Titans vs. Rams: Takeaways from Tennessee's 28-21 Win over St. Louis
It didn't help that Jake Locker had a bad game, the defense had the worst game of the season, and the special teams played as badly as every.
However, self-inflicted wounds from the Rams and a great rushing performance by Chris Johnson and Shonn Greene gave the Titans just enough to edge out the Rams and move to 4-4.
Here are takeaways from the game.
1. The Run Game Is Finally Doing What It Was Supposed To
The Titans spent a lot of money and a couple of high draft picks this offseason in order to make the Titans into a ground-and-pound running team.
So far, they hadn't lived up to that until the game in St. Louis. Chris Johnson had 23 carries for a whopping 150 yards and two touchdowns. Shonn Greene did fairly well too, with nine carries for 38 yards and a touchdown.
One reason they did well is the improvement at the center position. Rookie Brian Schwenke is doing a much better job in run blocking than Rob Turner was.
However, if you ask me, the main reason the running game was so much more effective was that the Titans finally committed to getting Johnson to the edge. He's been entirely ineffective between the tackles this season but fared well on the edge.
Getting him on the edge consistently gave the Titans enough in the run game to overcome a poor passing performance and a terrible defensive one and come away with the win.
2. Locker Never Got into Rhythm
There were lots of reasons, but the Locker who played against the Rams looked more like the Locker of the first couple of weeks than the much improved Locker we saw later in the season.
Locker threw two interceptions against the Rams, both seemingly because of a miscommunication between him and his intended receiver.
He recovered a bit on the Titans' second-to-last scoring drive, where he looked great, but he then floundered again on the next possession.
One reason he did so poorly probably had to do with the Rams' pass rush. Their front seven sacked Locker four times and hit him 10 times. While constantly under pressure, Locker was forced into some bad throws.
Hopefully improved protection in the coming weeks will make Locker improve going forward.
For the day, Locker completed 13 of 22 passes for 185 yards, no touchdowns, and two interceptions. He did rush three times for 10 yards and one touchdown, but it was definitely an off game for him.
3. The Offensive Line Is Struggling in Pass-Blocking
It's a tad ironic that the Titans did so much to improve their offensive line in run-blocking, only to find that now they're suffering in the pass-blocking department.
Chance Warmack had a particularly bad game in the pass-blocking department. He was regularly beaten by his defender and even tripped while trying to pull on one play late in the game.
He's not at all living up to the hype that made him a top-10 pick.
Brian Schwenke had his struggles in the pass-blocking department as well.
However, I think it was the absence of starting right tackle David Stewart that may have had the biggest impact. Mike Otto gave up several pressures to the Rams' excellent stable of defensive ends.
Hopefully some of the mistakes will be limited when Stewart breaks back into the lineup.
4. Tight Ends Need to Be Better Accounted For
Now I don't mean anything bad about Jurrell Casey when I say this, because he's a great player, but no defensive tackle should ever be covering a tight end.
Jared Cook burned the Titans more than once. In fact, when he was double-covered, he still managed to catch a touchdown pass to tie the game late in the fourth quarter.
Luckily, there weren't many big plays to tight ends in this game, but it's becoming clear at this point that, with no one player designated to cover tight ends, the Titans' problems against tight ends come not from the players, but from the play-calling.
When a tight end is on the field, he needs to be accounted for. It's been giving the Titans problems for years, and while Bernard Pollard has done a good job covering tight ends when he's there, he's not always there.
If the Titans don't figure out how to defend tight ends, the two upcoming Colts games are not going to be pretty.
5. Something Was Off with the Defense
It really seemed like a lot of things just went wrong for the defense against the Rams.
The normally stout Tennessee defense was plagued by missed tackles, blown coverage and missed assignments. They also seemed to lack aggression; the only two sacks of the game came from Jurrell Casey.
Zac Stacy looked unstoppable, and as good a player as he is, there are no excuses for allowing him to have that big a game, especially with the enormous amount of early contact on him.
Even Zach Brown, normally one of the team's better tacklers, had an off day, missing several tackles against Stacy and giving him too much space.
The defensive backfield didn't far much better. Both Jason McCourty and Alterraun Verner gave receivers much too big a cushion, which made it easier early on for Kellen Clemens to complete the first seven passes he threw.
Luckily, this game shows an exception for the Titans more than the rule, but if they let it happen again, they should expect to lose a lot more games.
6. Special Teams Can't Seem to Get It Together
The Titans may have released Darius Reynaud, but it didn't seem to improve their play on special teams.
Near the end of the fourth quarter, Tommie Campbell made an illegal block that caused Brandon McGee to run into Damian Williams as he caught the ball.
Williams managed to recover the dropped ball, but if he hadn't, the results could have been disastrous.
The worst special teams play of the game was Tennessee's last punt. With hardly a minute left in the game, there was absolutely no reason to allow Tavon Austin a chance to return the ball. Rather than punt it out of bounds, Kern punted the ball to Austin, who predictably had an excellent return that nearly cost the Titans a win.
Special teams has been a constant problem for the Titans this season, and while this game shows a reason to hope it has gotten better, it's still something to look out for going forward.
7. Playoff Update
At 4-4, the Titans are behind the Jets and tied with the Dolphins. Luckily for the Titans, they own the tiebreaker with both the Jets and the Chargers, so if they can catch up in wins, they get in over those two (the Chargers currently have the same record as the Titans).
Of course, the Ravens, Browns and Raiders all have three wins and have yet to play this week. The Titans will play the Raiders on November 24, so if they win, they'll own the tiebreaker there. They won't play either the Ravens or the Browns.
The Titans can't afford to lose any games that they're supposed to win, but if they do that, then they have a very good chance at getting the second wild-card spot.