Paul Kuharsky: Avery Williamson played 14 special team snaps, 54 percent on Monday night. I don't think it's unreasonable for a first-year linebacker to be asked to fill a role on special teams in addition to being a big piece of the defense.
#pkmail Why does Williamson play special teams? Especially after a blow that stunned him a few weeks ago on punt coverage.— Ian (@idmathers) November 21, 2014
Paul Kuharsky: They cannot draft an offensive lineman in the first round for a third year in a row. Time to develop a mid-round pick or mid-round free agent.
Right tackle or OLB in the first round? #PKmail— Virgil Hawkins (@RogerThatOver1) November 21, 2014
Zach Brown, who I don't think is much of a 3-4 fit.
Craig Stevens certainly hurts. But it's only so big a blow. Runner, O-line and play-calling are way bigger factors and all lacking for the Titans yet again.
He’s officially listed as probable for the Titans' game at Lincoln Financial Field against the Eagles.
His return should help everyone.
He’s a reliable target for Zach Mettenberger and has been called on to do additional work as a blocker in the run game with the team’s top blocking tight end, Craig Stevens, out since Week 6.
"It is comforting to know that we get Delanie back," coach Ken Whisenhunt said, per Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean. "You just never know when they're in the [concussion] protocol, how that's going to come out, what the time is going to be. So it is good that he has passed."
Among the other injured Titans, top special-teamer and defensive back Marqueston Huff is the one player most likely to sit out. He’s doubtful with a hamstring injury.
I expect the Tennessee Titans will surrender big plays either to LeSean McCoy in tight quarters or to Darren Sproles in space and those will ultimately put the Eagles over the top.
They may build on Week 11's solid pressure on Ben Roethlisberger against Mark Sanchez, who's shakier under pressure. But they've gotten bolder and bolder blitzing, and could be due to pay with a big play against them.
Even if Zach Mettenberger continues his steady growth in this one, I have trouble seeing the Titans winning against a good team angry over a bad loss at Green Bay last week.
Weekly disclaimer: Unpredictability is the single biggest reason for the NFL’s popularity. No matter how closely I watch the Titans and how many people I talk to, predicating games, in my eyes, isn’t far off from throwing a dart.
Eagles 24, Titans 17
If he shows good signs, he provides the one positive thing that team can have: Hope for the future.
I’ve written about how he’s willing to shoulder blame, how he felt ready for the Steelers' complicated looks, how the team is focused on him and not some future alternative, how quickly he was getting rid of the ball, how a strength became a weakness in Baltimore, how he reacted to criticism from J.J. Watt about social media use, and how the Titans will assess him.
To name a few. (Feel free to click on all of those and catch up and hit me with a little traffic boost.)
Obviously, the key element to all of this is production. Can he play well enough to lead the Titans to wins? He hasn’t yet. But as he works to get that first one, it’s fair to look at a lot of the elements that make for a successful quarterback.
Today’s subject: Body language.
The way a player carries himself can say a lot about him. I think that is certainly more the case with a quarterback.
“Being a quarterback, you’re always going to be more self-conscious about your body language,” he said. “It can be perceived that you’re down. If the defense sees that, it’s like a shark with blood in the water. They’ll swarm. You’ve definitely got to be conscious about it…
“You’ve got to walk around with your chest poked out even though it [might be] false security. You can’t let that defense see any insecurity in you.”
A quarterback’s own team can read a lot into that as well. When they see their guy pop up from a big hit and stand assuredly in the huddle, it has a contagious effect.
I like the early handle Mettenberger has on things such as blame and body language.
They are important things for a young quarterback to grasp, and he’s got a feel for them. Pair them with the big arm and the willingness to stand in the pocket, and it all factors into the reason for hope at the position for the Titans.
Five questions the Titans need to answer the rest of the way, including whether the underwhelming run game can show promise. From Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean.
Outside linebacker Derrick Morgan was limited Thursday with knee swelling but said he’d practice Friday, writes John Glennon of The Tennessean.
Increased blitzing is producing pressure, but it could also be hampering the Titans ability to stop the run, says John Glennon of The Tennessean.
The Titans will wear white for the remainder of the season, which will make for 15 of their 16 games, says Wyatt.
To which I say: President and CEO Tommy Smith said in a recent radio interview the light blue was being phased out, and since that was the team’s primary dark jersey they steered away from it. Look for navy as their primary home jersey when it’s not hot next year.
Running back Bishop Sankey’s size isn’t a concern for voice of the Titans Mike Keith in this week’s mailbag at the team’s web site.
When: 1 p.m. ET, Sunday Where: Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia TV: CBS
The Philadelphia Eagles are bouncing back from a 53-20 trouncing in Green Bay last week. They need to regain their sense of confidence as they enter the part of their schedule that will determine whether they are contenders or pretenders.
The Tennessee Titans are coming off a tough Monday night loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. They are a team still trying to find a new identity under coach Ken Whisenhunt.
The two teams meet Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia. NFL Nation reporters Paul Kuharsky, who covers the Titans, and Phil Sheridan, who covers the Eagles, discussed the matchup.
Phil Sheridan: The Eagles led the NFL in rushing last season but are now down in the middle of the pack. They've been trying to get their running game back to a high level all season. After the Titans allowed 206 rushing yards to the Steelers Monday night, is there anything they can do to stop LeSean McCoy after a short week?
Paul Kuharsky: Well, the first time they were that bad against the run, allowing Dallas 220 yards in Week 2, they rebounded and fared much better in Cincinnati (116). But several good backs have fared very well against them -- DeMarco Murray, Arian Foster and Le'Veon Bell chief among them. The combination of players and scheme isn't particularly good at this stage at holding ground games down.
I think if McCoy is McCoy and Darren Sproles is Darren Sproles, the Titans could easily yield plays to each. Bell clobbered them inside the tackles, and I see the Eagles have sent nearly 62 percent of their rushes that way. They'd be wise to make the Titans prove they've fixed the issue.
Have the Eagles been able to maintain the pace of their offense and the big edge in plays that Chip Kelly covets? How much have things changed with Mark Sanchez at the controls?
Sheridan: The Eagles have run 24 more plays than their opponents this season (748 to 724). But that number is a little misleading. The Eagles have had a few games with Kelly's ideal of a significant advantage in the number of offensive plays run: They ran 92 to Arizona's 70 and 83 to Houston's 60, for example. Meanwhile, Carolina ran 82 plays to the Eagles' 62 and San Francisco had an 83-60 advantage.
So it's hard to draw many conclusions. They lost in Arizona, where they ran more plays, and in San Francisco, where they ran fewer. They won against Houston and Carolina, despite the difference in plays in those games.
The Eagles' running game has not been as consistent this season, which has hurt their ability to control the ball and pound out first downs when needed. And they have turned the ball over 25 times, which means 25 possessions have ended prematurely. In general, the Eagles have been trying to work their way back to the kind of offense they had last season.
Sanchez hasn't changed things as much as you might think -- or the Eagles might have hoped. Like Nick Foles, he turns the ball over quite a bit. While he was very good against Carolina, he was just OK against Houston and Green Bay. The Eagles are hoping to see Sanchez get into a good rhythm against the Titans this week.
Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis said that Zach Mettenberger seems remarkably aware and in command for a rookie quarterback. Considering he threw a pick-six on the first attempt of Monday night's game against the Steelers and then played pretty well, is maturity a notable trait of Mettenberger's? Do you see him developing into a winning quarterback?
Kuharsky: I think he has a chance. It's a real small body of work, and on such a bad team any sign of hope can get looked at disproportionately. But he's shown week-to-week improvement. A rookie having success against a Dick LeBeau defense is rare, and Mettenberger really rebounded from that first pass to have a solid night. Two weeks ago in Baltimore, he held the ball too long too often and was sacked five times. Against the Steelers he and the protection were better, and he didn't get sacked at all. He's completely willing to stand in against the rush and make throws as people close around him. Chaos doesn't fluster him much, and that's a good sign for an immobile guy drafted to stand tall in the pocket and deliver. Pair that with his big arm and it's certainly intriguing. He's got six games left in this nine-game audition.
McCoy's production is way off from what he did last season. How much of that's been him, how much of it's been defenses and how much is it hurting the Eagles?
Sheridan: It is definitely hurting the Eagles. It seems like a long time ago now that McCoy was talking in training camp about rushing for 2,000 yards this season. We didn't even laugh at the idea, although it seems ridiculous now.
The first problem was the rash of injuries along the offensive line. That group stayed healthy all of last season, which had a lot to do with McCoy's success. It has been slowly returning to health, but still hasn't gotten its mojo back yet. Starting to wonder whether it will, at least this season.
Also, it turns out that if you lead the league in something, the league notices. Yes, opposing defenses are doing things differently against the Eagles this year. One trend: The Eagles keep encountering defensive strategies that their opponent hasn't shown on film in any previous game. Some of that is simply defensive coordinators prepping for the Eagles' no-huddle offense, which doesn't allow for much substitution or adjustment. Some of it is to stop McCoy. Either way, the Eagles have had to constantly adjust their approach because they've game planned for an entirely different look.
When they do focus on the run, the target is the inside zone blocking schemes the Eagles had so much success with last season. Second-level defenders keep appearing in the holes just as McCoy starts toward them. Since the Eagles' most mobile linemen, Jason Kelce and Evan Mathis, have just returned from injuries and are still rounding into shape, those defenders are not getting blocked this season.
A year ago, the Eagles were the team switching to a 3-4 defense after years in a 4-3. So it's not surprising to see the Titans near the bottom of the NFL against the run. They are ninth against the pass, though, which is pretty respectable. Is there something they're doing especially well, or is it a case of teams running the ball so well they don't have to throw that much against Tennessee?
Kuharsky: Well, some of those big run games we discussed have made it so opponents haven't needed to throw so much, yes. That's a factor. They have blitzed more and more, and more effectively. And while they have question marks in the secondary, they've played OK there. Jason McCourty has tracked top receivers and fared pretty well. Even when a guy like Antonio Brown was making a lot of catches to convert third downs, McCourty was right there a lot of the time. I expect he will spend time on Jeremy Maclin.
The other starting corner, Blidi Wren-Wilson, is making progress but is beatable and probably will be targeted. The Titans have been bouncing between base and dime, without a lot of nickel, so it will be interesting to see what grouping the Eagles prefer to get on the field when they can control it.
The Titans fare pretty well at avoiding big plays -- and some of the big ones they've allowed this season have been short or mid-range catches they've allowed to turn into big plays with missed tackles or bad angles. Opponents have connected on just 15 passes in the air 20 yards or more. That seems like a pretty good number considering their people in defense.
What is Season 2 of the 3-4 looking like in Philadelphia? Connor Barwin has 10.5 sacks. A week after sorting through LeBeau's defense, what will the Titans see Davis dial up?
Sheridan: The defense has, for the most part, been much more sound and more versatile in Year 2 under Davis -- example, they have a dime package this season, which they did not have during the 2013 season. Let's pretend that farce in Green Bay never happened, for the sake of our discussion here. I mean, it did happen, but it seemed like a perfect storm of a deeply misbegotten game plan and some very poor play by the Eagles.
Before that, the Eagles' defenders had finally gotten the hang of two-gapping, making them fairly sound against the run all season. And they have had some games where they've been excellent at generating pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Throw in some turnovers and it's as disruptive and effective as the Eagles defense has looked in almost a decade.
The Eagles have faced Kirk Cousins and Austin Davis this season, so they have seen a couple of young quarterbacks. They try to disguise their coverages and bring pressure from unexpected places in order to take advantage of the inexperience. I'm sure they'll attempt to do that with Mettenberger. Then again, the Eagles had their most significant defensive success against Cam Newton and Eli Manning, so maybe Mettenberger has the edge here.
Coaches and players typically look at coaching film -- which gives a soundless shot of a play from a high sideline and high end zone angle, and has only a shot of the scoreboard’s down-and-distance and clock in between plays.
But defensive coordinator Ray Horton showed the Titans TV tape of the Eagles, that included the (short) time between plays.
The Eagles really run just two personnel packages, and Horton said the Titans will have two or three to match up.
Philadelphia expects its pace will produce favorable matchups, but the Titans don’t plan to accommodate.
"I’ve never talked to Coach (Chip) Kelly, but I think the philosophy is, ‘The simpler the defense is, the better it is for us,'" he said. "And we’re not going to be simple for them. I’m not going to give them single-high (safety), cover-3 all day long."
The team will relieve pressure and ease responsibility on rookie inside linebacker Avery Williamson, who won’t be asked to get everyone lined up.
Instead players will look to the sidelines for signals, presumably to someone representing each position.
Gap integrity was the Titans' big issue Monday night as Pittsburgh's Le'Veon Bell ran for 204 yards against them.
Horton said the Titans are not accountable enough.
"We’ve preached and I’ve preached the whole time: accountability," he said. "Be accountable to your teammates. I don’t stress being accountable to the coaches, obviously. But be accountable to your teammate."
Being reliably in gaps and in position will be key against the Eagles.
"It’s a spacing offense, and they’re trying to get people in the space by going at a hurried tempo, at an up-tempo, and they do a good job of it," Titans head coach Ken Whisenhunt said.
"You have to make sure that you’re not out of position, because that’s how they exploit it. You’ve got to be able to do that in a short time. I think you just have to understand the tempo and the sense of urgency that you have to play with."
Coordinator Ray Horton has increasingly schemed up pass pressure via the blitz. It helped produce five sacks against the Texans and five against the Steelers, with one in Baltimore sandwiched in between.
"The last three weeks we’ve been very aggressive," Horton said, speaking of all blitzes, including against the run. "... That’s the way to generate pressure, that’s what we’re doing right now. We’re doing a couple things to make our team better. Part of that is blitzing everybody, so they have to account for everybody.
"We are evolving into what we can do to get more pressure on the quarterback."
There is always a trade-off in the risk and reward of blitzing.
Some of the downside for the Titans has been in run defense, which now ranks second-to-last in the NFL.
"Do you weight hitting the quarterback versus maybe giving up a 7-yard run?" Horton asked. "I would take the quarterback hit for the 7-yard run all the time. I won’t take the quarterback hit for a 20-yard run, though."
It was huge in the career of the best quarterback the Titans have had in Tennessee: Steve McNair.
McNair quickly raised his hand regarding his mistakes. He also worked to publicly take the blame when routes were botched or balls were dropped or blocks were missed; things that were in no way his fault.
Three starts into his career, we have no idea if Zach Mettenberger can be an NFL starter for a long period. We also have very little on which to base his willingness to accept fault as a franchise frontman.
But the very early indications are good.
Mettenberger’s third-and-6 pass in the middle to a crossing Kendall Wright from the Titans' 36-yard line may not have produced a first down Monday night in the loss to Pittsburgh. But it fell incomplete when Wright couldn’t pull in a throw that was behind him but catchable.
Later in the fourth, Mettenberger threw a screen to the left too low for Wright. Wright wouldn’t have gained much if he pulled it in, but he let it fall to the ground despite getting both hands on it.
After the game, the quarterback fielded a question about the drops.
“It was bad throws on me,” he said. “That’s not his fault at all. The one screen was low. ... The drag was behind him. I’ve got to do a better job getting him more catchable balls. Obviously, we’ve seen what he can do with a ball in his hand. I’ve got to make it easier on him.”
That kind of talk scores big in a lot of places, the most significant one being in the locker room. It was notably different than Robert Griffin III’s comments after Washington’s bad loss to Tampa Bay on Sunday, when he spoke about how the guys around a quarterback need to play well for a quarterback to play well. (Of course the context is different for Mettenberger, a sixth-round rookie, and RG III, the second overall pick who’s in his third year.)
As for accepting fault:
“That’s part of my job, it’s something Coach Cam [Cameron at LSU] taught me: ‘You have big shoulders, use them,’” Mettenberger said. “... Shouldering the blame, that’s my job, I can take it. I’ve been in a lot of situations in my life where it wasn’t looking good for me. I’d rather take the blame than maybe some guy who mentally can’t handle it and it can put him in the jar.
“So I guess I’m a guy who kind of shoulders the blame.”
Titans tight end Delanie Walker has an appreciation for the approach.
“Quarterbacks, they’ve got to be the quarterback and they’ve got to be the blame guy," Walker said. "It’s good that he understands that as young as he is, not pointing a finger and just taking the blame.
“When you’re the quarterback, any mistake a receiver or tight end will make, [fans and media] are going to blame it on the quarterback. He understands that. For him not to go and point fingers, that’s what you need in the quarterback. He’s a leader in the making.”
With a quarterback who does anything perceived as finger pointing, “The loyalty to him won’t be there,” Walker said. “You can’t trust him, you don’t know what he’s going to say to the media or how he’s going to react to us telling him, ‘You need to throw a better ball.’ How he is now, that’s what you ask for.”
The most recent young quarterbacks the Titans have turned to didn’t score too highly in that department.
Vince Young found fault in a lot of other people and was far more sensitive than self-critical. Jake Locker was opposite of Young in a lot of ways, which is a big part of why he was drafted. But he didn’t rush to acknowledge some of his deficiencies, like his inaccuracy. That was a topic that made him bristle at questions instead of taking on responsibility to an obvious flaw of which his teammates were well aware.
Ultimately, as each of those guys struggled, the criticism and willingness to find fault with themselves faded and they became increasingly defensive about their performances. In that circumstance, they were hardly willing to take on additional blame for problems that might not have actually belonged to them.
Human nature pushes guys in that direction. That’s part of what makes the arc of the QB growth curve so important. A young quarterback has to show signs that he can be productive and handle all facets of the job before the criticism that comes with early struggles can wear him down.
It’s like a race.
The winners all end up in the same place, according to Titans reserve quarterback Charlie Whitehurst.
“Everybody that’s successful for a long time in the league at that position talks like that, is accountable,” he said. “Everybody. I mean like 100 percent. I think everybody has noticed that about him. That’s how you need to be.
“A lot of the information that comes from the team, it’s the head coach and the quarterback. Not just the fans read that, but the team reads that, too. That’s the way it should be for the betterment of the team.”
“I think you assume everybody’s like that at the position. I think the surprise is when a guy’s not like that.”
There was progress on Monday night in the loss to the Steelers. Progress is nice, but it’s not a win and we really need one of those. Do we build on that progress or do we look at it and say, ‘We played so much better and still got the wrong result, so what’s the point?’ Well, we should know the point. We found life and energy in that game, and it’s our job to find it again and again and build on it and use it to produce a result. Progress has been slow, sure, but we are moving forward, at least in stretches. So the job is to stretch out those good stretches and get to a spot where we can discuss progress in the context of a win. We constantly get complimented by Coach Whisenhunt for working hard. We got close for the first time in three weeks and the first time against a good team since the opening day win in Kansas City. It’s time to spring the upset.
"I am starting to see the belief from other guys in me, and that is huge,” said Zach Mettenberger via Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean. “No matter who the guy is you want to rally around the trigger man."
Mettenberger believe in the Titans' progress in part because of the youth movement he’s a part of, says David Climer of The Tennessean.
Shonn Greene’s court case for multiple court violations has been continued until Jan. 6, says Wyatt.
It’s hard enough for the offense to produce 100 yards rushing. Ken Whisenhunt’s not necessarily looking for one guy to do it himself, says David Boclair of the Nashville Post.
The Titans like Mettenberger’s leadership and accountability, but he’s most concerned with getting a win, says Teresa Walker of AP.
Speaking to reporters for the first time since the Titans' Nov. 9 loss at Baltimore, Walker didn't take huge issue with the hit by Ravens safety Terrence Brooks that he said knocked him out briefly on the field and cost him the remainder of that game and Monday night's loss to Pittsburgh.
"They said it was clean, I guess it was clean," he said, referring to the officials and the league, who didn't flag the play or fine Brooks. "But you see another hit like that happen against the Broncos, a similar hit, and they throw the flag. It just depends. I don't know what they are looking at.
"He led with his shoulder with contact, his helmet did touch my helmet. At the end of the day, I guess it was a correct hit."
Walker said the concussion resulted from that helmet contact, not from whiplash or the way he hit the ground, which was more on his back.
Four times the referee has come out from behind the curtain that shields the replay monitor and announced the call stood.
During his six years in Arizona, Whisenhunt had a solid record with reviews, winning 31 of 60 challenges, 51.7 percent. In four of his six seasons he was 50 percent or better.
But Monday night’s failed challenge was not unlike the three before it. It seemed overly hopeful from the start.
He juggled it, got hit and lost the ball. After a long scramble, inside linebacker Wesley Woodyard recovered it. But the pass had ben ruled incomplete.
The Steelers took a timeout to let Roethlisberger gather himself, and during the stoppage Whisenhunt got input from three coaches in the booth: Offensive coordinator Jason Michael, defensive coordinator Ray Horton and assistant tight ends coach Arthur Smith.
Then before the next snap, he threw his flag.
“I sat right there and talked to the officials about it,” Whisenhunt said. “The two points of emphasis on that were clear recovery by us and two feet down [for Bell] with control of the ball. I think all of those criteria were satisfied. It came down to a judgment of if he possessed it long enough.
“At that particular point in time, it could have gone either way, I felt like we needed to take that shot. If we got that ball there at the 30, then we had a chance to win it or at least tie it. Which is worthy of that challenge, I thought.”
The review may have been record-fast, and referee Brad Allen didn’t only say it was upheld, but that it was confirmed.
Bell had the ball pinned against him, but never really got control of it.
It cost the Titans their second timeout of the second half. Ultimately that chance to stop the clock wouldn’t have helped them. But it could have been crucial.
Whisenhunt said he doesn’t really pay attention to his challenge record.
“I think a lot of it is situational and what you’re looking at,” he said. “I don’t necessarily agree with the ones that we haven’t ben successful on this year, but that really doesn’t matter. I don’t even know what my record is. I think I’ve been pretty decent before, the same system in place we’re using now.
“We don’t just make challenges just to make challenges. We put thought and preparation into it.”