I'm going to double dip on this post and kick things off by announcing that 18 Plays is up for last week's game. 18 Plays is the official podcast of 18to88.com and is brought to you by Broad Ripple Tree Service (which rumor has it is enthusiastically endorsed by a guy who was once unenthusiastically endorsed by Vern Flemming). You can check out the podcast by downloading it from the link above, subscribing via ITunes, or listening in the embedded player below. There's some cool stuff this week, including (what I think was) good insight into the Reggie Wayne TD pass.
Moving right along, Tom Gower of Total Titans stops by again today for a little give and take on Sunday's game. You can check out my answers to his questions here.
DZ: 1. Vince Young is statistically playing the best football of his NFL career. What has been the biggest improvement in his game to date?
TG: The biggest difference with VY as compared to 2007 is how he looks mentally in the pocket. In 2007, he was clearly laboring to go through his progressions and make his reads, and his hesitation to throw the ball cost the Titans plays in the passing game. I'm not going to try to claim he's become Peyton Manning of late, but he's much more comfortable making reads and finding open receivers.
DZ 2. The Titans D is has allowed 9.6 ppg fewer in the last 5 wins than they did in the first 5 losses. What switch did they flip?
: For one, health. Cortland Finnegan is back from injury, as is nickelback Vinny Fuller. Nick Harper has missed time since the bye, but street free agent pickup Rod Hood was a very credible fill-in. The safety play, which was atrocious early in the year, has also improved. To what extent the improvement has been first year defensive coordinator Chuck Cecil and to what extent good players just playing better, I'm not sure.
DZ: 3. How have the Titans managed to get more pressure on the opposing QB in recent weeks?
TG: The pass coverage has been part of it. Another part of it has been playing bad passing teams. Buffalo and San Francisco weren't exactly the most fearsome pass offenses. Jevon Kearse, who's pretty much done, also sat down the first four games after the bye, while second year DE William Hayes got a lot more playing time. Playing your better players helps.
DZ: 4. Do Titans fans really think they can win 9 or 10 games this year?
TG: At this point, why the heck not? In our Q&A before the first game, I wrote that I thought that, from an optimistic but realistic perspective, the Titans could finish 8-8 after an 0-6 start. Granted, that was before the debacle in New England, but that game new feels even more like a perfect storm (no pun intended) of everything that could go wrong during a game. Really, aside from two extraordinarily bad halves (the first half at Jacksonville and in Foxboro), the Titans have been an average team this season. They'll need some more breaks to win 9 or 10, starting this Sunday, and I don't think it will happen, but fan optimism can be a wonderful thing.
DZ: 5. How important is Chris Johnson's pursuit of 2000 yards? Does it become the focal point for the rest of the season if the Titans drop one more game?
TG: Excellent question, and one I'm not sure we have any grounds to judge. They emphasized Johnson's role in the offense more after the bye week (he tied a career high in carries, then set a new career high each of the next 3 games before returning to a more "normal" total last week), but that's just what they should have done if they wanted to win games. If they do lose a couple more games, I'd like them to cut back on Johnson's carries, just because he's too valuable of a weapon to waste on meaningless games and I'd like to see how Javon Ringer does at the NFL level. Whether that's what Jeff Fisher and OC Mike Heimerdinger will think is an open question.
DZ: 6. Stays or goes: Jeff Fisher? Is the turnaround or the start more telling?
TG: He stays, which IMO has been the answer all along, unless somebody talks owner Bud Adams into letting him go in the offseason and the NFL permits compensation going to the team for his services.
DZ: 7. Stays or goes: Vince Young? Should the Titans commit to him as their QB, or just be glad he upped his trade value from nothing to a late round pick?
TG: I'd like to see how teams defend against him once they have a few weeks of tape to work with. Mike Heimerdinger's done some fine work the past year and a half, but I'd like to see how VY does against a well-coached defense that's seen more of what they'll call for him. Miami and San Diego in Weeks 15 and 16 should be very instructive in this regard.
DZ: 8. The Titans best matchup on Sunday is:
TG: Chris Johnson and misdirection plays against an aggressive defense. The Colts will have to stay disciplined and avoid over-pursuing, or else they'll get hit for big plays.
DZ: 9. The Titans worst matchup on Sunday is:
TG: Peyton Manning against "why do we always rush 4 and let him pick apart a soft cover-2 zone". I'm serious-they didn't rush more than 4 the whole game in Nashville. With actual DBs in the lineup this week, I'd expect that to change at least a little, but that's been the core of the defensive game-plan for I believe at least the past 7 games and I don't expect that to change.
DZ: 10 Prediction for the game?
TG: As much as I'd like to see a win, I just can't predict one. Colts 24 - Titans 17.
Thanks to Tom for his great answers and solid insight.