If last week's Texans game was a disaster in all three phases, today's game versus the Titans was the exact opposite - at least in the first half. And considering that our primary focus is on the first-teams, that is more than acceptable.
1. The offense, and the offensive line, looked very good
All the makings were there for a rough outing. A rookie starting at LT for the first time after losing a starter. A new starter at RT that was one of the worst tackles in the league in 2013. Thankfully, that didn't materialize.
Matt Ryan had a clean pocket for most of the first half and he looked amazing. He would finish the night with this ridiculous stat line: 18/23 224 yards, 2TD, 0 INT, 136.2 QB Rating. If he continues to get that kind of pocket during the season, his personal goal of completing 70% of his passes may be conservative.
In fact, were it not for some god-awful non-calls by the refs, there's a good chance that the first team offense would have put up 4 TDs in the first half. Seriously, those refs were horrifyingly bad.
As for the offensive line, Matthews did have some struggles - which was to be expected - but he settled in and looked pretty solid all night. On the other side, Holmes played a very solid game. He was good in pass protection and looks like a different player. And in a moment of pride, when Ryan was pushed in the face by a Titans player, the OL stepped up and nearly took the head off of the offending player. This is a different line from the one we saw one year ago.
As for our receivers, the combination of Julio, Roddy, Harry and Devin could be absolutely dangerous. Julio shed tackles easily, showing his added strength is going to come into play. Roddy was solid, but had a bone-headed drop in the game. Harry was very good, and threw a fantastic down-field block that let Julio march in for the TD. And Hester scored on a short pass that he turned into a big 31-yard TD. In fact, the 4 WR sets looked nearly impossible to stop, and Ryan was easily picking apart the Titans D.
It was a great bounce back by the offense, and if they can keep this up, there are very few defenses in the league that will be able to stop them.
2. The defense looked much better, but is still a work in progress
As for our defense, the terrible look of being beat by the scrambling Fitzpatricks needed to be erased. And I'm glad to say that it was - mostly.
The run defense looks to be in tip-top form. Guys like Tyson Jackson and Paul Soliai anchored in and commanded the line of scrimmage consistently. The Titans run game was essentially non-existent in the first half. So that's good.
As for the pass rush, there were glimpses of the schemed pressures - such as when Worrilow blew through the Titans line for a great sack - but otherwise, the Titans QBs had clean pockets to pass out of.
So, it's about what most of us thought we would field this year: a team that can stop the run, but can't consistently pressure the QB. And for the most part, it worked ok. The one TD that the Titans first team got was due more to miscommunication between Lowery and Trufant than anything else. And therein lies the issue: with so many new guys on defense, we are likely to see those mis-communications some in the first several games. But, as this team continues to play together, those miscues should die down and this defense should be markedly improved.
3. Special teams looked dramatically improved
This point can't be understated: special teams are important. Fans didn't realize how much so until the last couple of weeks exposed us to what poor special teams really means. Thankfully, that unit of the team course corrected as well.
Perhaps the signing of Weems made a big difference. Or maybe the unit is full of rookies who finally realized this is their space on the roster to shine. Whatever it was - it worked.
Whether it was returning kicks, or defending them, the unit looked dramatically improved - and actually looked very good in spots. Hester had much better return lanes and the coverage units did a very good job of getting down field and tackling guys.
A few additional quick hits:
- TJ Yates basically played his way off the team. Renfree looked substantially better.
- Reedy has disappeared the last two games. He may be headed to the practice squad this year.
- Shembo took some first team reps. He's in serious contention for a starting spot.
- Jacquizz Rodgers is unappreciated. He's not great at one particular thing, but is very good at most things.
- Geraldo Boldewijn has a future in the NFL. He's raw, but he has a very high ceiling.
- Hageman can be nasty and dominant - when he wants to be
- Harland Gunn took some snaps at RG with the rest of the first team. He may be a key backup now.
- The battle between Maponga and Jacques Smith is one to watch next week