I was pessimistic about the state of the 2011 Tennessee Titans. If you told me that Chris Johnson would be the primary ball-carrier all year and five times finish with fewer than 30 yards rushing in a game and seven times average less than three yards a carry, and Kenny Britt would be lost for the season in the fourth game, I probably would've been even more pessimistic. Despite that, they confounded by my expectations by going 9-7 and finishing with a league-average offense.
The reason they were so good, comparatively speaking? A passing offense that, despite the loss of Britt and a disappointing season from Jared Cook, was still productive for much of the season. The man who played the biggest role in that, in my eyes, is my offensive MVP for the 2011 Tennessee Titans, quarterback Matt Hasselbeck.
When offensive Chris Palmer talked about how things were supposed to be this season, the word balance was used a lot. The Titans were supposed to run the ball a lot, more than they passed it, and the running game was supposed to be part of a sustaining offense. For reasons I won't go into in this post, that wasn't very often the case. The running game was rarely sustaining.
Offensively, the Titans couldn't rely on the running game, and, as I've chronicled here, when it came to third down, they didn't even try to rely on it. Third-and-two or more was overwhelmingly a pass first, second, and third situation for the Titans, and sustaning drives is one of the big keys to having success on offense in the NFL. And guess what? The Titans struggled at times on third down, as all offenses are wont to do, but overall third down was a relative strength for the Titans. Time and again Hasselbeck found and hit receivers, particularly Nate Washington, for third down conversions.
Beyond third downs, Hasselbeck was particularly excellent in the red zone. The Titans didn't get to the red zone that often, but when they did they were good at moving the ball. Hasselbeck was absolutely first-rate for most of the season, and the Titans finished fourth in the league in DVOA in the red zone, and an even better second in goal-to-go situations. Hasselbeck was decisive, accurate, and, an often underrated trait, willing to throw the ball in the end zone.
At least as important as what Hasselbeck brought to the Titans on the field was what he brought to the team off the field. For the first time since at least 2007 and more probably 2005, the quarterback position was pretty much drama-free. Hasselbeck is a limited player, not among the league's best quarterbacks, but from day one he's been an absolute professional, said all the right things about his play and about his role vis-a-vis Jake Locker, and by all accounts showed up to work every day and worked hard. That's been a rare commodity from a Tennessee Titans quarterback, even when the play on field has been an issue.
For the combination of performance, especially in key situations, and professionalism, Matt Hasselbeck is my 2011 Tennessee Titans offensive most valuable player.
Honorable mentions: WR Kenny Britt, for clearly being the Titans' most effective and explosive playmaker. WR Nate Washington, for the speed with which he adjusted to Chris Palmer's offense and his most consistently productive season. LT Michael Roos, for bouncing back after a blah 2010 season by showing he still belongs on a list of the NFL's best left tackles tackles, even if he's not at the very top.