Titans vs. Jaguars: Takeaways from Tennessee's 20-16 Win over Jacksonville
The Titans defense played well and limited Jacksonville on offense for most of the game. Unfortunately for the Titans, the Jaguars defense also did a pretty good job of bottling the Titans up, as the Titans only converted three of 13 third downs.
The difference maker was the rushing game. The Titans, led by Shonn Greene, rushed for 182 yards, while the Jags only managed 63.
Here are some takeaways from the win.
Note: With the Titans out of the playoff race and the season only one week from being over, most of these observations will be about the implications for next year.
1. Shonn Greene Looks Like He Could Be a Big Contributor Next Year
I'm a big proponent of cutting Chris Johnson, and Shonn Greene's performance against Jacksonville just made me more certain that Johnson needs to be let go (or take a $5 million pay cut).
Greene had 19 carries for 91 yards and a touchdown. Not mind-blowing by any means, but he was better than Johnson, who had 22 carries for 90 yards.
Say what you will about offensive line play or Dowell Loggains not using him correctly, but Johnson has in no way, shape or form played up to his contract. Greene, on the other hand, looks like he could be a big contributor if he were to see more carries.
I expect the Titans to have a new speed back to replace Johnson next season, but expect Greene to get a big portion of the carries in 2014.
2. Ryan Fitzpatrick Is Never Going to Stop Playing Aggressively
Normally, I like seeing aggressive play in football. Most people do. However, there are some times when players need to dial it back.
Ryan Fitzpatrick is a good example of that.
Fitzpatrick does a lot of things well, but one thing he catches a lot of flak for is his high number of interceptions. For the season, he has 11 interceptions and only 14 touchdowns. That's not a great ratio.
The reason Fitzpatrick seems to get so many interceptions is that he has a tendency to go for big downfield throws, when he doesn't really have the arm strength to do them well.
If Fitzpatrick wants to stick around, he'll need to play a bit more conservatively. Backups are not kept around to take big risks to win games. They're there to manage.
Fitzpatrick may not like managing games, but that's the role he needs to start playing more.
3. Mike Munchak Might Actually Keep His Job
I still think Mike Munchak is unlikely to be the head coach of the Tennessee Titans in 2014, but with the win at Jacksonville, he may have a shot at sticking around.
The Titans will host the Texans next week, and if they win, they'll finish the season 7-9. Not a great season by any means, but considering that the Titans started strong before Jake Locker obtained yet another injury, Tommy Smith may give Munchak one more shot.
As I said, Munchak is still going to have a 22-26 record as a head coach, at best, so he's probably still going to be gone, but if he can beat the Texans convincingly, who knows?
4. Something Is Up with Zach Brown
Zach Brown was pulled after just six snaps in Week 15 against Arizona. It was an odd move because, despite a lack of splash plays, Brown has been one of the pretty consistent players on the defense.
In Week 14, he had five solo tackles and one tackle for loss, so it's not like he was coming off of a bad performance. For the season, Brown has four sacks, an interception, four defended passes, eight tackles for loss, a forced fumble, and 79 total tackles.
Against the Jaguars, Brown didn't start either, with the starting spot going to middle linebacker Colin McCarthy. After an error or two by McCarthy, Brown took over again.
Sitting one of the better players on defense is a head-scratching move. I know the Titans probably want to get an idea of what they have in Zaviar Gooden, but in a game that they almost won against the Cardinals and with Munchak coaching for his job, it's not something that makes much sense.
I'm willing to bet there are details about Brown that will come to light later on. I just can't believe he would be benched for his performance on the field.
5. The Defensive Line Still Needs a Little Work
The Titans defensive line has been very good this season. Jurrell Casey has been a monster, Derrick Morgan has been a regular playmaker and Ropati Pitoitua, Sammie Hill, Karl Klug and Antonio Johnson have all done their fair share as well.
Still, with Pitoitua entering free agency and Kamerion Wimbley likely on his way out, the Titans could use more depth at end.
Other than Morgan, who's consistently good, the Titans have Lavar Edwards, who impressed in the preseason, but hasn't done much since, and Klug, who is more of a situational player. Neither of them look like they'll be full-time starters next season.
The Titans would be wise to spend a high draft pick on a defensive end. Another consistent pass rusher teamed up with Casey and Morgan could turn what is a very good defensive line into an elite defensive line.
6. The Special Teams Unit Seems to Have Gotten It Together
For the first several games of the season, the Titans' special teams were a constant source of woe.
The special teams unit didn't play particularly well against Jacksonville—there weren't any kick returns, and the one punt return was for a loss—but at least they've gone a few weeks now without a major incident of some kind.
The group still needs improving, and Leon Washington is likely not going to be a reliable kick returner in the long term, but it is nice to see that things aren't continuing on a downward spiral.
There was a close call when Kerry Taylor returned a huge kick, but in the end, it didn't matter much. Hopefully the special teams have gotten all those awful mistakes out of their systems and will continue to play competently.
7. Bernard Pollard Needs to Be Brought Back
Bernard Pollard had a great game against the Jaguars. It may not be reflected in his numbers (five solo tackles, one defended pass), but Pollard stopped a lot of plays that could have been damaging.
He also blocked an extra point from Jacksonville, which forced the Jaguars to go for a touchdown at the end of the game. If they only had to get in field goal range to tie-it-up, things may have turned out differently.
Pollard is entering free agency, but he signed with the Titans for a surprisingly small amount in his one year deal. That tells me there's something about the team he likes, and he could be signed for a reasonable deal.
Right now, Pollard leads the team in tackles with 93. He also nine defended passes, three interceptions, 0.5 sacks, two blocked kicks, and two tackles for loss.
As bad as the strong safety position has been in Tennessee for the last few years, the Titans front office needs to do what they can to keep Pollard a Titan.