The Titans aren’t the Packers. They aren’t the Saints, or the Texans, or the 49ers. They’re not a Super Bowl contender, an elite offense, or a stifling defense. They’re a team with problems: no offensive playmakers, an underachieving defense, and a crippling inconsistency that threatens their chances at the division crown.
They are, essentially, Tampa’s doppelganger in mediocrity. And that’s appropriate, because on the road, in the rain, with four fumbles and five turnovers, the Buccaneers beat themselves.
LeGarrette Blount is an animal.
For the second consecutive week, Tampa’s high-hurdling wrecking ball averaged over five yards per carry en route to eclipsing triple digits on the ground. And that’s no surprise: entering the contest, Blount was averaging a carry of 10+ yards every 10 attempts, and with runs of 14, 16, and 14 on Sunday, he exceeded that average against the Titans. His receiving numbers were a bit less expected; Blount finished with a career-high five receptions for a career-high 56 yards, including a game-breaking 35-yarder in the opening quarter.
It begs the question… why isn’t Blount in the lineup on third downs? Can his pass blocking be that much worse than Kregg Lumpkin’s? The only thing stopping Tampa’s 240-pound runner from becoming an every-down back, so far, has been the lack of opportunity.
The Josh Freeman – Kellen Winslow connection has been toxic this season. Winslow is on pace for 76 receptions and 768 yards this season (both measures are right on schedule for the prolific tight end), but eight of Freeman’s 16 interceptions have been forced to Winslow in pressure situations. It’s not a matter of miscommunication, or poor blocking, or double coverage… they’re just bad decisions.
Exhibit A: on second-and-10, in the midst of another fourth-quarter comeback, Freeman tosses a pick to Tennessee’s Colin McCarthy. The pass was into tight coverage and thrown behind Winslow, who wasn’t looking for the ball. McCarthy looked surprised by the throw, but held on, and effectively ended the game for the Buccaneers.
It’s been a problem all season, and it’s a major reason why Tampa Bay ranks 31st in red zone efficiency in 2011. If I’m Greg Olson, I’d consider leaving Winslow on the sidelines in sensitive situations, if only to encourage Freeman to finish his reads before lofting his passes to the opposing team.
No matter what Michael Clayton tells you, talent doesn’t disappear. It fades with age, injuries, and poor work ethic, but it’s always there, and Tennessee’s Chris Johnson proved it. Two seasons ago, Johnson strung together 11-consecutive 100-yard rushing games, culminating in 2,006 rushing yards — fifth most all time. He’s been quiet in 2011, recording only 509 yards in the ten games leading up to Sunday, and I think the Buccaneer defense shrugged him off as a non-issue.
They paid for it. Johnson ran for a season-high 190 yards (30% of his season total) against Tampa’s struggling defense, and averaged 8.3 yards per carry despite losing yards on five carries. Raheem Morris’s defense has been the cure-all for opposing offenses this season, whether it be Jacoby Jones’s troubles at receiver, Curtis Painter’s problems under center, or Roy Williams’s big-play inability. It’s like the Jim Bates experiment all over again.
And that’s a problem.