Despite solid start, Titans have room to improve

Posted Oct. 14, 2011 @ 3:30 p.m.
Posted By Arthur Arkush

The Titans enter their bye week as one of the more surprising teams in the league.

On defense, coordinator Jerry Gray has engineered a dramatic turnaround. His impressive work disguising pressures and putting his players in the right places has made Tennessee one of the league's stingiest units. The Titans have received significant contributions from three rookies — SLB Akeem Ayers and DTs Jurrell Casey and Karl Klug — in addition to a number of veterans, all of whom are still learning Gray's system. No player has been more impressive than CB Cortland Finnegan, the team's defensive MVP through five games, according to a team source.

"He has been the linchpin of the unit," the source said. "Jerry is moving him around a lot, bringing him on blitzes out of the slot. He is playing great football."

The source also singled out DE Derrick Morgan, who continues to get stronger each week, and WLB Will Witherspoon, who has had made a number of big plays.

Although the defense has made great strides, there is still plenty of room for improvement.

"Third-down defense and big plays through the air plagued us the past two seasons," the source said. "We have cut down on the explosive plays, but third-down efficiency needs to improve."

The Titans' "D" ranks tied for 31st in the league in that category, with opponents converting 35-of-75 third-down attempts (46.7 percent).

Offensively, QB Matt Hasselbeck has been "the catalyst."

"Remember, Matt couldn't practice for the first eight days because of the CBA (B.S.). But you could tell from his first snap; the command, the tempo, guys getting to the line … He's operated great in games. He's dealt with the loss of his best receiver. He's done it all."

And he has done it all with the club's greatest strength — the ground game — grounded through five weeks.

After getting the big-money deal he desired, RB Chris Johnson has lacked decisiveness and explosion, gaining only three yards per carry. The O-line, while dominant in pass protection, has been ineffective in creating space.

Repairing the running game is priority No. 1 for the club during its bye week.

"Everybody has a part [in the struggles]," the source said. "The O-line, the backs, the tight ends — the whole unit has been subpar. We need to get synced up, everyone working better on a consistent basis."

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