Commentary

Can the Tennessee Titans keep it up?

It may be hard to trust Matt Hasselbeck's hot start, but there are positive signs, too

Originally Published: October 6, 2011
By Aaron Schatz | Football Outsiders
Matt HasselbeckAP Photo/Mark HumphreyMatt Hasselbeck has been phenomenal so far this year for the Tennessee Titans.

The Buffalo Bills and Detroit Lions have gotten plenty of press for their big starts in 2011, but one team that's playing well early is flying a bit beneath the radar: the Tennessee Titans. The Titans are 3-1, and while those wins include beating Denver and Cleveland, the Titans also handed Baltimore its only loss of the season -- in pretty convincing fashion -- in Week 2.

In some ways, Tennessee's improvement shouldn't be too surprising. Last season, the Titans were actually the best team in their division according to Football Outsiders' DVOA ratings. Even though they went 6-10, our play-by-play breakdowns ranked the Titans 11th; Houston was 13th, Indianapolis 15th and Jacksonville 22nd. Normally, a team that plays better than its record like that is going to improve the next season. However, most teams don't have the kind of change that the Titans had this offseason.

They got rid of their most efficient quarterback (yes, Vince Young was their best quarterback by far, despite the character questions) and replaced him with 36-year-old veteran Matt Hasselbeck, who was coming off three bad seasons in Seattle. They lost their best pass rusher, Jason Babin, in free agency. And they hired an all-new coaching staff, with a head coach who had never even served as a coordinator before and new schemes on both sides of the ball.

What's remarkable about the Titans is that they are winning despite all this change and despite a terrible year so far from their most talented player, running back Chris Johnson. Johnson is averaging just 2.9 yards per carry and the Titans rank 29th running the ball, according to DVOA.