If you believe in wins as the proper arbiter of the quality of an NFL team, the Tennessee Titans are currently in a tailspin after dropping 5 of their last 6 following a 3-1 start. What, you may wonder, happened to the good Titans team of September, and why are they so much worse now?
I believe wins are a highly imperfect guide to the quality of a particular NFL team, and we can supplement our look at wins with other things. Looking at these things tells us that, rather than being particularly different, the Tennessee Titans team that has lost 5 of their past 6 games is perhaps somewhat different from, but on the whole is basically pretty similar to, that team that started 3-1. The streaks, real though they may have been in the standings, are just another result of building narrativity around a weighted random number generator, about as meaningful as those "Chris Johnson and the offensive line getting together fixed the running game," a story that kind of went away a week later after he had 12 carries for 30 yards after the Jaguars.*
The difference between that early season Titans team and the one that's currently on a two-game losing streak could be summed up by a single statistic. In the first four weeks of the season, there were nine fumbles. The Titans ended up with possession of the ball after eight of them. In the past two games, there have been nine fumbles. The Titans ended up possession of the ball after two of them. From 89% to 22% on fumble recoveries, from 3-1 to 0-2. Combine the two, and you get a .500 team that's ended up with possession after a normal and only perhaps slightly lucky 56% of fumbles.
And that's the Titans team we've seen most of the time. They're good enough they can go about .500 against teams roughly in the same ballpark of how good they are. If they're lucky, as they were against the Steelers, the Chargers, the Jets, and the Rams by recovering 10 of 11 fumbles, they can win the game. If they're not, they'll lose as we saw against the Colts. Against better versions of who they want to be, some luck can keep them in the game, as we saw against the Chiefs and Seahawks, but on the whole Kansas City, San Francisco, and Seattle outplayed them and came away with deserved wins. They're good enough to beat bad teams, as they outplayed Jacksonville, but not so good they can do so if they make crucial mistakes and get unlucky (Jaguars ended up with the ball after 6 of 8 fumbles).no comments
According to the NFL's official player participation report, here's how the Titans lined up in Thursday's home loss to the Colts.
Offense (56 total)
QB: Ryan Fitzpatrick 56
RB/FB: Chris Johnson 45, Shonn Greene 9, Collin Mooney 1
TE: Delanie Walker 53, Craig Stevens 31, Taylor Thompson 4
WR: Nate Washington 54, Kendall Wright 54, Justin Hunter 16, Kenny Britt 13
OL: Andy Levitre 56, Michael Roos 56, Chris Spencer 56, David Stewart 56, Chance Warmack 56
Defense (71 total)
DE: Derrick Morgan 64, Ropati Pitoitua 38, Kamerion Wimbley 33, Karl Klug 27
DT: Jurrell Casey 64, Sammie Lee Hill 40, Mike Martin 12, Antonio Johnson 8
LB: Akeem Ayers 71, Colin McCarthy 70, Zach Brown 46
CB: Jason McCourty 71, Alterraun Verner 67, Coty Sensabaugh 27
S: Michael Griffin 71, Bernard Pollard 71, George Wilson 1
Patrick Bailey, Jackie Battle, Beau Brinkley, Zac Diles, Corey Lynch, Daimion Stafford, Byron Stingily, Blidi Wreh-Wilson, and Devon Wylie each only appeared on special teams. Kevin Matthews and Rusty Smith were active but did not appear in the game.
After the jump, the usual notes and observations.no comments
It was another Tennessee Titans loss to the Indianapolis Colts, 30-27. It was another game where the Titans couldn't afford any mistakes, and they made one. It was another game the Titans couldn't get the defensive stop they needed. In the end, it was probably the nail in the coffin for the hopes the Titans had when they began the 2013 season.
The game started promisingly, as the Titans drove the field with ease their first two possessions and extended that lead to 17-3 late in the first half. Before the Titans offense would take another snap, though, the game would change. The Colts drove for a field goal before halftime. 17-6. A touchdown after halftime. 17-13. New return man Devon Wylie fumbles the ensuing kickoff, giving the Colts a short field before another score. Titans down 20-17. A three-and-out, and it became 23-17.
The Titans cut it to 23-20, but couldn't move the ball on their next possession. One more stop, though, on a Colts drive that began midway through the fourth quarter, and the Titans could drive for the lead. 4:40 later, Donald Brown scored for a 30-27 lead. Like last week, Ryan Fitzpatrick found Delanie Walker for a score to make it more respectable, but the onside kick failed and the Colts took the knee for the win.
A week after pretending they could run, the Titans came out with the right offensive gameplan. They put Ryan Fitzpatrick in spread sets, asked him to get the ball out quickly and told him to take off if nothing was open. He ran it well, repeatedly throughout the game finding Delanie Walker and Kendall Wright on short crossing routes against the Colts inside linebackers in coverage. Run-blocking was great early, as Chris Johnson had 13 carries for 80 yards in the first half. This sort of gameplan generally requires precise execution, and the Titans flagged a bit there in the middle of the game. On the whole, scoring 27 points on 8 possessions, or even 20 on 7 if you discount the late drive against prevent, will win you many games.
If you wanted to, you could almost make a case the defense played acceptably well. Six points in the first half, Trent Richardson finished with 8 rushes for 22 yards, and excluding scrambles Andrew Luck gained 229 yards on 37 dropbacks. After the initial three-and-out, though, every single Colts drive ended inside the Titans 40. Tight end Coby Fleener finished with 107 yards receiving, with Bernard Pollard seemingly the culprit on the biggest plays. Donald Brown confounded the Titans run defense yet again, finishing with 14 carries for 80 yards and seemingly picking up 3 or more extra yards on every carry. On the whole, giving up 30 points on 9 possessions will lose you many games.
A week and and a half, roughly, until the Titans play the Raiders in Oakland. A few days off, and the Titans can figure out which of their goals for the season are still in reach, and what's left to play for if they're not. More on this game and the rest of the 2013 outlook from me later.no comments
The inactives are out for tonight's Titans-Colts game, and here they are.
INDIANAPOLIS COLTS: CB Josh Gordy, C Khaled Holmes, DT Montori Hughes, S Delano Howell, WR Da'Rick Rogers, LB Kelvin Sheppard, CB Greg Toler
TENNESSEE TITANS: CB Tommie Campbell, DE Lavar Edwards, LB Moise Fokou, LB Zaviar Gooden, OT Mike Otto, C Brian Schwenke, WR Damian Williams
No notable inactives for the Colts, as Gordy, Howell, and Toler were listed as Out on the injury report.
For the Titans, David Stewart returns to the starting lineup. He was listed as probable this week, so that was expected. Campbell, Fokou, Schwenke, and Williams were out, while Gooden was questionable. With Stewart back, Byron Stingily is up, so he's probably the preferred left tackle backup over Otto (who played there the home game against the Colts last year when Mike Roos had his appendix out). New roster additions backup interior lineman Kevin Matthews and return man Devon Wylie make their 2013 Titans debuts.
Outside of quarterback, neither of these two teams is particularly more talented than the other. I think the Titans have overall better defensive talent, but Robert Mathis is the biggest difference-maker on either defense. The Titans have the better offensive line, but as we saw last week against Jacksonville not so much so they can win the game on their own. I still believe what I said about Ryan Fitzpatrick earlier this season, that (a) it won't necessarily be mostly his fault that the Titans lose and (b) he's not that bad, he's just the kind of quarterback who has to be carefully managed and manipulated to overcome his fundamental limitations. Given the Colts' edge at the most important position, I don't have a problem with a line of the Colts -3, which is what it was when I last checked.
Feel free to leave your comments here during today's game. I'll be chiming on mostly on Twitter, so feel free to follow and yap at me there. Recap after the game, and I'll get something up with more of my Locker-related thoughts in the days to come.no comments
It's time for another Titans-Colts game, which means it's time for another installment in my regular pregame Q&A with Colts blogger extraordinaire Nate Dunlevy. Nate currently writes for the Colts site Colts Authority and Bloguin's general NFL blog This Given Sunday, and is the co-host of Colts Central Radio. Nate has written two books, Blue Blood on the Colts and the novel Invincible, Indiana. His wife Deb is also an author, and her YA fantasy The Book of Sight is available for free on Kindle right now (I liked it more than I did Invincible). You can (and should) follow him on Twitter. In addition to answering my questions, he sent me some questions for me to answer, and you can read my answers over at Colts Authority.
According to the NFL's official report, here's how the Titans distributed the snaps in Sunday's 29-27 loss to the Jaguars.
Offense (73 total)
QB: Ryan Fitzpatrick 50, Jake Locker 23
RB/FB: Chris Johnson 55, Shonn Greene 18, Collin Mooney 13
TE: Delanie Walker 56, Craig Stevens 32, Taylor Thompson 7
WR: Nate Washington 61, Kendall Wright 59, Justin Hunter 54, Kenny Britt 9, Damian Williams 1
OL: Andy Levitre 73, Mike Otto 73, Michael Roos 73, Chance Warmack 73, Chris Spencer 58, Brian Schwenke 15
Defense (60 total)
DE: Derrick Morgan 58, Ropati Pitoitua 34, Kamerion Wimbley 19, Karl Klug 15
DT: Jurrell Casey 57, Sammie Lee Hill 35, Mike Martin 11, Antonio Johnson 9
LB: Akeem Ayers 60, Colin McCarthy 59, Zach Brown 38
CB: Jason McCourty 60, Alterraun Verner 58, Coty Sensabaugh 26, Blidi Wreh-Wilson 1
S: Bernard Pollard 60, Michael Griffin 57, George Wilson 3
Patrick Bailey, Jackie Battle, Beau Brinkley, Zaviar Gooden, Corey Lynch, Daimion Stafford, Byron Stingily each only appeared on special teams.
After the jump, the usual collection of notes.no comments