In 2012, we saw the Tennessee Titans struggle to find themselves on both sides of the ball. The defense ranked 27th overall, coming in ranked 26th against the pass and 24th against the run. More shocking is the fact that the 26th-ranked offense was 21st in rushing yards with the fleet feet of Chris Johnson in the backfield for all 16 games.
In the offseason, the Titans have made some major upgrades to the offensive line and the running game. In free agency, they acquired guard Andy Levitre and tackle Barry Richardson. In the NFL Draft, they used their first round pick on guard Chance Warmack.
While the Titans’ new offensive line might have some early issues on pass blocking, the run blocking should be able to open ample holes from day one. To hedge their bets on the ground, the Titans also signed free agent running back Shonn Greene.
Greene is known for being a physical runner who lacks breakaway speed. In 2008, Johnson shared one half of the Smash and Dash tandem with LenDale White, a back built in Greene’s mold.
I believe the Titans brought in Greene as their attempt to remake Smash and Dash. Johnson has always been quick yet undersized, allowing him to break off big runs. But, he’s never been the kind of back that moves the pile. The Titans also need a running back who can wear down defenses early or to grind out the clock to preserve a fourth-quarter lead. This is where Greene fits in perfectly.
This is a team that will rise and fall on the strength of the running game.
The Titans open the season visiting the Pittsburgh Steelers. With the second-ranked rushing defense in the league, the Steelers are likely to corral the Titans’ running game. A rivalry game against the Houston Texans with their punishing defense and high-octane offense doesn’t offer much hope of a Titans victory.
Week 3 should be the beginning of a nice three-week stretch of very winnable home games against the San Diego Chargers, New York Jets and Kansas City Chiefs. The schedule takes a hard turn with two weeks before the bye when they visit the Seattle Seahawks and host the San Francisco 49ers.
The bye week should give them time to retool and refocus for two winnable games against the St. Louis Rams and hosting the Jacksonville Jaguars. I think we will see flashes of Jake Locker finally finding chemistry with his young receivers in these games. This is the phase of the season where I think we’ll get a preview of the more balanced offense that will be a focal point next year.
After that, we find the Oakland Raiders sandwiched between two slices of the high-octane Indianapolis Colts. In an ironic twist, I think the Titans will drop the home game to the Colts, but the confidence and momentum they garner from the Raiders can put them over the top at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Week 14 at the Denver Broncos will probably be a mountain too high to climb. Follow-up games hosting the Arizona Cardinals and visiting the Jaguars should give them a full head of steam for the finale against Houston.
In Week 17, I think the Texans come to town with their playoff spot secured and many of their starters on the bench. The Titans should be able to run it down their throat for a convincing, if perhaps dubious victory.
This season for the Titans is about finding balance and building the future look of their offense. What should be an 8-8 finish this year lays the foundation for a 2014 rise as contenders.