Drexel has already posted his thoughts on player performances in the Titans' 15-7 loss to the Panthers Saturday, but I thought I'd chime in with some additional comments. I put up the raw data dump of my brief notes on each play at my personal site, but this is the more intelligible, reader-friendly version of those.
- The interior defensive linemen, especially Jason Jones, and SenDerrick Marks, were really impressive. Both guys, but Jones in particular, did an excellent job at getting penetration, against the run and even more so in the pass rush. Even Jovan Haye showed up a couple times, which may have exceeded his total from all of last year.
- Derrick Morgan had a couple good pass rushes on Moore.
- The Titans blitzed more than I thought they would, and a lot more than they did last year. The difference from Monday was, unlike both Matt Leinart and Derek Anderson, Matt Moore doesn't turn into a quivering blob of goo when he sees a blitz. Moore generally adjusted to the pressure well and did a good job of finding his hot receiver.
- Without Steve Smith, the Panthers really have a JV receiving corps. I wasn't impressed by any of those guys, and would have preferred a more formidable test for McCourty and Verner. Seeing Dwayne Jarrett, a guy not exactly known for being a speed merchant (in terms of NFL wideouts, get open deep past Verner was an unpleasant sight. The Carolina broadcast aired on NFL Network didn't show at all how Jarrett got so open, but questionable deep speed was one of the big knocks on Verner.
- Both Chris Hope and Nick Schommer were very active coming up in run support. I think Schommer really helped his case. Rather than Keglar for the first four weeks like I said in my latest roster projection, the Titans might choose to keep six safeties on the roster and play some of 2 LB and 3 safeties, with one of them being more of an in-the-box guy. They did that a little bit last year with Kaesviharn.
- Michael Griffin hasn't looked like a liability, but he also hasn't been making plays like he did two years ago. His level of play this year is still a question mark to me, and a big one especially if Hope plays run support more.
- Mike Rivera was kind of a questionable call on my part, but I thought he had by far his best game of the preseason.
- With Allred's injury, Curran got into the game earlier than he had the first couple weeks and didn't look horribly out of place, though that still doesn't mean I think he'll see the field in the regular defense without an injury or injuries.
- Jason McCourty had a couple good tackles in run support. For a Jeff Fisher team, and in the Titans' defensive scheme, those are important. I'm with Andrew in his belief McCourty will be the opening day starter opposite Finnegan.
- I finally noticed Myron Rolle a little. Alas for him, I noticed Johnson more and Schommer a lot more.
- I think the blockers were engaged in a competition as to who could screw up the most. Mike Roos got into it early, but I thought the biggest and most persistent culprit was Leroy Harris. His worst tendency, which resulted in an interception against the Jets when he filled in last year, is playing too high and getting bulled back into the backfield. When you're trying to run outside zone to the left side, having your left guard three yards in the backfield is a big issue.
- Not to put too fine a point on things, Jared Cook is essentially worthless on running plays. The Titans can't trust him to be backside seal on a defensive end, he can't be a blocker at the point of attack, and he can't block a linebacker downfield. I didn't notice a single good block from him all night, and did notice quite a few poor ones. Right now, it looks like putting him in the game is an almost automatic tell that the Titans will be throwing the ball or losing yardage.
- I didn't think CJ2k left a tremendous number of yards out there for the taking. The blocking just wasn't where it needed to be.
- With Gage and Washington both out, it didn't seem like VY even tried to find wideouts early in the game. Maybe he did, and I just didn't see it (quite possible), but they felt like an afterthought. Shades of 2005 and 2006.
- Without a better look at what was and wasn't available downfield, it's tough for me to really say VY had a bad game. Some of the sacks, I think the ball was designed to be out and it seemed like VY didn't throw the ball for some reason.
- Javon Ringer I thought looked pretty good.
- Kerry Collins spent some time looking like the guy who started 0-6 and got benched.
- When you're a quarterback throwing a seam route, (1) don't miss long and (2) if you might miss long, throw it away from the safety. There were two good examples here of what to do and what not to do. The example of what to do was Cook's TD. Cook had a nice physical mismatch at the line against a smaller safety, and the Panthers were clearly showing a single high safety. Collins shaded the seam route to the far side of the field, so even if the safety quickly recognized the play, it was a difficult one for him to make. Contrast that with Smith's interception, where he overthrow the seam route and it was easily intercepted by what looked like a safety playing 2-deep coverage.
- Rusty Smith looked like a rookie-making mostly comfortable throws to underneath receivers in the middle of the field, and sometimes trying to fit something into a window he should have avoided. He narrowly missed an interception on the sidelines that way, and I think the intercepted seam route was another throw he probably should have avoided.
- Blount had a couple decent runs where there was a hole, including one where he broke an ankle tackle. Call me biased, but I still wasn't hugely impressed. The questions are, if there's not much of a hole there, will he still attack that hole and settle for 3 yards, and can he attack the hole quickly enough to get there before it closes. That's how he'll have to earn his keep in the NFL. Anybody can run through open holes.
- Damian Williams looked mostly competent but unspectacular when he was running with the ball. I thought his best return was actually the punt return where he fumbled. Discounting the fumble, he made a couple guys miss and picked up some extra yards. He didn't seem well-prepared to deal with Carolina's kicking toward the sidelines, including the punt he failed to field that rolled for an extra 25 yards, which is something Fisher took blame for after the game.
- Fish also excused away the fumble, because of a shoulder injury Williams took on the play. Yes, I don't like to see guys get blamed for poor play on a play where they get hurt, but Fish will protect guys at times.
- Not much to say about Mariani-both punts he properly let go, and one kickoff he did as well. He brought out one kickoff he should have taken a knee on, which is understandable even if I'm not a big fan of it.
- On the kickoff return for touchdown Carolina had, Johnson and Bakhtiari missed the tackle, while Sewall (sideline) and Verner (next guy in) abandoned contain on the side where the returner bounced out when they thought the play was over. Rookie mistake by both guys, I think, but Sewall was always going to get cut and Verner obviously isn't.
Overall, I wasn't quite as annoyed as everybody else was. I kind of lagged the second half in my PBP notes, but it wasn't nearly as bad as, say, the desultory preseason game against Atlanta a couple years ago, where I struggled to keep myself invested enough to do that for a quarter. There are some blocking issues the Titans need to work on, and if Gage and Washington are both out, the Titans will struggle to make plays on the outside unless Williams is ready surprisingly quickly (Hawk's a slot guy, and Mariani probably is as well as a rookie). Aside from mediocre blitzing, the job the defense did was pretty encouraging, though of course Carolina hasn't been any great shakes this preseason.