AFC South: Tennessee Titans

LANDOVER, Md. -- Who had Taylor Lewan in the pool?

The pool picking the only Titans offensive linemen of the team's top six who would come out of the game against Washington without a penalty.

Kudos to the rookie Lewan for playing his first two NFL games without drawing a flag. He's got a reputation as a hot head and he drew a pair of 15-yard penalties in very limited part-time work before Michael Roos had season-ending knee surgery.

Since then, Lewan's been clean.

After the Titans 19-17 loss to Washington, His linemates can make no such claim.
  • Brian Schwenke's illegal use of the hands produced a second-and-15. The Titans ended up punting.
  • Chance Warmack's holding resulted in a second-and-13. The drive ended in a punt.
  • Chris Spencer's holding resulted in a first-and-20, leading to an interception.
  • Michael Oher's false start produced a first-and-15, which led to a second-and-15, which led to ...
  • Andy Levitre's hold led to a second-and-25, leading to a punt.
  • Schewnke's second illegal use of the hands led to a first-and-20, leading to a punt.

“We're not able to overcome the first-and-20 consistently,” quarterback Charlie Whitehurst said. “And most teams aren't.”

The Titans committed 11 penalties for 96 yards. Six of them for 55 yards came from the offensive line, which isn't coming close to living up to it's collective pedigree or salary.

“The why is the biggest question,” Schwenke said. “If I knew why, I don't think we'd be having this conversation, it's as simple as that.

“We've got to work every week and we work to get better and we're focused going into every game and we feel confident going into every game. Why is the biggest question for me too.”
LANDOVER, Md. -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the Tennessee Titans' 19-17 loss to Washington:

Among the worst: A win over the Jaguars last week saved the Titans from a complete drop into the very bottom group of teams in the NFL.

But they deserve their place there now.

The Titans enabled Washington to collect its second win of the season on the same day the Browns, who stormed back for a historic win over the Titans, lost to Jacksonville. (Not that I believe in the transitive value of such things. The Titans lost to Cleveland and beat Jacksonville, and nothing changes head-to-head results.)

“The last three games, it came down to the last couple of seconds,” safety Michael Griffin said. “Do I think we belong there [grouped with those teams]? Not exactly.

"We hung in there with a lot of teams, we’re just not capitalizing when we have opportunities to capitalize. We had opportunities to put teams away, we’re not putting teams away. We’re hurting ourselves. We keep saying the same thing every week. One day it’s going to have to turn into actions outside of words.”

Sorry, Grif, at 2-5 the Titans absolutely deserve to be grouped with those teams as well as the Jets, the Buccaneers and the Raiders as the worst the NFL has to offer.

Not talking: Outspoken safety Bernard Pollard declined to talk to reporters after a 41-17 loss in Indianapolis (which was before he suffered a season-ending Achilles injury).

After this one, the team’s most outspoken player on offense -- who also ranks as the team’s most productive player -- declined to speak.

Tight end Delanie Walker is entitled to a pass, for sure.

The Titans' struggles are enough to quiet two talkative guys and leave them unable to gather themselves enough to put bad results into perspective in short order.

Back in the lineup: After sitting out two games with a bruised right thumb suffered against Cleveland, Jake Locker should be in line to return against Houston next Sunday at LP Field.

“I would expect him to be able to go next week,” coach Ken Whisenhunt said. “But until we go out and practice, I don’t know that for sure.”

Pictures: Check out my Instagram account for some postgame video and pictures, including Brian Schwenke lamenting his two penalties for hands to the face.

Rapid Reaction: Tennessee Titans

October, 19, 2014
Oct 19
LANDOVER, Md. -- A few thoughts on the Tennessee Titans' 19-17 loss to Washington at FedExField.

What it means: The Titans buckled late and allowed Washington a game-winning field goal drive at the end to drop to 2-5 on the season. Tennessee cornerback Jason McCourty was flagged for pass interference on a 29-yard throw into the end zone from Colt McCoy intended for DeSean Jackson. It set up Kai Forbath for a 22-yard kick that sealed it on the final play.

Continued issues: Rookie left tackle Taylor Lewan was the only Tennessee offensive lineman who didn’t draw a penalty. Even the team’s sixth offensive lineman, Chris Spencer, who played sparingly as an eligible extra, was called for a hold. The line hardly did enough to pace the Titans to a win.

Not enough: Quarterback Charlie Whitehurst started his third game of the season for the injured Jake Locker and looked gun shy and unsteady as the Titans got little going on offense. He dealt with too much pressure but also struggled to make quick decisions that got the ball out of his hand and gave players more chances to make plays. He made a big play in the fourth quarter on play-action, lofting a 38-yard touchdown to Derek Hagan that put the Titans ahead with 7:41 remaining, but it didn't stand up. Whitehurst wound up 17-of-26 for 160 yards, two touchdowns, a pick and a sack.

Game ball: Receiver Kendall Wright had six catches for 68 yards, including a 14-yard second-quarter touchdown in which he made a nifty move just before the goal line to evade defenders. On an unimpressive offensive day, he did the most.

What’s next: The Titans host the Houston Texans at LP Field before reaching the season’s halfway point and their bye.
LANDOVER, Md. -- Tennessee Titans quarterback Jake Locker isn’t playing for the second week in a row with a bruised right thumb and Charlie Whitehurst will start at quarterback against Washington.

It’s the third missed start in seven games for Locker, who also missed a game with a strained right wrist.

Locker has now missed 17 of 39 games over the last three years.

Whitehurst will be backed up by rookie Zach Mettenberger.

Also out for the Titans is defensive end Ropati Pitoitua, who broke a finger last week.

Tennessee declared running back Shonn Greene (hamstring), tight end Taylor Thompson (knee) and cornerback Coty Sensabaugh (knee) out on Saturday.

Also out are new offensive tackle Will Svitek and outside linebacker Akeem Ayers.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Last Friday I wrote that the Tennessee Titans shouldn't play Jake Locker against the Jaguars, even if he could go, after missing practices with his bruised thumb.

He ultimately couldn't grip the ball well enough and didn't play.

This week he was limited, not out. But we don't know if he did a thing with the full offense or merely worked in the quarterback period before practice expanded.

My standard for Locker remains the same. If he doesn't get all the preparation work, or the bulk of it, he shouldn't play. I expect Charlie Whitehurst received more than half the most meaningful work, probably much more.

I think Whitehurst should start and I think he will.

Other injuries: Tight end Taylor Thompson (knee), cornerback Coty Sensabaugh (knee) and running back Shonn Greene (hamstring) are doubtful. Greene isn't playing and I don't expect the other two to play, either.

Defensive end Ropati Pitoitua (finger) is questionable but should play if they find a cast in which he's comfortable. Safety George Wilson (calf) is probable and will play.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- He was the 10th pick in the 2013 draft and he’s now started 22 NFL games.

Tennessee Titans right guard Chance Warmack is in many ways the perfect symbol of where the team is.

He and the team talk of the process he is going through as he gains experience and matures, but that has to be weighed against a sense of urgency to show improvement and be productive right now.

“There is a standard that we expect, and that’s where we are,” offensive coordinator Jason Michael said. “But we understand, too, that it is a process; everything that we’ve done here is a process. Of learning the system, getting into the system.

“He’s in his second year, but he’s a half a year in this system. And those things are going to continue to get better each and every week. But there is a sense of urgency right now, that we’ve got to go out and do our job.”

Warmack is a super low-key guy. He spoke last year about a desire to be great. While he might not be dragging the line down, he’s not doing a lot to elevate its play at this point, either.

On the failed fourth-and-1 late against Cleveland – perhaps the Titans most important play of the season so far – coach Ken Whisenhunt indicated that Warmack and second-year center Brian Schwenke were ineffective.

Per Pro Football Focus, Warmack grades out as the No. 44 guard in the NFL out of 73 with a minus 3.5 grade. (Left guard Andy Levitre is minus-7, 62nd.)

Warmack isn’t unhappy with his progress or the pace of improvement.

“I feel like I am playing better, but I’ve still got a loooong way to go,” he said. “I ask questions every day. I don’t get frustrated, just keep getting better.

“It’s a process, man; it’s a process. This is a developmental position. If I can get better one day at a time, I’m happy.”
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Jurrell Casey clearly remains the Tennessee Titans' best defensive player.

He won AFC Defensive Player of the Week with a strong game against Jacksonville. But I think he’s suffering some because the Titans don’t have another primary pass-rusher who would draw some additional attention.

The Titans have worked to make it hard for an offense to key on Casey too much.

“We move him around; he’s not always on our right inside,” defensive coordinator Ray Horton said. “He’s been outside and he’s been on the left side. It’s hard for them to scheme for him because he’s not always in the same place.”

John Glennon of The Tennessean wrote about how Casey’s such a good player when he waddles around the locker room with his upper body jiggling.

"I think what Casey is is a really good athlete in a bad man's body,” defensive line coach Giff Smith said. “That's what I tell him, anyway. But he's definitely what you're looking for, even if not by sight.
"I laugh at it because I know it's true," Casey said. "I don't hide from it. I know my abilities. I know how I train, so when I see myself, I know they're probably looking at me like, 'What does he do all day? What is going on?'

"That was my problem coming out of college. A lot of guys saw me and they're like, 'There's no way he can be athletic enough to play in this league.' But I took that as a challenge."

Quick hands, athleticism, balance and confidence have helped Casey turn into a premier interior pass rusher despite not being the strongest guy.

Casey is a popular and likeable member of the team.

Production is the No. 1 reason to like him as a football player.

That he is not shaped like Hercules and that he’s funny about that and plenty of other stuff adds a lot to the package.

RTC: Why are Titans wearing white?

October, 17, 2014
Oct 17
Reading the coverage of the Tennessee Titans…

Why are the Titans wearing white jerseys every week? Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean talked to Ken Whisenhunt about it, and Whisenhunt doesn’t really care about such matters.

The update on Jake Locker from Whisenhunt, via Wyatt.

To which I say: It includes no real information. I asked Whisenhunt how much he relished keeping Washington in the dark, and he said he didn’t think it really mattered to them. Then I asked for more specifics on Locker since it didn’t matter to Washington. Complete strikeout.

An injury update from Wyatt. Ropati Pitoitua is likely to play with a cast protecting the surgically-repaired broken finger he suffered against Jacksonville.

The Titans don’t run often on third down, but Whisenhunt said he’s not pass happy in such situations, says David Boclair of the Nashville Post.

Get up to date on Washington by reading my colleague John Keim.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Tennessee Titans rookie running back Bishop Sankey is getting more chances, and doing more with them, when he takes a handoff out of a three-wide-receiver formation.

Three-wide usually brings nickel packages onto the field, spreading things out more and trading a defensive back in for a linebacker or lineman.

With a defense more spread out and at least one fewer big guy on the field, Sankey is averaging 5.26 yards per carry. In all other sets, that average is just 2.0 yards.

The Titans would like to show balance and would like to run equally well no matter who is on the field.

While the difference with Sankey as the ball carrier is most extreme, the Titans' two other top backs also have better averages with three wide receivers on the field than out of other situations.

Down-and-distance can have a bearing on a shorter run in a two-back or two-tight-end formation being a success or a longer run out of three-wide formation being a failure.

And running on plays where two receivers are on the field is important in other ways, too.

“If you can run out of two-wide, it helps you with play-actions, you always have to be able to do that,” Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt said. “If you don’t run the ball well out of two-wide, your play-actions aren’t generally as successful.”

The Titans have run only 17 play-action plays, however, which is tied with San Diego for the fewest in the league.

Whisenhunt said the Titans' injury situation at tight end won’t prompt them to go three-wide more often since they already do it plenty. It would, in fact, probably be difficult for the Titans to go three-wide more than their current 69 percent rate.

But with tight end Craig Stevens out for the season, tight end Taylor Thompson in line to miss a fourth consecutive game and the Titans' lack of commitment to play-action, perhaps they ought to up the runs out of three-wide.

This week's opponent, Washington, ranks in the middle of the league in defending such runs but is one of just five teams not to have given up a rushing touchdown with such personnel on the field.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Jake Locker took some snaps and did some throwing at Wednesday's practice before the Titans declared him a limited participant.

Which means Washington doesn't yet have a strong feeling for whether it will be defending Locker or Charlie Whitehurst.

I don't think defensive preparations would vary much from one to the other, though Locker is obviously more of a threat to take off.

"He's progressing and we'll see how it goes as he continues through the week," coach Ken Whisenhunt said. "It really depends on how he responds after today. I think we've got to see if it's sore, where he is from that standpoint."

Locker knows that the recent pattern of playing, sitting, playing, sitting can hurt the Titans' offensive continuity.

"It's not ideal," he said. "It's just kind of the situation we're in now."
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- If the Tennessee Titans' run game is going to get better and more consistent, it’s going to happen without the help of the team’s best blocking tight end.

Craig Stevens injured his right quad on the first play of the Titans' game against the Browns on Oct. 5. He had surgery to repair a tendon and will probably be placed on IR in the next few days, coach Ken Whisenhunt said Wednesday.

The Titans have also been without their third tight end, Taylor Thompson (knee), for the past three games, and he was out on Wednesday.

The Titans have Chase Coffman to work as a second tight end with Delanie Walker. Offensive linemen Chris Spencer and Byron Stingily can come on the field as an eligible receiver, really working as a sixth lineman.

It’s certainly a roster strain.

“It’s pretty tough,” Walker said. “We have a good package, when we were healthy, with the rotation and what guys were going to do. Now that a couple of them were hurt, I take on a bigger role. You’ll see me more out there.”

Walker expects to see a lot of Coffman as well. Brett Brackett was signed off the practice squad for the Jacksonville game and saw some action. He’s since been cut, cleared waivers and was re-signed to the practice squad.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Later Wednesday, we’ll get a sense of the chance Jake Locker has of returning to the Tennessee Titans lineup on Sunday in Washington.

In the two-plus games Charlie Whitehurst has played with Locker sidelined by a wrist and then a thumb injury, the Titans backup quarterback has missed throws for sure. But he has been more comfortable than I expected he would be, even as protection has let him down at times.

The Titans signed him to be a spot fill-in for Locker. Veteran quarterbacks who can manage a game, minimize mistakes and give a team a chance are a rare commodity.

Ultimately the Titans will need to look at rookie Zach Mettenberger. Right now, with .500 a possibility with two wins in the next two weeks, Whitehurst remains the alternative if Locker can’t go.

Through the magic of ESPN Stats and Info, I’m able to create passing grids that show me where a quarterback has thrown the ball and what degree of success he has had in certain areas of the field.

This heat map shows what percentage of Whitehurst's 72 pass attempts this season have been thrown to what area of the field.

ESPN Stats & Information

As you can see in this diagram, Whitehurst has thrown a high percentage of his passes to the middle and to the right. I don’t think it’s uncommon for a right-handed offense to lean these directions. Red zones are "hot" -- he has thrown more there than the league average. Blue zones are "cold" -- he has thrown there less.

In four of these 20 quadrants, Whitehurst has been much more efficient than in the rest.

Those areas with Whitehurst’s QBR when he throws there:
  • Between the hash marks from the line of scrimmage to 10 yards deep (99.7).
  • Between the hash marks from 10 to 20 yards beyond the line of scrimmage (100).
  • From the right hash marks to the numbers from 10 to 20 yards deep (99.9).
  • From the numbers to the right side line from the line of scrimmage to 10 yards deep (53.8).

In those four quadrants, Whitehurst had completed 71.4 percent of his 28 passes.

Everywhere else on the field he’s right at 50 percent.

Every quarterback is going to have comfort zones and targets who do their best job getting open in certain spots. The Titans say they don’t change the offense much when they move from Locker to Whitehurst. They are working through many of the same progressions on many of the same plays.

But they wind up going to different places with different results.

Whitehurst is throwing to those four areas nearly 40 percent of the time. Locker throws to them closer to 26 percent.

RTC: More waiting for Jake Locker

October, 14, 2014
Oct 14
Reading the coverage of the Tennessee Titans…

Ken Whisenhunt isn’t giving a thumbs up to Jake Locker just yet, says Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean.

Insurance policy Charlie Whitehurst has already paid off for the Titans, says David Climer of The Tennessean. Among Climer’s compliments for “Clipboard Jesus:” “he has an undeniable feel for the game.”

Whisenhunt says the Titans offensive line needs more time together to play better, says John Glennon of The Tennessean.

Defensive end Ropati Pitoitua broke a finger in the Titans win over the Jaguars, says Glennon.

Sunday was the biggest day for the Titans draft class since the draft itself, says David Boclair of the Nashville Post.

Previewing the Titans at Washington, at the team’s web site.

The Film Don't Lie: Titans

October, 14, 2014
Oct 14
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- A weekly look at what the Tennessee Titans must fix:

To win on Sunday in Washington, the Titans offense will need to be better on third down than it was in the win over Jacksonville.

Tennessee converted just three of 11 third-down chances, and there was a common theme when Charlie Whitehurst looked to make a play to keep the chains moving: Pressure.

He threw it away once, was sacked once, was called for grounding once, had a pass deflected once and was hit once as he threw an incomplete pass.

In other words, nearly half of Tennessee's third downs were undone by pressure.

Ken Whisenhunt steered away from criticizing Whitehurst for holding the ball too long and instead pointed to protection issues. Many of those were rooted in communication problems.

The line is past due to solve these things, even with Taylor Lewan set to make only his second start at left tackle.

Things have to be better in Washington for Jake Locker, if he’s back from his bruised thumb, or for Whitehurst, if he starts for the third time this season.

The quarterbacks also need to be quicker and more decisive with their decisions, and some of the play calls can help in that department.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- For too long, Mike Munchak spoke of his offensive line needing time together to build continuity.

Asked about a line he sited for having communication issues and failing to protect quarterback Charlie Whitehurst or propel the run game, Ken Whisenhunt is making much the same request.

“That’s a tough position,” he said when asked to assess offensive line play. “Obvious we haven’t been together very long. We interjected a new face to that group [in Taylor Lewan] this past week. We’re working. It’s a work in progress.

“It’s an offensive system change for those guys. We’ve got three guys that are really young players at that position if you talk about Taylor and [Brian] Schwenke and even Chance [Warmack]. When you think about some of the best offensive lines that have played in the NFL, the one thing that seems consistent with that is continuity, guys that have been together for a while, that have played together for a while.

“That’s what we are trying to accomplish here. I think we’ve got the right pieces in place. I think we’ve got to get time and continue to improve together. That’s really what is important.”

So how many games qualify as continuity?

“That’s a good question,” he said.

The interior three guys, left guard Andy Levitre, center Schwenke and right guard Warmack just played their 15th game together.

That sounds like continuity up the middle for me.

Dallas has been spending resources on its offensive line just like the Titans. The Cowboys have a second-year left guard in Ronald Leary, a second-year center in Travis Fredrick and a rookie right guard in Zack Martin.

It’s a group that’s keyed an excellent running game and a big turnaround for the 5-1 Cowboys. Granted there was no scheme change in Dallas. But keep in mind Michael Roos said during training camp the changes for Tennessee's line from Munchak's system to Whisenhunt's were hardly drastic.

The Titans are supposed to be built around their line in a similar fashion to the Cowboys.

The investment isn’t paying off, as I wrote earlier today.