Justin Babin leads the Titans with six sacks. Photo by Andrew Strickert for Total Titans
What a difference a year makes. One year ago, the Titans were 0-6 and reeling into a bye week, a needed break which was the equivalent of taking a standing eight count. This year, the Titans are 4-2 and tied for the lead in the AFC South.
Three differences between the first six games this year and last year really stand out. First, the defensive line is generating a lot of pressure on the quarterback. Second, and this is partially attributable to the first, the pass coverage is much improved. And thirdly, the quarterback play has been upgraded.
|Record, first six games||0-6||4-2|
|Points scored, first six games||84||162|
|Points allowed, first six games||198||98|
The Titans have nearly doubled their points scored from a year ago while cutting the number of points allowed in half. Those are great indicators of increased productivity on both sides of the ball. Let's take a further look at the three reasons why these numbers, and the Titans' record, are improved.
During the offseason, we had our doubts here on Total Titans about the d-line and their ability to generate a pass rush. Even though first-round draft pick Derrick Morgan barely got his feet wet before suffering a season-ending torn ACL and injuries have alternately sidelined both Jacob Ford and William Hayes, the defensive ends have contributed mightily. Jason Babin has been a serendipity and Dave Ball has resurrected his career once again. I thought Ball played poorly last year and should have been thrown back onto the scrap heap. Perhaps it just took him an additional year to recover from back surgery before he became a decent player again.
|Pass rush stats||2009||2010|
|Sacks, first six games||10||24|
I didn't bother to tally the number of hurries and quarterback hits, but the eye test says they're up from last year too. One thing we should note about the number of sacks is that three of them belong to Will Witherspoon, who has been very effective blitzing from his weakside LB spot. We should also recognize the more consistent push up the middle from the defensive tackles.
Of course, the unit that benefited the most from the play of the d-line is the secondary. Michael Griffin has made a 180° change of course. The Titans have been healthier and have better depth this year, as evidenced by the play of Alterraun Verner, which is better than we saw from Jason McCourty and Ryan Mouton as rookies last year.
|More pass defense stats||2009||2010|
|Passing yards allowed, first six games||1,955||1,386|
|Passing touchdowns allowed, first six games||19||6|
|Interceptions, first six games||4||10|
It took a decree from above to force Jeff Fisher into making a change at quarterback last year. Vince Young's performance this season is quite a bit better than we saw from Kerry Collins a year ago. The following are the combined stats of VY and KC, for both years.
|Passing yards, first six games||1,071||943|
|Passing touchdowns, first six games||5||9|
|Interceptions, first six games||9||3|
There are other things that make this year's Titans' team better than last year's version. The Titans are more opportunistic this year, more effective in the red zone. With the exception of the Steelers' game in Week Two, the Titans have been winning the turnover battles. But the things that stand out most to me are the three I've examined above.
The pass rush, pass coverage, and quarterback play. All improved from a year ago. The three primary difference-makers between this year's 4-2 record and last year's 0-6 start.