AFC South: Zach Brown

Titans Camp Report: Day 17

August, 11, 2014
Aug 11
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Tennessee Titans training camp:
  • It was a horrific day for the offense, which came out flat and had mistakes in every area you can think of. There were multiple drops, fumbles, interceptions and bad snaps. Ken Whisenhunt downplayed it as one bad day, and of course it was, but the degree of badness was alarming. Said receiver Derek Hagan, who dropped a pass near the end of practice “It was bad, we didn’t get anything going at all. It was a crazy day. Nobody was catching the ball, bad blocking, missed assignments. Just an overall bad day.”
  • Shonn Greene had a fumble that Zach Brown recovered. Bishop Sankey fumbled twice, the first recovered by Brandon Copeland and the second bounced back to Sankey.
  • Kendall Wright streaked across the middle to collect a Locker pass, beating Jason McCourty. Michael Preston made a nice catch over Coty Sensabaugh up the left side from Charlie Whitehurst. Taylor Thompson had a couple more nice plays.
  • Jake Locker made a bad throw for Nate Washington in the right side of the end zone in red zone work. Tommie Campbell may have pushed off, but he easily collected the bad throw.
  • Whitehurst threw a terrible pick as he looked for Marc Mariani to his right. The line drive throw was easily caught by Blidi Wreh-Wilson who was practically halfway between quarterback and his target. Perhaps the worst play of all on a terrible day.
  • Daimion Stafford had a nice breakup of a throw for Mariani, whose helmet popped off in the process. Ri'Shard Anderson broke up a Zach Mettenberger dart for Hagan. Wreh-Wilson had a too-easy breakup of a Locker pass for Dexter McCluster. The defense made some plays, for sure. But more of the offensive failures were self-inflicted.
  • Justin Hunter wore a jersey that said “J A G” across the back instead of “Hunter.” He said Whisenhunt and receivers coach Shawn Jefferson talked to him after he forgot to convert a route Saturday night. Hunter didn’t know they’d follow through with the jersey, but they did. He said he’ll continue to work to be more than “just a guy.”
  • Hunter made a nice play in the middle of the field, winning a contested ball from Locker by taking it away from safety Michael Griffin.
  • Among the targets with drops: Delanie Walker, Preston, Washington (who had a chance to recollect the ball on the sideline but bobbled it until his feet were out), Thompson, Hagan.
  • Guard Andy Levitre said he played one game at center for the Bills against Miami and was bad at it. Whisenhunt reminded a questioner that he’d said in the past he intended to work Levitre a little at center to prepare a contingency. Now with Chris Spencer (ankle) out, it was the right time. Levitre said he lost focus and snapped as if the quarterback was under center a couple times when he wound up rolling balls past Zach Mettenberger. Ultimately, they put starting center Brian Schwenke in with the third team to settle things down.
  • Kickoffs: Maikon Bonani put one 9 yards deep and another 4 yards deep into the end zone. With less hang time, Travis Coons put one kickoff 4 yards deep. Coons also punted some.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Tennessee Titans linebackers played well in the first month of 2013. They gradually deteriorated from there.

It wound up an awful year for the group, where Akeem Ayers started 14 games, Zach Brown started 13, Moise Fokou 12, Colin McCarthy five and Zaviar Gooden one.

[+] EnlargeZach Brown
Don McPeak/USA TODAY SportsZach Brown and the Titans linebackers are ready to put a frustrating 2013 behind them.
Collectively, they had six sacks, three interceptions, five forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.

Brown and McCarthy clearly had troubles with defensive coordinator Jerry Gray and/or first-year linebacker coach Chet Parlavecchio. Parlavecchio was an immensely likeable guy and a close friend of Mike Munchak’s. But he was almost certainly cast as a position coach too soon, and was unable to squeeze consistency and improvement out of the group.

McCarthy said he, Ayers and Brown gave the Titans an injection of young talent in the past few years.

“It was tough to be successful to say the least,” he said of 2013. “A lot of linebackers battled with different things, and a lot of guys weren’t happy. But I think with the changes Ruston Webster made, bringing Coach (Ken) Whisenhunt, with the defensive coaches we have now, it’s a breath of fresh air. Guys are excited, me in particular.”

The best guys will play and these coaches will shoot players straight, not tell them what they want to hear, McCarthy said.

“I put last year behind me,” Brown said. “With our coaches now, we communicate a lot more [so] the players have a better time in communication with people. Last year everybody was just kind of looking out for himself. This year is different.

“Everybody’s a team. You feel it in the building, the atmosphere has changed.”

Brown became symbolic at the end of last season, benched, confused and disenchanted with the coaches.

“I’m anxious to play again, because last year before I got hurt I think I was leading the league in tackles,” he said. “I want my name to be up there at the top, along with our defense ...

“I do honestly feel that they did use me as a scapegoat last year, but I really can’t do nothing about me playing. Them sitting me down, it wasn’t my fault. If you’re going to sit down one of your best players, there isn’t anything I can do about it. All I could do was sit and watch.”

McCarthy’s got an injury history and fell behind with a tweaked hamstring that cost him most of training camp.

“Once I did that I was kind of put aside, I got moved around a lot, I got told a lot of different things and things didn’t happen,” McCarthy said. “Frustration kicked in Week 11, Week 12 and just with the way we were doing, it was a tough year ...

“(Now), I’m being positive, I’m excited about the change."
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Tennessee Titans starting weakside linebacker Zach Brown was pulled after six snaps last week, relegated to the bench.

Brown
On Monday, coach Mike Munchak said Brown has not been playing as well as the team needs him to.

“We had high expectations for Zach,” Munchak said. “I think we all do. Last year he came on strong the last part of the year with some big plays, some sacks, some interceptions, and things kind of fell his way there at the end of the season. We expected a lot from him, and we felt the last few weeks isn’t quite what we want to see.”

Brown said Wednesday that he’s received no explanation from coaches and has not sought one.

But I’m told by someone who would know that Brown was spoken to by a coach about his status.

It's odd he would say otherwise. Maybe Brown didn't understand or like what he was told.

“I don’t know what’s enough, I mean, the production speaks for itself," Brown said. "I’m in my right fits, I be in my right gaps … I just do what they ask me. I mean sometime you have to be a football player and go get the ball, you can’t always be a robot.”

Brown disagrees with the assessment he isn’t playing very well.

If he wasn’t, he said, he wouldn’t be second on the team with 104 tackles.

The 26-yard catch by Arizona’s Andre Ellington on the Cardinals' second series appeared to be the play that got Brown pulled. He said it was against a zone and in a zone that was not his responsibility. According to Brown, Ellington found a honey hole between a safety and a corner and Brown was smart enough to turn his hips and race to help. He made the tackle.

Brown said he was not with the first-team defense in practice Wednesday and presumes he’s not starting in the final two games. He spoke of “still auditioning for 31 teams.”

A second-round pick in his second year isn’t going anywhere soon.

He’ll have to patch things up with this staff or the next.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- If defensive coordinator Jerry Gray wants to throw the St. Louis Rams off the Tennessee Titans' tracks, he can come up with something better than what he tried Thursday.

With free safety Michael Griffin missing a second day of practice with a right quad injury, the Titans might need to turn to an alterative at free safety.

Griffin
The logical, obvious choice is George Wilson.

But Gray said in his weekly media session that the Titans could move Alterraun Verner from cornerback to safety or turn to Corey Lynch, who was just signed at the start of the week.

“If it’s going to help us win, we’ll move him,” Gray said of Verner.

Taking Verner, who’s having a stellar season as cornerback, and moving him to a spot he played some during the summer, then replacing him at cornerback, would amount to coaching malpractice.

Wilson said he’s taken a lot of the practice reps with Griffin out, and has studied the film from a free-safety angle.

"It’s my job to be ready regardless of what the situation is," said Wilson who has been spending a lot of time in sub-packages covering the tight end.

Griffin said he ran, backpedaled some, did some drills for defensive backs, and broke from different angles. He thinks it’ll come down to how he does in an early sessions with coaches and trainers on Sunday in St. Louis.

If Griffin is out and Wilson is in the base defense, the Titans will change things up as they try to cover Rams tight end Jared Cook.

Wilson could still get a share of time with Cook, and weakside linebacker Zach Brown could be on the former Titan, too.

Brown said if he’s covering Cook, he needs to get his hands on him -- at the line of scrimmage and when the ball arrives.

“He’s real fast,” Brown said. “He’s good in and out of his breaks. ... If you can touch him, you can get the ball out. For me, I’ve just got to get my hands on him, because he’s not that strong or that physical. He’s not as big as a lot of other tight ends.”

Cook might play small, but let the record show he’s 6-foot-5 and 254-pounds.

Zach Brown's big chance slipped away

October, 13, 2013
10/13/13
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videoSEATTLE -- The ball was in Zach Brown's hands, with an open field ahead of him.

He looked at all the green, and the ball slid up and off of those hands and right back to Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson. Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch, who was stripped of the ball by Moise Fokou, was off the hook.

Instead of a 91-yard fumble recovery and a 17-10 Titans lead, Tennessee watched the Seahawks gather themselves and kick a field goal for a 13-10 advantage en route to a 20-13 decision.

“I looked up,” Brown said with a grimace. “I was thinking about scoring before I scooped the ball. It could have been a big difference in the game.

"Touchdown for sure. I mean, I’m not letting Russell Wilson tackle me, I wouldn’t hear the end of it from my teammates. I probably would have slowed down, because I had two guys right behind me. I would have just let them block. I think big [Antonio] Mook Johnson was going for the quarterback right then.”

It’s the sort of play the Titans can’t afford to let slip away and the sort of play that will leave them sleepless.

“We’re putting ourselves in situations where you have to be perfect,” coach Mike Munchak said, “and you can’t make one mistake.”

It’s hard to put much blame on the Titans defense, though that one mistake amounted to a 10-point swing.

They held Seattle to 20 points and key defenders on special teams produced Tennessee’s lone touchdown, a 77-yard fumble return by Jason McCourty after he and Michael Griffin forced a fumble by substitute holder Chris Maragos.

“The defense was phenomenal, they did a great job.” offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said. “They played well enough to win.”

Rapid Reaction: Tennessee Titans

October, 13, 2013
10/13/13
6:59
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SEATTLE -- A few thoughts on the Tennessee Titans20-13 loss to the Seattle Seahawks at CenturyLink Field.

What it means: The Titans can go on the road to a tough environment and hang with a good team. But they couldn’t pull out a win despite plenty of opportunity. Their best opportunity might have been on a Marshawn Lynch fourth-quarter fumble. Zach Brown was in position to scoop and score, and the ball slid off his hands back to quarterback Russell Wilson. The Titans have lost two in a row to fall to 3-3.

Stock watch: Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick threw two interceptions and could have easily given away a third. He and the Titans never got into any sustained offensive rhythm. Fitzpatrick fumbled and recovered a snap and had a ball slip out of his hand later. The Titans were fortunate in that they recovered both.

Personnel question: On a crucial third-and-1 from near midfield with the score tied at 10, the Titans gave the ball to Darius Reynaud, who gained nothing. Chris Johnson had just been hurt, Jackie Battle was out of the game with a neck injury and Shonn Greene, still recovering from knee surgery, was inactive. Running Reynaud isn’t a viable option, no matter how much confidence the Titans have in their run game. On fourth down, they took a delay and then punted.

Invisible: Kenny Britt didn’t get on the field until late in the fourth quarter. He caught a 7-yard pass for a first down and returned to the bench. Applause to the Titans for doing what was needed. Still, without him, they dropped a couple passes that hurt.

What’s next: The Titans face another NFC West foe as the San Francisco 49ers visit LP Field.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Seven players have worked as the Titans' primary starting middle linebacker since the team moved to Tennessee in 1997.

Only Randall Godfrey rated as an every-down player by design.

[+] EnlargeDanny Woodhead, Moise Fokou
Jim Brown/USA TODAY SportsThe Titans are a top-10 defense with Moise Fokou (53) as an every-down linebacker.
Other middle linebackers got a chance to play as part of the nickel package, but Stephen Tulloch and Colin McCarthy were there mostly because the other two linebackers weren't good enough or experienced enough.

The 2013 Titans are not only using middle linebacker Moise Fokou as a back in nickel, he's the only linebacker on the field in dime -- a package they've played a great deal.

Fokou's been mostly solid for the Titans. But he's not the dynamic linebacker Zach Brown is, so I have been a bit surprised.

I'm a big proponent of the best players being on the field the most, but I'm also a big proponent of being a top-10 defense, and the Titans are ninth through five games with Fokou as an every-down player.

"We have found no reason to take Moses off the field," linebackers coach Chet Parlavecchio said. "It's been always a traditional [football] thing, the 'Mike' linebacker runs the show. We have a situation here where our Mike is very comfortable. It's not just about him, it's about getting everybody else lined up. It's not just about his production, it's about allowing 10 other guys to produce. Because they are used to Moise -- the way he communicates defense adjustments, the way he recognizes formation -- there is no reason to take that off the field.

"Ten other guys are depending on him identifying the things necessary for us to get lined up. There is just no reason to do it. It's not just Moise versus Zach. Since Moise has run this thing since Day 1, he's the most comfortable. He understands what everybody needs to hear and I think the results speak for themselves."

It's understandable reasoning, for sure.

The Titans are playing excellent third-down defense, allowing conversions just 28.1 percent of the time.

But according to John Parolin of ESPN Stats & Info, Tennessee's opponents are converting 31.6 percent on third-and-6 or more and 23.1 percent on third-and-5 or less.

That's backwards. Third-and-long should be tougher to convert than third-and-short. Perhaps part of the reason for that is their dime linebacker isn't their best linebacker against the pass.

It's not the time for a change. But I do allow for the possibility that things could be even better with Brown, who is a better pass defender than Fokou and should also be adept at lining people up as well.

"It's frustrating, it's frustrating for anybody to go to the sideline," Brown said. "But you've just got to do what you've got to do and sacrifice for the team and the greater good to win the game. You might not like it, but you can't do nothing about it.

"I know what to do, if they asked me to do it, I could do it. But I haven't been called upon yet. So I'm just playing my role."

Fokou has played 97.6 percent of the Titans' defensive plays -- all but eight. Brown has played 75 percent. Strongside linebacker Akeem Ayers, who also plays as a rush end, has played just 58.7 percent.

Brown came on strong late in his rookie year and has made the second-year leap coaches always hope for from good players.

"It's a big leap, I know where to be, I know where to go," he said. "I'm not scared to take chances now. Sometimes you've got to gamble to win, if you don't take chances you're just playing the book and you can't be a robot out there.

Fokou said as he joined the Titans and won the middle linebacker in the preseason, when McCarthy was hurt most of the time, that he was anticipating this workload.

"I'm a football player, I want to be on the field every down, whenever," he said. "I worked hard for it and I saw a light at the end of the tunnel and, yeah, I expected it, you know?"
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Kansas City Chiefs are fueled by short passes.

Their average gain on a completion is 10.9 yards and quarterback Alex Smith's average yards per attempt is at 6.6. But a lot of those yards are after the catch, not before it.

[+] EnlargeJamaal Charles
AP Photo/Gerald HerbertJamaal Charles has 23 catches for the Chiefs, by far the team's highest total.
Their leading receiver is also their leading rusher, running back Jamaal Charles. His 23 catches are 10 more than any other member of the team.

Can the Chiefs short pass the Tennessee Titans to death?

“They’ve shown they’re very patient and they will do that with the running back,” Titans coach Mike Munchak said. “In the Eagles game, he must have caught a dozen passes, and I think all of them were 3-, 4-, 5-yard passes …

“Guys who are responsible for him have to keep their eyes on him, not get caught up in the run game, try to contain him that way, don’t let him get to the sideline where he can really hurt you with his speed. [There will] be quite a few guys in different coverages having responsibility for him.”

Weakside linebacker Zach Brown figures to be prominent in that, and doesn’t sound at all fearful of a short-passing offense.

“We’ve got to play good underneath zone and make them make mistakes,” he said. “You’re not going to beat somebody if you keep dinking the ball. We’ve just got to make sure we make plays on the ball when they catch it, get the ball out when they catch it, dislodge them from the ball.

“The West Coast Offense, getting them off rhythm it disrupts the whole thing.”

Safety George Wilson said anything the Titans can do to take Smith away from that first short read that will make him hold the ball and go to his second or third progression will be a key part of the defensive effort.

I asked Brown if training camp work against Chris Johnson helps the Titans as they prepare to try to stop Charles.

“Charles is a good back, he’s fast, but everybody is like, ‘He’s just like Chris,’” Brown said. “He’s similar to Chris in some ways, but he’s more agile that Chris. Chris is a good runner, Chris can hit it. Jamaal Charles can hit it. But each one of them has different things the other one don’t have.

Charles has some bad habits the Titans can take advantage of, according to Brown.

“For some reason he’ll be juking somebody and he’ll switch the ball (from one hand to the other) at the same time,” Brown said. “That’s not something you see from a running back. A running back, once he has it in his hand, they’re going to go. He’s making a move and he’ll switch, we’ve just got to get the ball away from him.”
Rivers/LockerUSA TODAY SportsJake Locker, right, will try to keep up with Philip Rivers and the Chargers, who have scored 61 points through two games.
The San Diego Chargers are the Tennessee Titans' white whale.

The teams don’t play that frequently -- just nine times since 1993, including a wild-card playoff matchup in January 2008. The franchises have undergone all sorts of changes during that span, but one thing has remained consistent when they meet: The Chargers always win.

Bill Williamson, why do you think that is, and what are the odds it continues?

Bill Williamson: I don’t see the Chargers' history with the Titans being a factor. I know in Nashville the word "Chargers" makes fans cringe because of the history. Both teams are rebuilding and trending upward. These are two similar teams, and they will both be in the AFC conversation in the coming years.

The Titans made a lot of changes. This isn’t the team the Chargers beat 38-10 last September. What’s the biggest difference?

Paul Kuharsky: The central part of the offseason revamp was the offensive line. The Titans have three new starters on the interior with left guard Andy Levitre, center Rob Turner and right guard Chance Warmack. Turner has been shaky, however, and Warmack is a rookie who is going to take some lumps when he’s across from someone like J.J. Watt. The group hasn’t jelled yet, but the run-blocking has been pretty good.

We've seen the good Philip Rivers and the bad Philip Rivers over the years. With the new regime in place, what is your feeling on who he will be now?

Williamson: I might be the wrong person to ask, Paul. I’ve always been high on Rivers. Yes, his play sank the past two seasons and he committed 47 turnovers during that span. But it wasn’t all on him. The previous regime in San Diego let go of a lot of skill-position talent, and the offensive line was decimated by injuries. Rivers didn’t have much help. He was pressing as a result. So far under head coach Mike McCoy, offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt and quarterback coach Frank Reich, Rivers has looked re-energized. He has looked relaxed and confident over the first two weeks. He has shown that he is still a high-level player. Stopping him is the main challenge for the Titans.

How’s Jake Locker coming along?

Kuharsky: He made a bad throw on a crucial third-and-1 late in regulation in the loss to the Texans. The Titans have hardly turned him loose so far. But since the start of camp, he’s shown steady progress. I’m not a complete believer by any means, but I think he has a chance and I didn’t always feel that way. We still haven’t seen some aspects of the offense that should be featured for him. Maybe this week he’ll run around more and we’ll see more boots and rollouts.

I’m curious about one of the guys who will be chasing Locker. The Titans have seen a great deal of Dwight Freeney over the years. How has he fit in the defensive scheme there?

Williamson: An old foe, indeed. Freeney is in a tough spot. He was signed (and paid well) to be the Chargers’ primary edge pass-rusher after 2012 first-round pick Melvin Ingram blew out his knee in May. But at 33, Freeney is best suited as a rotational player. He has half a sack this season. He has been active and will give his best effort, but he needs help. It would be a stretch to think he can still be a premier player. But he knows the Titans, and I’m sure he will be motivated to perform well Sunday.

What can Rivers and the Chargers' offensive line expect from the Titans’ pass rush?

Kuharsky: The best guys so far haven’t been the ends. Derrick Morgan, Akeem Ayers and Kamerion Wimbley should key the rush. Ayers moves from stongside linebacker to end on rush downs but has been limited by a bad ankle. Tackle Jurrell Casey and weakside linebacker Zach Brown have been the best rushers so far. The fronts are less predictable and the blitzes more frequent. That’s the influence of defensive assistant Gregg Williams. This defense is far better than I expected.
Matt Schaub and Jake LockerGetty Images, AP PhotoQuarterbacks Matt Schaub and Jake Locker look to lead their respective teams to a 2-0 start.
Titans owner Bud Adams is vilified in Houston because he took the Oilers out of town. The aging, eccentric Adams still lives in Houston, and he’s expected to attend Sunday's Titans-Texans game.

The Texans are coming off a wonderful 31-28 comeback win in San Diego. The Titans took care of the Steelers in Pittsburgh.

Inevitably, an opening-day win gives a team some reassurance about its plan and course. The Titans' buy-in is certainly high.

Had the Texans lost to the Chargers, I imagine this week's themes would revolve around the carryover of issues that killed them late last season.

The comeback from a 28-7 deficit changed that. They’re the two time-defending division champions. Even so, Tania Ganguli, how much of a boost did that comeback give them?

Tania Ganguli: It gave them a big one. Coming back from big deficits was something they struggled with last year. That led to the Texans being labeled as a team that wasn't built to come from behind because their running game is such a big part of their offense. They showed an ability to pass their way out of a big hole. Quarterback Matt Schaub was excellent in the third quarter, spearheading the recovery. Defensively, they showed the ability to adjust. After the Chargers' third-quarter-opening touchdown, San Diego had 10 yards of total offense the rest of the half. Incredible.

How has Gregg Williams changed the Titans' defense?

Paul Kuharsky: He’s not the coordinator, and Jerry Gray continues to call the plays. But Tennessee really mixed up its fronts against the Steelers. They didn’t blitz an immense amount but they were more unpredictable and more aggressive than they had been last year.

I certainly felt like we were seeing Williams’ influence in those areas. Williams has certainly had a positive bearing on their aggressive approach to the game and on the team’s attitude. If guys like tackle Jurrell Casey and linebacker Zach Brown play like they did in the opener, they’ve developed some playmakers. If guys like end Ropati Pitoitua and linebacker Moise Fokou keep up their play from the opener, they’ve added some quality new pieces.

What’s Wade Phillips doing with his new pieces, and will we see all of them?

Ganguli: Ed Reed is getting healthier, but we won't know his status until Friday afternoon. He will have a lot of free rein to dictate what he does, just like he did in Baltimore. He's helped other players and helped his coaches by offering suggestions on things he's seen. I asked Phillips if he is more inclined to listen to Reed than other players and Phillips said Reed's suggestions are better than most players.

When the Texans drafted safety D.J. Swearinger, they knew they were in dime so often that even as the third safety he'd see the field a lot. Swearinger was on the field for 55 percent of the Texans' defensive snaps Monday in San Diego.

Joe Mays was solid starting at inside linebacker on Sunday. Given Darryl Sharpton's injury history, he's a very important piece the Texans added during training camp.

We could include Whitney Mercilus and Earl Mitchell as somewhat new pieces -- full-time starters at outside linebacker and nose tackle. Both had big nights in San Diego. Mercilus hit Philip Rivers on the pass that Brian Cushing intercepted. Mercilus also had an early sack, giving Phillips the outside pass rush he needs. Mitchell's most important play came when he chased down running back Ryan Mathews as he ran with a pass. Mitchell stopped Mathews two yards short of a first down. Rivers' next pass fell incomplete, and that was the last time the Chargers had the ball.

You mentioned Casey earlier. He's been fairly talkative lately, and apparently has played well, too. Will he cause problems for the Texans?

Kuharsky: If the Titans have a chance at a second consecutive upset, Casey will have to be disruptive. The 2011 third-round pick out of USC had a very solid rookie season, but last season he hurt an elbow in the preseason and had a couple of other injuries slow down his growth. He’s healthy now and could be on course to be a Geno Atkins type of player. I know some Texans fans bristled that he dared talk confidently. But I’m guessing those same fans were OK with someone like Antonio Smith talking before he’d done much, either.

If Casey draws double-teams from the Texans' offensive line, then others need to apply pressure. End Derrick Morgan and strongside linebacker/nickel end Akeem Ayers are the top candidates there, though Brown is the one who charged out the strongest last week.

The Titans usually think if they can rattle Schaub they’ll be in good shape, but last week Schaub was rattled in the first half and bounced back quite well against the Chargers. Do you expect him to be the first-half guy, the second-half guy, or something in between?

Ganguli: The defense he'll play is a little bit better this week, and their aggressiveness will present a challenge for Schaub. His QBR was much better against four or fewer pass-rushers than it was against five or more, though he did throw all three touchdowns against extra pressure. On the other hand, I think Schaub will be more comfortable with receivers like DeAndre Hopkins, who caught five passes in his NFL debut. I expect something in between first- and second-half Schaub. Schaub has more career touchdown passes against the Titans (17) than he does against any other opponent, according to ESPN Stats & Info.

Worth noting, though: I don't think he’ll be put in the same position he was in last week. The Titans don't have the offensive firepower to bury another team early, do they?

Kuharsky: I wouldn’t think so. The offensive line is way better and they should find some runs. But the passing offense is unproven. They have a group of quality receivers and a nice new tight end in Delanie Walker. The next step would be for them to show they can make consistent plays in the passing game with some big-chunk plays.

A lot of that comes down to what Jake Locker can do. The third-year quarterback has made steady improvements recently. But one of their objectives is to shape a game where too much doesn’t land on his shoulders. They want to throw it when they want to, not when they have to. I expect the Texans will make them have to.

Also, the last time Locker played at Reliant, he failed to make an adjustment at the line and got crushed by a blitzing Glover Quin. The resulting shoulder injury cost him time and slowed his progress. He’ll need to do better on the fly.

Pressure’s on him. Pressure’s on you. First home game with ESPN.com since taking over the Texans. What happened to the guy who used to monitor that team for us?

Ganguli: I heard he got run off due to his refusal to pronounce the H in Houston.

Titans have to defend TEs far better

September, 12, 2013
9/12/13
1:11
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- One weak area of the Tennessee Titans' defense the past couple seasons wasn’t tested in the season opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

With Heath Miller out injured, the Steelers were unthreatening at tight end.

In Week 2, Owen Daniels and Garrett Graham of the Houston Texans will pose a much tougher challenge. In the Texans' opener against the San Diego Chargers, Daniels had five catches for 67 yards and two touchdowns, and Graham had four catches for 27 yards and a score.

[+] EnlargeZach Brown
AP Photo/Joe RobbinsThe Titans will often rely on Zach Brown to cover tight ends.
Has Tennessee improved at covering tight ends, or are Daniels and Graham poised to have a big day, picking up on the trend of the Mike Munchak-coached Titans?

Per John Parolin of ESPN Stats and Info, 24 percent of the catches made against the Titans since Munchak became head coach in 2011 have been made by tight ends. That is only the 17th-highest percentage in the league.

The troublesome number: Those catches have accounted for 24 percent of the receiving yardage against Tennessee, the fourth-highest percentage in the league.

Strongside linebacker Akeem Ayers has been a key cog in the effort defending tight ends the past two seasons, but it has not been his forte. Now he’s a line-of-scrimmage player most of the time, and an end in nickel situations.

“It’s being disciplined and keeping your eyes on you man, really,” Ayers said about covering Houston's tight ends. “My first two years here, I was doing a lot of covering. So I experienced firsthand when I got the tight end, I took my eyes off him for one second and he’s running across the field.”

Now Ayers will look to provide pass pressure that will help everyone in coverage.

More often, weakside linebacker Zach Brown will be the linebacker involved in covering the tight end.

Brown made it sound simple -- probably too simple -- when I spoke to him about it late in the preseason.

“You’ve just got to be disciplined with your eyes and know what routes the tight end runs,” he said. “The tight end really don’t run a lot of routes unless you’re Vernon Davis. Other than that, tight ends run two or three routes.”

So eye discipline against guys that run only two or three routes was that bad?

We’ll need to see significant improvement in that department for the Titans to limit Daniels and Graham.

A few weeks ago, senior defensive assistant Gregg Williams spoke of tight end coverage issues the Titans' defense had before he joined the staff.

“Maybe some of the teams they’ve played have been high-profile threats on those teams and maybe diminished receivers on those teams,” Williams said. “We’re going to have teams each week that are going to pose talent threats, and we’re going to have to matchup talent threats.”

Over the past two seasons, the Titans gave up big plays to Daniel Fells of the Denver Broncos, Ben Watson of the Cleveland Browns, Joel Dreessen of Houston, Colin Cochart of the Cincinnati Bengals, Dante Rosario of San Diego, Kyle Rudolph of the Minnesota Vikings, and Jeff Cumberland of the New York Jets.

Those guys hardly qualify as high-profile threats, and hardly ranked high on the list of people the Titans had to worry about -- at least until the games began to unfold.

Daniels is a high-profile threat, but he’s not the Texans' highest-profile threat. To win in Houston, the Titans will have to get some degree of a handle on both Andre Johnson and Daniels.
A look at the snap report from the NFL for the Titans in their win over Pittsburgh.

Offense, 67 total snaps
LT Michael Roos, 67
LG Andy Levitre, 67
C Rob Turner, 67
RG Chance Warmack, 67
RT David Stewart, 67
QB Jake Locker, 67

TE Delanie Walker, 51
TE Craig Stevens, 49
RB Chris Johnson, 43
WR Kenny Britt, 43
WR Nate Washington, 38
WR Damian Williams, 27
TE Taylor Thompson, 25
RB Jackie Battle, 19
WR Kendall Wright, 19
FB Collin Mooney, 17
RB Shonn Greene, 4

Greene got hurt early or would likely have had most of Battle’s snaps. The team said Wright’s preseason knee injury wasn’t going to be an issue, but he should get more than that if he’s fine -- especially when Britt is ineffective.

Defense, 53 total snaps
CB Jason McCourty, 53
LB Moise Fokou, 53
LB Zach Brown, 53
FS Michael Griffin, 53

CB Alterraun Verner, 52
SS Bernard Pollard. 51
DE Derrick Morgan, 49
DT Jurrell Casey, 45
CB Coty Sensabaugh, 36
LB-DE Akeem Ayers, 29
DE Kamerion Wimbley, 27
DL Karl Klug, 23
DE Ropati Pitoitua, 19
DT Mike Martin, 17
DT Sammie Hill, 17
S George Wilson, 3
DT Antonio Johnson, 3

The Titans are supposed to be reducing Morgan’s snaps, but Ayers is coming off an ankle injury and they were clearly measuring his work. He wasn’t very effective. Pitoitua showed well. Hill was a big free-agent addition. He had an elbow injury in the preseason and I would expect more action from him.

Four Titans played 18 special-teams snaps: Patrick Bailey, Tommie Campbell, Blidi Wreh-Wilson and Daimion Stafford.

Backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick was the only active player who didn't take the field.
PITTSBURGH -- Every theme the Tennessee Titans hit, and hit, and hit again through the offseason and the preseason was on display in their season-opening win at Heinz field Sunday.

Let’s run through their core beliefs and how they translated into the 16-9 victory.

Brown
Brown
Be physical on both sides of the ball: The Titans didn’t run the ball great, but they ran it well enough to hand it off 37 times. Jake Locker's runs, including two kneel-downs made for a total of 42 rush attempts for 112 yards. Sure they’d like more than 2.7 yards a carry. But against a Pittsburgh Steelers team that is typically stout against the run, being able to run it that much is a win.

The defense managed to sack Ben Roethlisberger, who’s a tough guy to drag down, five times. Defensive tackle Jurrell Casey and weakside linebacker Zach Brown had two sacks apiece. A couple new players -- end Ropati Pitoitua and middle linebacker Moise Fokou -- made significant contributions to the effort.

The Steelers suffered several injuries. Center Maurkice Pouncey's wasn’t from anything Tennessee did, he got hit by linemate David DeCastro. But the physical game certainly had a role in injuries to LaRod Stephens-Howling (knee), cornerback Cortez Allen (ankle) and inside linebacker Larry Foote (biceps). The Titans weren’t nearly as banged up.

Withstand adversity: Things couldn’t have started any worse. Return man Darius Reynaud inexplicably decided that despite some room, he wanted to turn a bouncing kickoff into a touchback. The trouble was he picked up the ball just across the goal line and pulled it back in to take a knee.

He’s got to make a better decision in such circumstances, and his failure to do so is on him. He was able to have a sense of humor about it since the Titans overcame it.

An aside. One thing he said postgame bothered me a bit.

Asked what sort of rules he’s to follow in such circumstances, he said. “I set back seven deep, if the ball is kicked five yards deep I can run up on it. But on that type of play, we never practiced that play. I’m going to get that in practice this week just to get a good look on it. … Next time we’ll get that right.”

Mike Munchak fired Alan Lowry, a coach who had a reputation for his special teams being prepared for anything and everything, after last season.

Don’t put Locker in bad situations: Locker was sacked only once. He ran the offense efficiently, and his teammates said he was confidently in command in the huddle. He ran for a nice 5-yard gain on one option play with Chris Johnson. He was 11 for 20 for 125 yards with no touchdowns, no interceptions and a long of 25 yards.

He threw a couple off-target passes, but never appeared flustered by a defense that’s got the capacity to make young quarterbacks panicky.

A key to putting him in good spots was productive first downs. In the first half, the Titans averaged second-and-5.2. For the game, nine of 21 second downs were second-and-6 or less.

Stop the run to make opponents one-dimensional: The Steelers turned 15 carries into 32 yards. And their long run was eight yards by Isaac Redman, who also coughed up a fumble as the Steelers were about to score to go up 9-0.

***

All in all, it was a great day for creating a feeling that work and points of emphasis have paid off.

“Overall, we were exactly what we were trying to work towards in the preseason,” left tackle Michael Roos said. “I think that one drive we had 13 straight run plays or something like that. (Actually 12 of 13 plays.) That’s what we’ve been trying to get to. Impose our will on them and keep drives alive.”

My 53-man Tennessee Titans roster

August, 30, 2013
8/30/13
3:14
PM ET
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Rather than tell you this is what’s going to happen, I’ll tell you this is what would happen if I had influence in the Tennessee Titans meeting room when final cuts will be decided.

Some cuts are already trickling out from Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean, so check his Twitter feed.

Quarterbacks: Jake Locker, Ryan Fitzpatrick

There just is no room for Rusty Smith and there isn’t a need for a third quarterback unless things go incredibly wrong. The difference between a random third guy and Smith isn’t giant.

Running backs: Chris Johnson, Shonn Greene, Jackie Battle, Quinn Johnson (FB)

Battle has to contribute on special teams, but he was better than Jalen Parmele through the preseason. Wyatt says Parmele is already gone. Johnson’s been hurt and could lose out to Collin Mooney.

Wide receivers: Kenny Britt, Nate Washington, Kendall Wright, Damian Williams, Justin Hunter, Michael Preston, Marc Mariani (return specialist)

Preston is one of the best 53 players on the team. Even though he won’t be active on Sundays if everyone’s healthy, you keep extra quality depth at one spot if it’s better than weaker depth at another spot. Once he’s healthy, Mariani isn’t as explosive as a punt returner as Darius Reynaud, but will more regularly get 10 yards.

Tight ends: Delanie Walker, Craig Stevens, Taylor Thompson

No need for a fourth on the 53. Sign Jack Doyle to the practice squad

Offensive linemen: Tackles Michael Roos, David Stewart, Mike Otto, Byron Stingily. Interior: Andy Levitre, Chance Warmack, Rob Turner, Brian Schwenke, Fernando Velasco

Velasco is guaranteed $2.02 million under his tender contract out of restricted free agency. I’m not sure he should stick over Scott Solomon at linebacker or Stefan Charles at defensive tackle. But the big push for revamping the line and the desire for depth after last year’s slew of injuries makes me feel like they will stay loaded.

Defensive ends: Derrick Morgan, Ropati Pitoitua, Kamerion Wimbley, Lavar Edwards, Keyunta Dawson.

Dawson is a good guy to have. I can see him staying and the Titans going five ends as opposed to six tackles. But linebacker Akeem Ayers is a nickel end so he factors in here as well.

Defensive tackles: Jurrell Casey, Sammie Hill, Mike Martin, Antonio Johnson, Karl Klug (swing)

I’ve got Stefan Charles over DaJohn Harris but neither making it. If one of them sticks, it’s the last defensive line spot probably over Dawson. I see Charles on the practice squad.

Linebackers: Akeem Ayers, Moise Fokou, Zach Brown, Zaviar Gooden, Colin McCarthy, Patrick Bailey

Scott Solomon is one of my last two cuts. I want to keep seven 'backers. The seventh guy would be a trade-off for Velasco, I think. Solomon is versatile, seems to be catching on to the position change and can still play end if needed. He’s not practice squad eligible. I just can’t fit him here. I might keep him over Bailey but I don’t think they rank him that way.

Safeties: Michael Griffin, Bernard Pollard, George Wilson, Daimion Stafford

The fourth spot isn’t strong and Stafford could probably go to the practice squad. But if they choose a veteran -- Al Afalava or Corey Lynch -- as the fourth I could see them trying to upgrade it with an outsider.

Cornerbacks: Jason McCourty, Alterraun Verner, Tommie Campbell, Coty Sensabaugh, Blidi Wreh-Wilson

I’d expect Khalid Wooten on the practice squad.

Kicker: Rob Bironas

Punter: Brett Kern

Long-snapper: Beau Brinkley
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The game book from Week 3 told us quite a bit.

While the "did not play" list isn’t ironclad -- even professional stat crews miss guys when there are 90 a side -- it tends to be pretty telling.

Of healthy guys who didn’t play, four of the six were part of the cuts that got the Titans from 90 to 75. Defensive end Nigel Nicholas was listed a not having played, but he actually played five snaps.

The Tennessee-Minnesota game book doesn’t offer such hints, though plenty of the coming cuts to get the Titans down to 53 are obvious.

The Titans sat a slew of veterans, both dinged and healthy. The team granted preseason action to plenty of guys who won’t be on their team, and a number who won’t be on any team.

Here’s the list of guys who didn't play:

WR Kendall Wright
WR Kenny Britt
RB Shonn Greene
RB Chris Johnson
CB Jason McCourty
S Bernard Pollard
FB Quinn Johnson
LB Zaviar Gooden
LB Zach Brown
LB Akeem Ayers
TE Brandon Barden
WR Marc Mariani
WR Nate Washington
DE Derrick Morgan
DE Ropati Pitoitua
DT Sammie Lee Hill
DT Jurrell Casey

Barden is the only guy on that list who is a likely cut, and he tweaked a knee during the preparation week. The injured Johnson could lose out to Collin Mooney. Mariani (shoulder) is in a fight for the return job.

Otherwise, everyone on that list is on the team. Ten of them will be starters. Wright is the third receiver. Greene is the second running back.

So we get no hints.

One more game book note: It’s preseason for the stat guys, too. They gave credit for Daimion Stafford's third interception to Al Afalava.

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