Saturday evening saw the most important work out of the pre-season programme with the game against the Chicago Bears at LP Field. With a short week before the New Orleans game on Thursday, and that game being the pre-cursor to the opening week, it can be expected that more of the back-up players will be given game time at the Superdome as they try to pin down a place on the roster.
So the game against the Bears was always going to be the most significant of the pre-season campaign with the starters given the first half and opening drive of the 3rd quarter to try to click into gear before the all-important opener against the Jaguars in just 12 days’ time.
On the whole, the Titans can feel satisfied to have gained a win, without performing at their best. On both offense and defense there is a whole lot of room for improvement, but there were also pleasing signs of the team being able to produce big plays when needed.
There was no bigger play than the pick six by Tommie Campbell that clinched the victory. The 7th round draft pick is one of those players looking for a spot in the final 53 man roster, and whilst he is not likely to gain a place in the secondary, shows of speed like that will give him some chance of nailing down a special teams spot and a chance to develop.
On the whole though the Titans defence was a little disappointing. The Bears moved the ball with ease at times and completed a host of big third down plays. However the Titans defensive philosophy seems to be to creak and not break and restricted Chicago to just one touchdown. They also produced big plays at the right time, Michael Griffin with an interception on the opening drive the first of many crucial defensive efforts. With the Bears 7-0 ahead and looking like scoring again, the Titans put huge pressure on Jay Cutler on a 3rd down in the red zone and forced Chicago to attempt a field goal which Gould missed.
The Titans were also helped by some poor decisions by the Bears, notably a false start which again backed Chicago up and meant they were restricted to a field goal and then an inability to call a timeout at the half, which meant they had no opportunity to attempt another field goal.
Again in the second half Tennessee creaked at times defensively, but with the game on the line produced two big plays at the death as Malcolm Sheppard produced a fine one handed sack of Caleb Hanie and then Tim Shaw broke up the final pass of the game to preserve the win.
It was a similar story on the offensive side of the ball as the Titans misfired more often than not, but did enough to convince that when things click, and if CJ2K returns that they have a chance to win games. Matt Hasselbeck had problems connecting with Nate Washington early on, but did eventually link up four times for 66 yards. The running game is depleted, with Johnson’s holdout and the injury to Javon Ringer giving Jamie Harper an unexpected chance to shine. Again he was hit and miss, but made back to back bursts for the final 16 yards for the only offensive touchdown.
When the backups came on Jake Locker looked impressive. A neat bootleg and some sharp passes saw him move the ball well at times. Most impressive for Tennessee on the night were the Special Teams. Rob Bironas seems to have lost the power in his leg, missing with a 51 yarder (which were routine a couple of years ago) and failing to find the end-zone with his kick-offs all part of an off night. However the Titans managed to force a fumble on one return, which unfortunately they could not recover.
Punter Brett Kern had a stellar night, averaging 50 yards a kick and recovering a poor snap well to get a kick away in the third quarter. He was upstaged by backup Chad Cunningham who produced the most memorable play of the night. His big moment came toward the end of the game, and proved pivotal in the Titans winning the game. His quick thinking to snap up his blocked punt and run for a first down not only stopped Chicago gaining the ball in field
position close enough to win the game, it allowed the Titans to run the clock down with five more plays. He came back on to the field and produced a decent kick to put the Bears deep enough in their own territory to allow the Titans to hold them at bay. It will forever be he his finest moment in a Titans uniform as he was cut on Monday.
In reality the game posed as many questions as it answered. The return of Chris Johnson is imperative if the Titans are to have a successful season. With running resources depleted, the Titans do not have the receiving corps for an all-out air attack. The defence gave up too many easy yards, but still look capable of keeping Tennessee in games. With the final battle of the
phony war unlikely to provide any new answers, I feel we are no closer to knowing the result of the opener against Jacksonville.