State of the South-Titans

Day two of my look at the AFC South heads down I-65 to Nashville for a look at the Colts’ biggest division rivals: The Tennessee Titans.  The Titans, the only other club to ever win the AFC South, are the anti-Jaguars.  The two teams seem similar, but the Titans have a crafty coach capable of drawing the most out of a mediocre roster while the Jags have a guy capable of drawing the worst out of a solid roster.

Last year, the Titans jumped the rails early, benched Kerry Collins and turned to Vince Young.  They caught fire, winning 8 of their last 10 games.  In the process Super Back Chris Johnson ripped off a remarkable 2,000 yard campaign.  The Titans are a talented team and bear watching as the season unfolds.  The Colts don’t play them at all until December, so by the team the two teams match up, we should have a better feel for which Titans team will show in 2010.

The popular narrative for the Titans is that Vince Young sparked their rise from 0-6 to 8-8.  I’ve already pointed out that this isn’t completely true. Young played better than Collins, but there was no ‘night and day’ difference.

Comp % TD INT YPA Rating Sack % Rushing Yards
Young 58.7 10 7 7.3 82.9 3.4 281
Collins 55.1 6 8 5.7 65.5 2.7 15

Young played better than Collins did, no question, but neither did he play so dramatically better as to account for all the improvement in the Titans.  2010 was by far Young’s best season in terms of interception %, sack %, YPA, and rating.  In other words, though his completion % was down, he clearly took a step forward as a quarterback.  How far the Titans can go in 2011 depends entirely on Young.  If he progress even further, he’ll be a good NFL quarterback.  If he stays at this level, he’ll be an average one.  If he regresses at all, he’ll find himself back on the bench so as to give Kerry Collins a shot at 100 career losses.  The Titans need to protect the football.  They posted 23 turnovers in 8 losses verses 10 in their 8 wins.

While Young holds the key to the Titans season, Chris Johnson will certainly get his share of publicity as well.  Johnson toted the rock more than 400 times in 2010.  He needs to stay healthy if the Titans hope to contend in 2011.  He also needs to cut down on his boom/bust runs, as he ranked just 32nd in the league in FOs “Success Rate”.

The Titans clearly want to mimic their success from early in the decade when they rode a bruising run game, a great defense, and steady quarterbacking to a title.  On defense, the Titans have gone backwards the past two years losing Haynesworth and Vanden Bosch, but caught a major break in the draft when highly touted end Derrick Morgan fell to them in the middle of the first round. The Titans need to bring pressure to force turnovers.  In their 8 wins last year they forced 18 turnovers.  In their 8 losses they forced 9.


The Titans are the great wild card in the division.  They are clearly talented, and finished strong, winning 8 of 10 games and only losing to San Diego and Indy.  While I expect more stability from the Titans on defense, the question will be can Vince Young take the next step in his evolution.  In many ways, Young is similar to his idol Steve McNair in quarterback skills at this stage of his career.

Comp % TD% INT% YPA Rating Yards Rushing
Young 2009 58.7 3.9 2.7 7.3 82.8 281
McNair 1998 58.7 3.0 2.0 6.6 80.1 559

The good news for Titans fans is that the next season, McNair helped lead the Titans to a Super Bowl (despite stats worse than in 2008).  Four of the next five years, the Titans posted a winning record under Steve McNair.

If Young becomes the kind of leader and player McNair was, the Titans could be a threat in 2010.  Jeff Fisher will have his team playing fundamentally sound football.  All VY has to do is not screw it up.

The Titans could go either way in 2010.  Though I’m not a believer in Young at all, I do allow that his play did improve last year.  If it improves again, look for the Titans to win double digit games.