I made it through a watch of all the Titans' offensive plays against the Texans using the all-22 overhead and end zone angles. Note this was not as in-depth a review as I prefer to do; my concentration here was on making it through the entire game, not being as exhaustive as I like to be.
As is normally the case, what I write in this post is a mix of very specific and pretty general observations, trends, thoughts, etc. on what I noticed and what stood out to me. Even when I dump three hours into watching the offense, I do not grade every player on every player-I generally don't find that a worthwhile use of my time. I instead prefer to concentrate on what was supposed to happen and why things did or did not happen that way. This is my take, what I get using my eyes and based on what I generally know about football and the Titans offense and Texans defense specifically, but without actual knowledge of the playcalls and why players did or didn't do what they did or didn't do in any specific situation.
After the jump, those observations.
1. If you want an example of why the Titans might be displeased with Kenny Britt's blocking, you have to look no further than the first play of the game. Chris Johnson got 16 yards, but with good downfield blocking from Britt this could have been 80. He did that typical wide receiver "go downfield and make sure the guy covering you does not attack the line of scrimmage" thing, but once CJ got to the third level he needed to be able to work off a Britt block of Johnathan Joseph to find a path to the end zone, maybe down the sidelines. Instead, he had to go to the open field, where Shiloh Keo was able to bring him down.
2. I wrote late in 2011 I was pretty much done with Chris Johnson, and I'm still trying not to post too much about him. Did he leave yards on the field on Sunday? You better believe. Chris Johnson has left yards on the field every single game since at least 2011 (as far back as I've watched the all-22). That's just part of who Chris Johnson is as a runner. The problem is when he both leaves yards on the field and doesn't make extra yards on his own. A replacement-level back (Jalen Parmele, say) gets, absolute minimum, 80 of CJ's 96 yards on his 25 carries, and probably close to the 96 he did get.
3. It was David Stewart that missed his reach block on Antonio Smith's backfield penetration that created the safety. I think I mentioned Smith splitting Stewart and Chance Warmack, but Warmack was blameless on that play.
4. That's about the only good thing I'll say about Warmack's play, as J.J. Watt treated him like he was Leroy Harris in the passing game and he also struggled to get Brian Cushing blocked at the second level. Yes, Watt and Cushing are good players, but Warmack was the tenth pick. He's supposed to be a good player, too. Right now, he's playing right guard like he's a left guard. He's still doing the same things he did at Alabama, pulling well for a big man and getting guys when he's clean to the second level, but getting off combo blocks to pick up guys is not working as well. He also seems to be doing something hinky at the snap, where he's taking something like a quick jab step in the wrong direction, like he's on the wrong play. Maybe I'm totally off base with that, maybe this is coached, but missing the play is something Mike Munchak acknowledged happened with him in the preseason. This isn't an every play thing, maybe a couple to half-dozen times a game, but that can be the difference between a great and an awful day for an offensive lineman.
5. Jackie Battle is a stylistic complement to Chris Johnson, but if the Titans gave CJ so many carries and Battle so few because Battle isn't any good, well, they're right.
6. As much a proponent as I have been of getting Craig Stevens more involved in the passing game, I'd love to know what in the presnap look led Locker to targeting him on the first first-and-goal play of the game. I know, the pass was batted down by Watt (on Warmack), but Stevens had two guys on him and Nate Washington was open in the middle of the field. Locker made a good throw to Kendall Wright for the score, but I think the Titans should've gotten those points two downs earlier.
7. It wasn't quite "see Brice McCain, throw ball," but that really did seem to be where the Titans saw an advantage.
8. Jake Locker struggling to execute from a muddied pocket or when he feels pressure is up there with Chris Johnson leaving yards on the field as something I'm coming to accept as an immutable and unfortunate fact. Never was this more apparent on the final offensive play of the game, when he airmailed Kenny Britt on what could have been a game-winning score. I mentioned this on Twitter, but Bill Walsh's old quote about being able to tell how good a day a quarterback had just by looking at him from the waist down comes to mind, as Locker's lower body was pointing in the wrong direction. I know, this is not news or new information, but I'm repeating it because it's important.
9. It was weird to see Michael Preston and Kenny Britt lined up near each other on one goal-to-go play. I had to double-check that it really was Britt out there, because I'm so used to seeing him look bigger than other wide receivers rather than slightly smaller.
10. Rob Turner is who he is, which means Brian Schwenke's time will be coming when he's ready. It may not be until 2014, but it wouldn't shock me in the least if it's earlier. I have Turner as 70-30 to start the post-bye Week 9 game at St. Louis.
11. This hasn't gotten enough emphasis, but the Titans came into 2013 wanting and needing to rely on their run game. Yet in three crucial situations on Sunday-the fourth-and-1 from the 39, the safety, and the four-minute drill-they couldn't run the ball when they wanted to and had to, even if the Texans knew a run would be coming. Failing in one or even two of those situations is understandable. Forget the late-game defensive collapse, forget all those other three-and-outs in the third quarter, the Titans were in a position to win another game they wanted to win games, but when it came down to executing to win it, they couldn't.
I agree with all of these criticisms of the Titans offense, yet I can't get over the fact that if Locker and Britt connect on that one pass or if Hopkins doesn't make that incredible touchdown catch in OT, we could be talking about the Titans being 2 and 0. I know the defense has been the reason the Titans have been in these games, but if only one or two things change on offense, the Titans could start putting up some points. Maybe I am being too optimistic. Maybe it is too much to expect Locker not to falter in the face of phantom pressure. Maybe CJ can't just run through the narrow crevices that the O-line is creating for him (like LeSean McCoy seems to be able to do). But maybe neither of those things matter. I think the O-line can be better. Turner can, at a minimum, stop taking stupid penalties. Warmack can play up to his draft position. And the wide receivers can play better (both in terms of pass catching and blocking), particularly if Britt gets his head on straight on game day or is replaced at some point by Hunter (or even Williams). And if any of those three things happen - and I think there is a very good chance more than one of them will - the offense will start scoring enough points to win some games.
I am feeling a bit optimistic about the Titans for the first time in years. I am still not sold on Locker and I am certainly not a fan of CJ's running style, but I think that the rest of the pieces on offense will be able to help both of those guys do enough to win some games this year.
@Scott P Thanks for the comment. I'd be more optimistic about the Titans being good on offense if they'd actually done anything good. I don't believe any of your ifs has ever been true, so I'm skeptical. Of course, this may just be my "glass mostly empty" side showing through.