker when he touches the football.
Dinger: compared to Chow, he's been a lot more creative with his play-calling in the red zone.
5. DL depth
In 2007, Albert Haynesworth's three-game absence almost sunk the Titans' ship in their voyage to the playoffs. With turnstiles such as Randy Starks manning the fort with Fat Albert sidelined, Tennessee lost three games in a row as opposing offenses ran amuck on the usually stout Titan d-line.
Fast-forward to 2008. In addition to losing Haynesworth to injury, the energizer bunny himself, Kyle Vanden Bosch has also been sidelined for a few games. Despite their absences, reserves such as Jacob Ford, Dave Ball, Jason Jones and William Hayes have more than held their own.
Without a doubt, the backups on this year's defensive line have played a key role in the Titans' success this year.
Now it's your turn. What are your reasons behind the Titans' improvement in 2008?