Tennessee Titans 2010 Season Preview: Can Vince Young Lead?
FanHouse's 2010 NFL Season Preview features division-by-division predictions based on our tried and true "Heat Index" formula. Each team is graded on a scale of 1-10 (10 being highest) in five key categories: Offense, Defense, Special Teams, Coaching and Intangibles. The higher the score, the better we think the team will be this season. Coming Sept. 4: NFC South.
Last year was two seasons in one for the Tennessee Titans, who started out 0-6 and looked buried after a snowy 59-0 loss in New England in that sixth game. But after that game, they elevated Vince Young to the starting quarterback position and took off. Chris Johnson became a 2,000-yard running back. Young's spry legs and strong arm rejuvenated the offense. The Titans won 8 of their final 10 games and actually made a run at the playoffs in spite of their miserable start. So as long as they can figure out how to win a game or two in September, everything should be fine. Right?
Offense -- Nobody runs the ball like the Titans, and the main reason for that is Johnson. Only the Jets had more rushing yards but, and New York needed 100 more carries to amass just 150 more yards than the Titans did on 5.2 yards per carry. Johnson is back and still motivated after failing to get the contract extension he sought, and having Young behind center from Week 1 should help Johnson in his quest to break the league's single-season rushing record. The questions here is whether Young has matured enough as a person and a passer -- and whether he has enough options at receiver -- to become a playoff-caliber quarterback. Heat Index: 7
Defense -- The Titans' defense suffered last year for the free-agent loss of Albert Haynesworth and allowed more yards than any team in the AFC. This year, they're coping with the loss of linebacker Keith Bulluck as well as their top pass-rusher, Kyle Vanden Bosch. A lot will be asked of first-round draft pick Derrick Morgan, a hybrid DE/LB who was selected for his ability to pressure quarterbacks. There are also questions to answer at cornerback, and the linebacking corps looks as if it could be shaky. The Titans will be hoping some young players can contribute earlier than expected at key spots. Heat Index: 4
Special Teams -- Kicker Rob Bironas is a star from long range, and punter Brett Kern looked good last year in taking over for Craig Hentrich. But the return game wasn't a strength, and they're hoping rookie Damian Williams can help provide some answers. Heat Index: 6
Coaching -- This will be Jeff Fisher's 16th full season as Titans head coach, and the stability at that crucial spot is something by which they swear in Tennessee. Last year, as they struggled through that miserable start, Fisher was able to stay calm and not lose the locker room, in part because he was able to convincingly tell stories about previous years when his teams started slow and rebounded. The confidence the team and the organization have in Fisher are a big reason it's never a surprise when the Titans play well. Heat Index: 10
Intangibles -- The departures of Bulluck, Vanden Bosch and Kevin Mawae leave a pretty big leadership void in the Titans' locker room. Much of that can be overcome by Fisher's presence, but Tennessee will be looking for on-field leadership from people like Young and Johnson, who have not yet shown the ability to fill those kinds of roles. If their young stars mature quickly, leadership won't be much of a concern. But that's a big 'If' when you're dealing with someone like Vince Young. Heat Index: 6
Total Heat Index: 33/50 -- If the Titans go winless in September again, they'll be toast. Their first four games are against Oakland, Pittsburgh (without its quarterback), the Giants and Denver. At team that hopes to make the playoffs goes 3-1 or even 4-0 against a schedule like that. So while last year and Fisher's track record indicate that Tennesee could withstand another slow start, it's certainly not something this defensively-challenged bunch wants to find out.