Tennessee Titans 2013 Team Review: Average Once Again

Chris Johnson has more than likely played his final snap with the Titans

The best word to describe the Tennessee Titans over the last five years? Mediocre.

They’ve been like the final seasons of How I Met Your Mother, Dell laptops and Domino’s Pizza. Mediocre. Average. Not a whole lot of fun. I means, the team has been watchable, but they’ve yet to really knock your socks off since their 13-3 campaign in 2008, one that featured one of the best defensive units in football.

With a new coaching regime though, Titan fans are hopeful for a quick turnaround with such a young squad. Can it happen? Is there any good to take away from the 2013 season, pointing towards a positive future?

The Good

One of the more interesting things I’ve seen while looking at numberFire’s Net Expected Points data is the fact that Tennessee’s passing offense from 2013 ranks much higher than you’d expect. When you adjust their per pass numbers for strength of schedule, the Titans rank 11th in the league in passing efficiency, despite playing the majority of the season with backup Ryan Fitzpatrick.

There’s a chance that the passing numbers weren’t obvious because the team refused to throw the pigskin around the field. This is understandable given their quarterback situation, I suppose, but the team ranked 25th in the league in pass-to-run ratio despite having a losing record. In other words, they still didn’t get ultra pass-happy while down in games.

You’ll see in the next section why that was probably a bad thing, but for the time being, know that Tennessee’s passing game really wasn’t all that bad in 2013.

A big reason for that was because of the play from their pass-catchers. Second-year wideout Kendall Wright was a silent contributor, finishing the season seventh in receptions, catching more balls than Dez Bryant and Demaryius Thomas.

Unfortunately he didn’t do a whole lot on those catches, as his Reception NEP – the number of points added on receptions only – ranked 27th among NFL wideouts. He had the volume to be a monster, but he more than likely was seeing more conservative passes given his low Reception NEP total. Still, Wright’s a young, raw receiver with a lot to look forward to as he moves into this third season in the NFL.

Another wideout making his mark was Justin Hunter, who, like a lot of successful rookie wide receivers, really started to come through towards the end of the season. Among pass-catchers with at least 30 targets in 2013, Hunter finished with the fifth-best Reception NEP per target, a measure of true per target efficiency. Look for him to be a breakout threat in 2014.

Delanie Walker, the tight end who replaced the disappointing Jared Cook, put together a fine season as well. Walker finished as a top-15 tight end in every metric imaginable, really finding a rhythm with backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick over the second half of the season.

I should mention the Titans' secondary here, though our metrics weren’t as kind to them as you'd expect. Alterraun Verner and Jason McCourty were very good in 2013, but keep in mind that the team faced a pretty easy quarterback matchups for much of the season. Because of that, our numbers have the secondary – one that was touted throughout the season – as a middle-of-the-road one. However, they’re still noted as “good” given talent.

The Bad

Clearly I didn’t mention every part of the Titans’ squad above, so there has to be some bad to the 7-9 team. And there is – there certainly is.

Let’s start on defense with the run stopping. The Titans ranked 19th in the league against opposition rushing attacks, a ranking that increased by three spots over the final two weeks of the season. Though Jurrell Casey is a monster on the defensive line, the team lacked real push, and were unable to really put together a significant pass rush as well. They finished 21st in the league in sacks with 36.

The team actually ranked fairly high running the football, but much of that success had to do with the abilities of Ryan Fitzpatrick and Jake Locker, not Chris Johnson and company. In fact, Johnson ranked 13th out of 18 200-plus attempt running backs in Rushing NEP this year. Interestingly enough, it was still the best season he’s had on the ground since 2009 (he hasn't been very good).

What Should They Do?

Honestly, the Titans are one of the hardest teams to really comprehend in the NFL. They finished above average within our metrics this year, ending the season as numberFire’s number 15 power-ranked team.

With Mike Munchak out in 2014, a new regime means new potential pieces in Tennessee. Ken Whisenhunt should be able to do some significant work with an underrated offense, as long as he gets “his guy” at quarterback, whether that’s Jake Locker or someone through the draft. Coach Whiz certainly has a nice tandem of receivers in place, which should help. And no, that doesn’t include Kenny Britt.

An interesting storyline is that Ray Horton, Whisenhunt’s new defensive coordinator, may (will) bring a 3-4 defense with him to the Titans next year. This means a guy like Jurrell Casey could see a different role on the defensive side of the ball next year, and the team may go after a different skill sets at the linebacker position to be able to produce an outside rush. It’s not necessarily a bad move, but the Titans have had a roller coaster with their defensive scheming, and I’m sure fans are growing sick of it.

The team’s also supposed to rid of the Chris Johnson, which is a smart move given he’s owed $8 million in 2014. As a result, expect them to find a player to complement the plodding Shonn Greene.

Aside from signing key free agents like the aforementioned Verner, the Titans are in a very odd place – they can go in a lot of directions. But until we see which direction they do move in, it’s tough to say that they’ll get out of their mediocre funk.