I mentioned last week that Lavelle Hawkins had been the Titans' top target on third down on weeks three and four. Once again, Lavelle Hawkins was Hasselbeck's top target on third down, with four passes thrown his way. Unfortunately only one of those was converted, and that came via penalty early in the game, when James Farrior was flagged for illegal contact. Hawkins' 4 catches tied his career high, and I think his 8 targets were also a career high.
The Titans are essentially conducting a trial by ordeal between Williams and Hawkins for the right to be the second receiver behind Nate Washington. Both receivers are getting thrown the ball more and more consistently than they've ever been thrown the ball before. The results? Well, let's back off a little bit and look at the full season numbers.
Both receivers have been thrown the ball 20 times. Hawkins has more catches, 11 to Damian's 9, and more yards, 109 to 94, but Williams has the two scores. Hawkins as the third down targets, Williams other targets. Both sport particularly skimpy yards per catch averages, Hawkins only 9.9 and Williams 10.4 (yes, small sample size). By Football Outsiders numbers, they're nearly identical. Through five weeks, Hawkins has -8 DYAR (a measure of total value) and a DVOA of -18.1%. Williams also has -8 DYAR, and his DVOA is -18.0%. Unfortunately, the problem is where those rank: 69th and 70th among the 90 receivers who've been thrown the ball at least 16 times.
Don't look at Matt Hasselbeck as the cure to Hawkins and Williams' lack of productivity, as he's been extraordinarily productive throwing to Kenny Britt when he was in the lineup (9th in DVOA) and Nate Washington (12th in DYAR, 17th in DVOA). That's in the neighborhood of his level of productivity at his best in Seattle, when Shaun Alexander was ripping off consistent runs behind that great offensive line. Even when Chris Johnson quietly has his most consistently productive game of the year, as he did against the Steelers, it's not enough. The Titans' big run-pass split on third down continued Sunday (they threw the ball half the time on 3&1 and threw on every 3&2+), but sooner or later they're going to have to have Williams and/or Hawkins, preferably both, be a better, more consistent receiver, or the offense is going to struggle like it did Sunday more often.
Is anyone else getting a sense of déjà vu about this? A couple of years ago, we'd have been talking about Brandon Jones and Roydell Williams as the men on the spot (though admittedly without an injured #1 receiver to replace). I haven't seen anything from Hawkins or, sadly, Williams to suggest that they will ever amount to more than journeymen nor that their careers will follow a trajectory much different to the aforementioned gentlemen. A fit and pre-injury Donnie Avery would easily be the best receiver currently on the roster, but then I guess a fit Donnie Avery wouldn't have been available when Britt went down.
I like the fact that Munchak and Palmer have asked these two guys to step up and fill the void left by Kenny Britt's injury. It might have been easy just to try and stick Avery in there to see what the veteran could do, but the coaches didn't do that. They opted to see what these guys could do. While a birth in the playoffs is not out of the question this year, it will be difficult to get there and it is highly unlikely that this team is Superbowl bound. I think the team needs to see whether either of these two guys can be a number 2 or 3 receiver on the Titans in next few years when the team starts to compete for Superbowls again. This is especially true for Hawkins who - if he doesn't produce - is unlikely to be on the team next year. I didn't think Hawkins got a fair shake from the Fisher regime, so he is getting his chance to sink or swim now. I think the sample size is a little too small to condemn him now (or Williams for that matter), but if over the next few weeks we start seeing a lot more of Donnie Avery, I guess we will know that Palmer and Munhak have concluded that these two are not starters in the league.
Tom....great analysis...these two definitely need to step up What is going on with Jared Cook. IF my memory serves me, he had 4 or 5 catches on Sunday, but why isn't he targeted more often and why can't he get better performance. Is he being put in a position where he can really make a big impact. I seem to see him, and this is just from watching on TV, running a lot of short crossing routes over the middle. Those are not exactly the kind of routes that will get him big yardage. Why not more seam routes? Why not split him out wide like he was with that amazing catch against the Ravens? Your thoughts?