NFL Nation: Nate Washington

Drops are surely subjective. You and I might look at a play and you’d say Phil should have caught it and I’d say he couldn’t have.

ESPN tracks drops and applies a strong benefit of the doubt standard. A drop has to be something quite obvious.

Pro Football Focus breaks down targets into catchable balls, and judges drops more harshly.

Both ESPN and PFF then compute drop rates -- ESPN simply by dividing drops by targets, PRR by dividing drops by catchable balls.

By any standard, Kenny Britt had a terrible 2013. ESPN says he dropped four passes, PFF counted seven.

Britt is a free agent, and the Tennessee Titans have no interest in bringing him back. He’s drawn a decent amount of interest and will be a reclamation project somewhere.

Another Titans receiver, Damian Williams, is on the market and looks unlikely to return unless his price drops.

No coach or player is going to say anything more than none is an acceptable drop total. But everyone drops some. Let’s sample three top guys at random just for some context on their ESPN drop rates from 2013: Detroit’s Calvin Johnson was at 5.2, Andre Johnson at 3.4 and Larry Fitzgerald 0.7.

I was spurred to look at the Titans’ drops as PFF has put out stories recently on receiver drops, running back drops and tight end drops.

Here’s how last year’s top pass catchers fared for Tennessee.

In 2009, Pittsburgh free-agent receiver Nate Washington signed a six-year, $26.8 million contract with Tennessee that included $9 million guaranteed.

In 2014, he is in line to play the final year of that deal.

What an anomaly.

Five- and six-year deals in the NFL are crafted to look pretty and sound good. But we regularly see guys cut before they get to the final year or two of scheduled money.

In 2008, defensive end Jared Allen signed a 6-year, $73.2 million contract with $31 million guaranteed with Minnesota. He played out that contract and is now weighing his options.

According to Evan Kaplan of ESPN Stats & Info, 31 players signed six-year deals in 2009. Twelve were rookies, which is different than a veteran changing teams.

Of the remaining 19, only Washington and Falcons receiver Roddy White are in line to play out their contracts. The rest either restructured their deals, signed new contracts or were cut and signed elsewhere.

Before I had those numbers, I asked Washington about how gratifying it would be to play out the entire contract.

"The person I am today is not who I was when I first got to Tennessee," Washington said. "They’ve been patient enough for me to grow into something that could be great for them. I appreciate the opportunity.

"I was born in Pittsburgh, and I was bred here in Nashville. This place truly gave me my opportunity to be a professional."

We are seeing shorter contracts these days. And many that are four-year deals, such as the one the Titans gave right tackle Michael Oher, could actually end rather painlessly for the team after just one year.

Signing bonuses can only be pro-rated over five years now. Still, New Orleans safety Jairus Byrd and Denver cornerback Aquib Talib just signed six-year contracts.

What kind of odds would you give them to be with the Saints and Broncos, respectively, in 2020?
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AP Photo/Patric Schneider"Some of the guys that was the cancer, they really didn't care," Delanie Walker said after the season.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Delanie Walker indicated he thought there was a cancerous element on the Titans during the 2013 season.

After the season he expanded on the idea, saying as the season went south, more guys jumped in the cancer box, not caring about the team's results. He had talked to the players and to coach Mike Munchak about it, getting no results. That made him feel more comfortable talking about it in a radio interview.

I thought he felt he could bring some attention to the issue by discussing it publicly, and that it would help position Ken Whisenhunt and a new staff to solve it.

After the interview, he backed down a bit. He said his initial estimate of six guys was probably high, an exaggeration.

Whisenhunt said he respected Walker's feelings and chatted with him about them, but wants such matters to stay in house in the future.

Sunday at 104.5 The Zone's SportsFest in Nashville, receiver Nate Washington and cornerback Jason McCourty -- both captains of the 2013 Titans -- addressed Walker's comments.

Here's McCourty: "The one thing I will say -- and I've talked to Bernard [Pollard] about this as well because I know during the season, him and Delanie were both guys that spoke of cancers on the team and things of that nature -- my feeling is that you never, no matter what you're doing, if you're at work at a regular job or in the NFL or whatever, you're never going to have every single guy in that locker room that whole heartedly believes in the team and everything about it.

"I remember talking to Bernard about the locker room in Baltimore and he said the same thing. You may have a guy out there who could care less if the team wins. Could be a defensive end and all he cares about is getting sacks, but at the end of the day if that guy finishes that season with 15 sacks, he's going to believe that he helped you win. I truly don't believe in that whole 'cancerous' talk. I know those guys have come from different locker rooms and they probably believe in some different things and believe that their way is the right way, but my whole thing is if there are cancerous players, let's have a team meeting, players only, and let's bring those guys out there and let's get it all figured out.

"But to be honest, for me to talk to you guys about cancers in the locker room, it's not going to solve anything. I believe that if we do have cancers, we can figure that out, but I truly don't believe that there are guys that could care less about the team. I think that we could probably get some better guys in at certain positions to help us win and the Super Bowl team would probably say that, the Seattle Seahawks, coming from this year to next year, they could probably get rid of some guys and replace some other guys, so we definitely have room for improvement, I would say that."

Here's Washington: "Like Jason said, he's talked to Bernard, I've had a couple of conversations with a couple of other teammates, and at the end of the day, we know that Delanie meant well by that statement. Like Jason said, at the end of the day, every locker room in the league is going to have some type of cancer, but I will say that I don't think that we had not one cancer that was going to dictate the outcome of our games, because like you said, we played hard no matter what.

"Every single man on that totem pole played hard. Now whether his habits specifically could be the talent to get us over the bar for that day, that's a totally different story. That's not a cancer, that's him still giving his effort. Like J-Mac said, I just wish, as one of those guys that was in that locker room and heard that statement, I wish that initiative would have been taken up by Delanie during the season. We should have had a players meeting. This initiative should have came from him back during the season when these things were going on, if he thought that that was an issue."

"But the debate didn't come until the issue was brought to the media. That should have been something behind closed doors. If you're married, as a husband, you don't go out and tell the world what your wife did, you understand what I'm saying? That should have been something kept in our locker room with Coach Whisenhunt, with the front offices, if he felt that it should be handled that way. There's not an issue with any of us or Delanie because at the end of the day, we know what he meant. We know exactly where the statement was coming from, so we have no issue with Delanie.

"But like J-Mac said, this is something that when we get back together, in a player meeting, as captains, as being someone who has been in this system for five, going on six years, this is something that maybe we do need to get corrected, behind our closed doors and hope that our fans and this community know that coming from these captains, that it means that much to us to get corrected."

I think Titans fans should be encouraged by how strongly Washington and McCourty responded to the issue. I expect the staff and players will hash it out in a way it wasn't last season. And still, as both these players said, there will be some selfish guys on the team who can rank as cancer who won't prevent the Titans from winning.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Kendall Wright and Justin Hunter are very much the future of the Titans at wide receiver.

Sunday in a win at Jacksonville, Nate Washington showed he’s very much part of the present. He pulled in six catches for 117 yards and the game-winning touchdown.

He’s the team’s third leading receiver with 56 receptions, and second in receiving yards with 880.

[+] EnlargeNate Washington
Jim Brown/USA TODAY SportsReceiver Nate Washington is second on the Titans with 880 receiving yards.
When the head of the team’s new ownership group, Tommy Smith, listed some young players he considers the Titans’ core, he also mentioned Washington and his leadership.

Washington has been an important influence on Wright and Hunter.

“It’s brothers, man,” Washington said of the receivers room. "It’s a room that I think the organization has been working to put together for a long time. I think they can really sit down right now with our room and be satisfied with all the hard work they’ve put in.”

Washington would certainly like to see things kept intact next season, though Kenny Britt is heading for free agency and certainly won’t be back. He’s hardly contributed this season. Damian Williams is also in line to be a free agent, and he’s a versatile piece I believe the team should try hard to keep.

Whether the Titans make a coaching change or not, there is potential they could choose to move away from Washington, who is 30. Heading into the final year of his deal, he’s due $4.8 million in 2014. It would be the final year of a six-year deal, and it’s pretty rare for a player to play out a long second deal with high cap numbers.

If they came to him and said they wanted to keep him at a reduced price, he wouldn’t be upset, but he wouldn’t negotiate either, he said.

“All I can do is play football,” he said. “If I’m in Tennessee next year, I will be very gracious. I love Tennessee, I love the people, I love the organization. If I’m here next year it’d be awesome. But I understand it’s a business ..."

If they wanted to reduce his salary?

“It’s time to move on, man,” he said. “If that’s the way they have to approach it, I understand.”

I agree with Washington that the receivers room is one of the best things the Titans have going for them. He has a big salary scheduled, but the team is not in line to be cap-strapped. If they are going to overpay someone, why not him? Yes, you want to get rid of a guy a year too early rather than a year too late, but I wouldn’t mess with a position where things seem to be in good order.

For one Sunday, Titans fit the formula

December, 22, 2013
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- They were just about everything they want to be.

Sunday at EverBank Field, in a 20-16 win over Jacksonville, just about every ingredient the Tennessee Titans have been missing in 2013 showed up.

They fit their formula as they ran for 182 yards, as they made effective halftime adjustments, as they made key stops and collected a key turnover, as they asserted themselves for a key third-down conversion to milk the clock near the end.

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Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesNate Washington's touchdown gave the Titans the lead in an encouraging performance by the team.
“The second half was finally how we want to play,” coach Mike Munchak said, acknowledging that it was far too little, too late in the big picture. “If you can do that, 180, 190 whatever the heck it was [we ran for], that’s the formula. Going forward, that’s what this team needs to be able to do, that’s what they’re built to do if we’re all healthy ...

“This is what you want to be able to do, this is what we will build into next season on, and this is the type of team you’re going to see.”

That second part, of course, presumes Munchak is retained as the team’s coach.

While a second loss to the Jaguars would have hurt his case, I'm not sure a win over them should help it much.

Put simply, the Titans currently have superior talent, if not a superior coach and GM. Put simply, it was a result that should be expected. Smartly and accurately, no one was lauding it as some sort of statement.

Still, it served as a relief and a breakthrough, and that says much about a franchise that won just its second game in its last 11 chances in the AFC South.

The Titans’ big rushing effort came against a team minus starting defensive tackle Roy Miller which then lost his replacement, Brandon Deaderick, to a first-half elbow injury. Recent practice-squad call-up Jordan Miller played from there.

J.T. Thomas, rookie John Lotulelei and LaRoy Reynolds rotated through two of the three starting linebacker slots. None of them are likely to be NFL starters on a fully stocked team.

The Titans won’t apologize, and shouldn’t apologize, for beating the Jaguars. That was the only thing they could do on this Sunday.

But mixed in with the happiness that came with the win was a recognition that they’ve blown similar situations all year long.

“We see that we can do it, but we ain’t done it all year long,” defensive tackle Jurrell Casey said, adding, “We know if we dig deep every week we can get the job done. We’ve just got to find out how we can get that done every week.”

Said receiver Nate Washington of the win: “That doesn’t ease any pain.”

“You always look back at those games that were nail-biters and understand you couldn’t close them out. You look at this game and say, ‘Wow, that was a team that could have closed out those other games.’”

Titans produce another second-half dud

December, 8, 2013
DENVER -- Three times this year, the Tennessee Titans have taken a surprising lead to the locker room at halftime.

Like they did in Seattle and against Indianapolis, the Titans blew Sunday's halftime lead over the Broncos with a poor second half, losing 51-28 after leading 21-20 at the half.

While the Colts are struggling, they have won the AFC South. Seattle and Denver are Super Bowl favorites.

The Titans have shown they can get out of the gate and play 30 good minutes against such teams. They have shown they can then fall apart.

Collective first halves: Titans 48, Opponents 33.

Collective second halves: Opponents 68, Titans 20.

It begs the question as to whether Titans coach Mike Munchak and his staff have done as well with halftime adjustments as Pete Carroll, Chuck Pagano and John Fox and their staffs have.

Of course it’s the trailing team that has to make the biggest alterations at intermission. Then the team that had the lead has to respond to those adjustments.

Three times the Titans have failed in a big way at that.

“No way in the world we came in this locker room expecting that second half to pan out like that,” receiver Nate Washington said of Denver’s 31-7 second half.

“As a player, I can’t worry about the adjustments being made or not,” defensive tackle Jurrell Casey said. “All I can do is go out there and play football and rely on the coaching staff to make the adjustments they feel are necessary or not. Not looking at film, I don’t know what happened in that second half.”

Maybe I am gerrymandering to pick out these three games. But in a season where the Titans lost to Houston and Jacksonville they needed to find at least one game they were expected to lose and win it to offset the bad loss.

They had chances to do so at the halfway mark in Seattle, against the Colts and at Denver.

“I don’t know if it’s game-planning, I don’t know if they are finding ways to do things that we’re not,” cornerback Alterraun Verner. “At this rate with us being 5-8 you have to say we just haven’t been good enough.”

Nate Washington needs leadership help

November, 20, 2013
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Last week I wrote a bit about quiet guys and whether they are more compelled to speak up when things are going badly.

The Titans have one super-vocal leader in strong safety Bernard Pollard. But the team really doesn’t have an equivalent on offense, where the team is really struggling.

[+] EnlargeNate Washington and Antonio Cromartie (31)
Don McPeak/USA TODAY SportsNate Washington is one of the few veteran leaders on Tennessee's offense.
A quarterback has to lead, and Jake Locker was developing in that department. Ryan Fitzpatrick has not been at the helm long enough for us to get a true sense of him as a leader for the Titans.

I asked two guys who are definitely leaders on the offense, quiet left tackle Michael Roos, and more fiery tight end Delanie Walker, if their side of the ball has someone who ranks as the equivalent of Pollard.

They both pointed to receiver Nate Washington.

“Right now it’s Nate Washington,” Walker said. “He brings years of playing. He’s a hard-worker, he makes plays, he knows how to get you motivated. He always shows up week to week.”

Washington takes his captaincy seriously, and early in the year he was a go-to receiver for Locker.

But over the last five games, he’s caught only nine passes for 159 yards.

He doesn’t seem to have the same rapport with Fitzpatrick (an average of two catches for 32.6 yards in the backup's starts) that he had built with Locker (3.6 and 60).

To Washington’s credit, even when the ball isn’t coming his way much he influences the game. When the Titans ran out to an early lead against the Colts, he was a blocking demon for Chris Johnson.

“I think it’s important that we have every type of leader,” Washington said. “The defense has BP but they also have JMac (Jason McCourty) and he will speak up from time to time, but he’s not a vocal leader, he’s like Roos is. You need a balance of guys. There are some things sometimes that need to be said, that needs to come from a captain, a guy with that type of authority. I just try to hold myself accountable when those times have come.

“I want to be the guy to speak up and put the spotlight on my hard work. Everybody can now look at me and say, ‘Well he’s speaking up, well what is he doing on the practice field? He’s working hard.’ If you can see me working hard and also speaking up behind it, you can know maybe it is time to go. I take great pride in it. It a [task] that’s placed on me and BP now to go out and be the enthusiastic leaders with our voice and our play.”

Walker said catches and yardage aren’t necessary for Washington to be a good leader.

“I don’t think leadership is about making plays,” Walker said. “It’s about being a consistent guy, never letting down. If he doesn’t get a pass in a game, he still goes out and blocks for you and he’s running his routes hard, that’s a leader."

I think Washington has done a good job. I also think an offense needs the quarterback and a tone-setting lineman to be among its leaders. Locker and rookie center Brian Schwenke may have the personalities for it, but one is finished for the season and the other has started just two games and is dealing with a sprained ankle.

At those key spots, the Titans seem deficient in that department.

Survey says: Worst pain ever

November, 20, 2013
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- For this installment of “Survey Says” I asked Titans, “What’s the worst pain you’ve ever felt?”

Defensive tackle Antonio Johnson: “My ACL injury, I would say. In 2007, my rookie year. It was excruciating. It felt like hell. Painful, very painful, I would say the first couple days coming out of surgery, when they have to bend it, fresh out of surgery, The bending of the knee trying to get the flexion back, that’s the most painful thing I ever felt. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. Coming out of surgery it was just that throbbing feeling, like it’s got a heart in it.”

Guard Chance Warmack: “I dislocated the ring finger on my left hand in the Auburn game. I had to play with it for two games, the Georgia game and the Notre Dame game. It never had a chance to heal properly. I buddy-taped it. I remember the Georgia game, it kept popping out, we had to keep popping it back in. It felt like my finger was going to fall off. I was blocking with four fingers.”

Wide receiver Nate Washington: “I was playing basketball and I got hit in the eye and my eye was open so the guy actually moved my eyeball a little bit. I had a patch on my eye for about two weeks. I was 20, 21 years old. It was excruciating pain. I did not know it would hurt like that, I couldn’t open my eye for about two weeks. Black eye, eyeball was red. Worst football injury was a hip pointer, because you can do absolutely nothing. No loud talking, no sudden movements, no sneezing, no coughing. I’ve broken bones before but hip pointer is the most immobilizing nagging thing. But the eye was worse.”

Linebacker Akeem Ayers: “My appendix, this year, right before the season started. That s--- was terrible. It was kind of like a sharp, endless pain type of deal. This was there for about 12 hours, just non-stop until it was taken out. It was like a knife and some punches at the same time.

[+] EnlargeCraig Stevens
AP Photo/Joe RobbinsCraig Stevens said his broken rib was "the most excruciating pain I've ever felt."
Guard Andy Levitre: Getting pleurisy. It’s an inflamed lung, so every time you breath, it feels like you are getting stabbed in your chest, but it’s your lung rubbing up against your rib cage. I feel like that’s the most painful thing I ever had, it was in college. I had it for a few days and it bough me to tears, it was that bad. It was insane. I couldn’t take full breaths. That was bad. I ended up going to the ER. I tried to tough it out for a few days and then I just couldn’t take it anymore.”

Tight end Craig Stevens: “When I broke my rib, by far the most pain ever. Two years ago we were playing Cleveland and Eugene Amano came and landed with his knee right here (points to left side of his torso.) I couldn’t get up or anything and then it kind of clicked back in and I was like, ‘Yeah, it’s not so bad.’ Then I ran down there and I actually made a tackle and fell on the ground. I couldn’t get up. For about a week, it was the most excruciating pain I’ve ever felt. I couldn’t move. I would lay down and I couldn’t get up, I needed help to get up, that’s how bad it was. It eventually healed. It would heal and I would play with it and re-break it before it had a chance to really heal up. Every time I re-broke it, it was like I’d go back to square one with that pain. After about four weeks of re-breaking it, I took a game off, then I started feeling better."

Tight end Delanie Walker: “Probably when I broke my jaw two years ago against Seattle. Dec. 24. After the morphine wore off, that’s when it was worse. The flight was two hours, and that’s about when it wore off. That’s when I felt it. It just felt like someone was kicking me in the mouth nonstop, over and over. Took me three weeks to recover. I played in the NFC Championship Game.”

Cornerback Coty Sensabaugh: “Probably when I broke my leg in high school. I broke my fibula, I had to have surgery. It was a 10 on a scale of 1-10.”

Defensive tackle Mike Martin: “When my shoulder came out. Kind of came in, came out, slipped a little bit in college, my senior year against Illinois. I was going to tackle Juice Williams, get a sack and my linebacker came and hit the back of my shoulder, slipped it out, it was horrible. It reverberated all through my body, it felt like it was going through all my limbs, that’s how bad it was initially.”

Jake Locker's picks weren't killers

November, 4, 2013
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Tennessee Titans quarterback Jake Locker had one interception all season before the Titans went to St. Louis.

He threw two against the Rams.

His ability to protect the ball has been one of the best things about his improving game, but Sunday was a slip. Still, the Titans found their way to a 28-21 win.

Locker got away with one interception to Cortland Finnegan with 47 seconds left before halftime at the Titans 26-yard line. The throw for Kenny Britt was not well placed and Finnegan made easy work of it. But the Rams stalled and missed a field goal.

“We took a little risk there before half,” coach Mike Munchak said. “We could have just tried to run the ball and punt and all that other stuff, but we have confidence in him and the offense. We threw a screen which got a first down. We threw another high-percentage pass, [and the interception] was a high percentage call. He ran it wrong which surprised us, and it ended up an interception. Luckily, the defense held them, and it didn’t cost us points there. But, that was unlike him on that play.”

Nate Washington got slowed down by Finnegan on the second interception, in the middle of the fourth quarter. The Titans just got a 45-yard gain on a nice catch-and-run from Kendall Wright.

Washington said there should have been a holding penalty on his play against Finnegan when safety Rodney McLeod caught Locker’s pass.

Finnegan’s role in the play happened early enough, however, that Locker should have seen that Washington was not going to get where the throw was going. And it might have been high even had Washington arrived on time.

“I don’t know if that was a penalty or not there, but [Washington] got caught up,” Munchak said. “It looked worse than it was, but we didn’t think he would make that throw. It probably should have went to the back especially at that time in the game where we just had a big play there I think with Kendall.”

That the Titans won on a poor day from Locker is significant.

He was sacked four times in the first half when the Rams applied relentless pressure. The Titans settled down in the second half and got the ball out of Locker’s hand more quickly.

Upon Further Review: Titans Week 9

November, 4, 2013
A review of four hot issues from the Tennessee Titans' 28-21 win over the St. Louis Rams:

His role now: Kenny Britt is a run blocker and a decoy. He can be effective in the first role; defenses surely welcome him on to the field in the second. He was targeted only once by Jake Locker on Sunday, and while Cortland Finnegan's interception was the result of a bad throw more than anything Britt did, you can’t help but think the percentages of something good happening when Britt is the target are low. Kendall Wright, Justin Hunter and Damian Williams are all more threatening. Nate Washington was a go-to guy for Locker before his injury and has caught only three passes in two games since Locker’s return. The Titans should be focused on getting Washington going again well ahead of being concerned about Britt.

[+] EnlargeTennessee's Kenny Britt
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty ImagesCortland Finnegan will likely have to restructure his contract in order to return to the Rams in 2014.
Ayers as a factor: They’ve tried a bunch of different things with Akeem Ayers since drafting him in the second round out of UCLA in 2011. He’s still not an impact guy. In St. Louis, he didn’t come off the field, playing his usual strongside linebacker spot in base and as the Mike in the nickel. In such situations, his forte should be as a run stopper, but the Rams ran for 160 yards and 5.0 yards per attempt. On Sunday, they abandoned the idea of him as a situational end. It’s impressive that the defense has been what it has been through eight games with no consistent presence from Ayers.

Um, about that missed call: I’ve been critical of the Titans bemoaning the officials a bit too frequently, as if the NFL has some rationale for picking on them. But I liked Washington’s approach when talking about Jake Locker’s second interception in St. Louis. Washington didn’t get to where Locker was throwing because he was held up by former teammate Cortland Finnegan. The play drew no flag and was an easy interception for safety Rodney McLeod. “Cortland did a great job of holding me, flat out,” Washington said. “Rookie back judge [Dale Shaw], it’s his first year. So I’m not going to go toO far with it, I don’t want to get fined. But at the same time, let’s just say Cortland did a good job of being Cortland.” Nice work by Washington knowing Shaw’s résumé.

Um, about that one snap: Jurrell Casey is one of the Titans' best defenders and the defensive tackle has a team-high six sacks. He’s a problem-causer. No need to outsmart yourself and drop him into coverage on an athletic, speedy tight end like Jared Cook. It made for an easy 17-yard completion to Cook and didn’t make a lot of sense. I believe future teams on the schedule would love to see Casey moving backward instead of forward.

Locker Room Buzz: Tennessee Titans

November, 3, 2013
ST. LOUIS -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the Tennessee Titans' 28-21 win over the St. Louis Rams at the Edward Jones Dome:

Drive by: The handshake between Titans coach Mike Munchak and Rams coach Jeff Fisher after the game was a very quick one with no extended conversation. There is no bad blood between the two. The game clearly meant a bunch to both. But Fisher didn’t linger as he swallowed a loss in a game he surely felt he could have -- and should have -- won. "He has things to do and so do I,” Munchak said.

Smart adjustment: Jake Locker’s 5-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter gave the Titans a 21-14 lead and came on a crucial third down. Coordinator Dowell Loggains said Locker checked from one pass to another, the Rams countered with exactly the right defense and Locker recognized there was no one to account for him, so he took off pretty quickly knowing he could get to the end zone.

Ended streak: Receiver Nate Washington said he was disappointed that his streak of 85 games with a catch ended, but he was satisfied because the Titans won. Loggains credited Washington with an RBI for a block on Cortland Finnegan during Chris Johnson's second touchdown run, a 19-yard burst that provided the winning margin.

Check pkuharsky at Instagram for a few postgame pictures.
Ryan FitzpatrickAP Photo/Elaine ThompsonQuarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick couldn't get the Titans into the end zone against the Seahawks.
SEATTLE -- The Tennessee Titans were feeling great about themselves halfway through their Sept. 29 win over the Jets.

When quarterback Jake Locker got hurt in the third quarter, knocked out with hip and knee injuries, they knew things were going to change.

They gave the standard offerings about their confidence in backup Ryan Fitzpatrick.

Sunday at CenturyLink Field, he gave his second consecutive showing that suggested they’ve overvalued their backup quarterback. Fitzpatrick led the Titans to two field goals and threw two interceptions in a 20-13 loss to the Seahawks.

“We couldn’t get into a rhythm on offense and a lot of that is me,” he said. “I didn’t play well today. Really for the last two weeks I’ve played poorly and we haven’t won games. ... I feel like momentum has kind of ground to a halt with the last two games and the way that we played on offense.

“The defense is still playing great and making plays out there. I’m not doing enough right now to consistently move the ball for the offense.”

Mike Munchak said the 3-3 Titans rate as average, and many players agreed with the obvious assessment that can be difficult to come to terms with.

The Titans got away with the first of Fitzpatrick’s interceptions. He overthrew Nate Washington in the middle of the field in the first quarter and safety Earl Thomas bobbled the ball before collecting it. The Seahawks didn’t turn it into points.

Tennessee wasn’t as fortunate the second time.

Seattle had just moved ahead 13-10 and Fitzpatrick gave the Seahawks the ball back on the first play from scrimmage. On first-and-10 from the Titans’ 20, he threw a play-action pass up the right side intended for Washington. The Titans receiver briefly had a step on cornerback Richard Sherman.

Had the ball been to the sideline perhaps Washington could have made a play or it would have fallen harmlessly incomplete. But the ball was a bit inside and Sherman had no problem going up to make the catch in front of Washington.

Energized and feeling they could put the game away, the home team drove for a touchdown. Russell Wilson's 24-yard rollout pass to Sidney Rice, who gracefully got his toes in as he fell out of bounds cradling the ball. That set up Marshawn Lynch’s second touchdown run of the game.

“Our defense had just given up a drive and we needed to make some plays,” Munchak said. “We can’t throw an interception on the first play of the series and put the defense back out there like we did. Because eventually an offense is going to wear you down, which happened. They started to make some plays the next time they got the ball. We’re just not playing good enough to win on that side of the ball.

The Titans need better quarterbacking, and they aren’t saying otherwise.

In two games as the starter, Fitzpatrick has completed 54 percent of his passes with one touchdown, four interceptions, a 53.2 passer rating and six sacks. He’s also fumbled three times, losing none of them.

Still, when offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains talked about what needs to change, he pointed first to the other piece of the offense.

“I think once you get the run game going it helps everything,” he said. “I think that’s where improvement needs to happen the fastest. We’re going to examine it and look and see what’s going on there.”

[+] EnlargeChris Johnson
Joe Nicholson/USA TODAY SportsChris Johnson couldn't find much room to run against the Seattle defense, averaging just 2.8 yards per carry.
In losses to the Chiefs and at the Seahawks, Chris Johnson has turned 22 carries into 50 yards. That’s a 2.3-yard average, and it’s hardly what the Titans were selling they would be doing with three new interior offensive lineman who were brought in to help the Titans revert to an old identity as a physical running team able to get a tough yard at any time, against anyone.

Johnson had the wind knocked out of him on his best series, and with Shonn Greene (knee) out and Jackie Battle (neck) hurt, the Titans turned to their fourth running back, return man Darius Reynaud on a crucial third-and-1 in the third quarter

He got stuffed.

“Yeah, we didn’t get it,” Munchak said. “So we should have run something else.”

The run game is far from fixed.

“At the end of the day it just comes down to one factor and that’s running the football,” Johnson said. “We can’t continue to go out there and not at least average 4 yards when we hand the ball off. That enables Dowell to call another run. When we get a 1-yard gain or a negative (play), we’ve got to throw the ball.

“The formula for this team is, I think, we’ve got to help our defense out. We can’t be going three-and-out, we can’t turn the ball over and we can’t continue to not run the ball. We have too many good players up front, out wide and in the backfield not to be able to out-will people. We did all preseason, we did the first couple games of the season. We just went out there and ran the ball. Even though they knew we were going to run the ball, we still ran it. These last three weeks, it’s just not working.”

Nothing suggests this is going to be a team dominant up front where it will always be able to count on the run.

When it can’t, and when Locker’s not there, trouble awaits.

I suspect next week’s opponent, San Francisco, is excited.

Locker Room Buzz: Tennessee Titans

October, 13, 2013
SEATTLE -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the Tennessee Titans' 20-13 loss to the Seattle Seahawks at CenturyLink Field:

Average: As much as Mike Munchak and his team are struggling, at least the Titans coach isn’t hiding from the obvious. “We’re 3-3,” he said. “That means we’re average right now.” Players largely agreed and receiver Nate Washington said he thinks next week’s home game qualifies as a must-win for the Titans. A win over the San Francisco 49ers would send the Titans to their bye at 4-3, a loss would mean 3-4.

Tests Monday: Moise Fokou, the team’s steady middle linebacker, left the game early in the fourth quarter with a sprained knee. He still finished tied for the second-most tackles, with eight. He was replaced by Colin McCarthy. Fokou said he would have tests Monday morning in Nashville to determine the extent of the injury. Running back Jackie Battle also didn’t finish the game with a neck problems that came about on special teams.

Killer penalty: The Titans’ last shot to get the ball back ended with a third-down offside call against rookie defensive end Lavar Edwards. “Stupid mistake, a mistake that I shouldn’t have made,” he said. “Anything could have happened if I wouldn’t have jumped offsides. It was a bad play that could have cost us the game.”

Check pkuharsky at Instgram for a few postgame pictures.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Chris Johnson is limiting the catch opportunities for Kendall Wright, Delanie Walker, Craig Stevens and Taylor Thompson.

While Johnson is only averaging 3.3 yards a carry, the Tennessee Titans are still seeing eight-man fronts. Eight in the box dictates the shape of the secondary, and the shape of the secondary dictates where the Titans are throwing.

Sixty-one percent of the Titans' attempts, including Ryan Fitzpatrick's relief duty against the Jets, have been outside the numbers. Fifty-seven percent of the Titans' completions have been to the outside.

“The ball is going outside the numbers because we're seeing so much single-high (safety) defense,” offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said. “That's where the ball goes in single-high defense. When people play Cover 2, that's when you throw the ball to the middle of the field. And with Chris Johnson and our run game we're going to see a lot of single-high defense.

“I don't know if we've seen one snap of Tampa 2 in four games. …They're loading up the box and that means you have to throw the ball outside the numbers more than usual.

Here's a look at Jake Locker's work outside and inside the numbers this year.

Locker's out hurt now, and Fitzpatrick is taking over.

His biggest play in relief against the Jets was a deep ball to Nate Washington down the middle that turned into a 77-yard touchdown. But he doesn't sound like he will be an inside-out quarterback compared to Locker.

“I will probably fall into whatever Jake has done,” Fitzpatrick said.

The former Titans tight end Frank Wycheck, who's now the team's radio analyst and a sports talk radio host, said he thinks Loggains answer accounts for the lack of deep balls down the middle.

But Wycheck said against single high coverage there is room to find guys like Wright and Walker in intermediate range in the middle of the field.

“It seems to me that the majority of the passes are from the numbers out,” Wycheck said. “That's lower percentage for completions. They've been doing a good job with it. But the middle of the field has to be accounted for.

“I think Dowell has to go more to the middle of the field, it give more players an opportunity to make plays, with crossing routes and a lot of man-beaters, run-away routes. I think they should go to the middle of the field more, a lot more.”

Fewer throws to the middle of the field have probably helped the Titans avoid an interception -- tipped balls that get picked are more common inside. It's also brought down the completions percentage. Tennessee is completing 67.4 percent on balls inside and 56.9 percent to the outside.

I'm not opposed to the Titans being receiver-centric and perimeter-heavy. Hey, it's worked well for them and Washington (19 catches) should be heavily targeted. Wright leads the Titans with 20 receptions, but it feels like he could have more chances at yards after the catch if there were more slants in the mix for him.

An occasional throw to Stevens could help mix things up and I'm hardly heartbroken that Thompson has not gotten chances. But Walker was signed to be much more of a pass-catcher than he has been -- he's averaging three catches a game.

Where Fitzpatrick is throwing will be one of the biggest things I'll be looking for starting Sunday.
Jake LockerAP Photo/Wade PayneTitans QB Jake Locker had shown steady improvement before suffering a hip injury against the Jets.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Jake Locker was on his back and his hand was on his right hip. A shot from Jets defensive tackle Muhammad Wilkerson put the Tennessee Titans' young quarterback in that spot. Something awkward happened as Locker went to the ground, something bad enough that he would be quickly carted off the field.

But as receiver Kendall Wright and offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains arrived to check in, a grimacing Locker asked them: “Did Nate catch the pass?”

No, Nate Washington did not catch the pass.

It was the least of the Titans’ worries on a day when they moved to 3-1 with a 38-13 stomping of the Jets. Locker threw three touchdown passes in two quarters and continues an impressive improvement curve.

The Titans still have not turned the ball over this season.

But Sunday night they didn’t know Locker’s status. X-rays at the stadium were negative. After those, he was taken by ambulance to St. Thomas Hospital for an MRI and further testing. The Titans had no idea what was wrong and when, or if, they will have him back.

“No turnovers for the offense is a direct correlation to his play,” Loggains said. “I was really excited where he was going. Hopefully this thing isn’t long for us. In the game, it deflated us, it took the energy out of us, it took the energy out of me. I need to do a better job, but when you lose your guy, lose the leader of your offense, it’s tough.”

The game was in hand when Locker went out, with the Titans ahead 24-6.

The Titans were flat for a good stretch after the injury, but still managed to build the blowout.

Defensive lineman Karl Klug forced a Geno Smith fumble -- as the rookie quarterback inexplicably tried to pass the ball from one hand to another behind his back -- and recovered it in the end zone for additional cushion. Washington caught a deep ball from No. 2 quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick over cornerback Antonio Cromartie, bounced off back judge Billy Smith and went 77 yards for his second touchdown.

The Titans are confident they can be effective if they need to rely on Fitzpatrick.

It will not be the same, however, if he’s the quarterback. We’ve seen his ceiling, and he stopped reaching it often enough that the Bills gave up on him not long after giving him a giant contract. Locker’s ascent is ongoing.

“Jake’s grown a lot,” said Washington, who caught two touchdown passes. “He’s able to do a lot of things now that he wasn’t able to do in the past. He understands the offense, he understands the game, it’s kind of slowed down for him.”

The postgame locker room featured a mixture of emotions. The Titans were happy with a win that boosted their record to 3-1 and established them as one of the league’s surprises through the first quarter of the season. But they were clearly concerned, too, about the way Locker left the field and the potential to be without him.

“You lose your general, you lose your captain, it’s going to hit you a little bit,” receiver Damian Williams said. “At the same time, we’re a team. Not one person does it for us. That one person is a very important piece of this puzzle, but we’ve got to keep going. We can’t let the season stop if one person gets hurt.”

Said tight end Delanie Walker, “Jake was playing awesome. ... He got the feel, he got that buzz, he was moving. It’s just sad for something like that to happen to him while he was having a great game.”

When Locker was hurt, center Rob Turner hustled over to Fitzpatrick to fire off some snaps to help him get ready.

Turner didn’t mean to sound harsh, but hit on the cold realities of the business. If the Titans are without Locker, they won’t have time to really mourn it.

“That’s what we have to do, that’s part of being a team, it’s not a one-man show,” he said. “Absolutely Jake’s improved each and every week. But it’s one of those things we have to do, just like we have a 24-hour rule with wins and losses. It’s not like we’re going to forget about Jake, cause we’re not. But we really have to step up and focus, refocus, and whoever is in there executes.”

While Locker and the Titans have yet to turn the ball over, the Titans took the ball away from the Jets four times and scored touchdowns off of each. Tennessee hit Smith 11 times with five sacks. Locker had much better protection, taking two sacks and a third hit, the one from Wilkerson that ended his afternoon.

“I knew as soon as he was down [that it was serious],” Loggains said. “This kid is as tough a kid as there is. When he stayed on the ground, I knew he was in a lot of pain. It’s an act of God to get him to come off the field”

Loggains left Locker a voice mail as soon as the game was over and talked to Locker’s father, Scott, who was at the game and accompanied him to the hospital.

“He said Jake was doing good, waiting to see, at the hospital getting an MRI,” Loggains said.

Now things might fall on Fitzpatrick. The Titans parted ways with Matt Hasselbeck in March, partly over price, partly over performance, and quickly brought in Fitzpatrick. They considered it an upgraded insurance plan.

When he got in the huddle against the Jets, he brought dry humor to the huddle that helped defuse a tough situation and was important for a team trying to get back to work, Williams said.

Fitzpatrick said given the circumstances his job amounted to, “just go in there and don’t screw it up.” It’s a mindset that obviously changes if Fitzpatrick is the guy next week.

“We signed him for a reason, he’s a good player, he’s thrown for a lot of yards,” Loggains said. “He’s been a big part of this offense. We’re going to have to tweak some things and tailor some things to his strengths, obviously. ... Once we get the word that Jake’s not available this week, we’ll start that part of the process.”