Welcome to Acting Cordial, which is the easiest article we get to produce all week on this stupid blog, because someone else does half the work for us! In reality, it's a decent way to see what's going on with this week's Vikings opponent, dig inside their zombie heads, and find out just how badly we're going to get our lunch money taken from us. This week, we team up with Bloguin brother "Total Titans" to ask the TOUGH QUESTIONS heading into this VERY important fifth game of the regular season, where we have the potential to go an AMAZING 4-1 on the season. Read on as we discuss Jake Locker's weak body, depressing losing seasons, and Steve Hutchinson's back. Bet you never thought you'd talk about that again, huh?
Be sure to head over to Total Titans today as well, as I answered a slew of their questions, too. There is some great, lofty, INSIGHTFUL, interviews in both spots, so don't hesitate to travel there and insult them through trash talk. Check them out on their blog, and harass them during the game too, when we put their second quarterback on an injured list. DANGER!
On to the questions!
Purple Jesus Diaries: Hit me with some Jake Locker news … What happened to him, is he dead, will he play this weekend?
Total Titans: Jake Locker did the same thing he did when he played against the Saints last year, failing to identify a defensive back coming from the offensive right side and getting crushed because of it. He's not dead, but did aggravate (or re-injure) a shoulder he hurt Week 1 and head coach Mike Munchak announced Wednesday he would not play this week.
PJD: Give me your overall opinion on Locker. The Vikings were rumored to be interested in him during the same draft. You guys clearly got Locker, we got Ponder. Who got the better end of the deal? In a vacuum, do you like what you've seen? Where does he need to improve? Can he be your franchise QB?
TT: After 20 games, who knows who got the better end of the deal. Ponder seems to be playing well right now, better than Locker, but he also got a lot more playing time last year, so you'd expect him to be ahead. I loved Locker as a collegiate player, but had serious questions about his ability to be a top-level NFL starter due to lack of accuracy. Right now, I haven't seen enough to change my mind. Locker's ceiling is probably somewhere around Donovan McNabb, a not particularly high completion percentage, low interception quarterback who can make some plays with his legs and is has maybe one season where he's one of the top three QBs in the league and is otherwise pretty good but not great.
PJD: As a Chris Johnson fantasy owner, let me just shake my fist at him angrily. What's his deal, though? Why has he lost his mojo? Offensive line issues, lack of will, what is it?
TT: There's not just one issue. The offensive line isn't as good as it was in 2009, when he went for 2000 yards, and that's been part of the problem. In 2009, Johnson got most of his big runs on the edges of the defense, running right end and left end. Teams in early 2010 starting setting the edge hard, not letting him get the corner and stringing plays out. Johnson keeps looking for the big seam and the big play and ends up gaining nothing or losing yards instead of just picking up 2 yards and going on to the next play. Of course, his most maddening tendency is even worse than that-a liking of coming to an almost complete stop in the backfield, conveniently allowing any existing running lanes to close, then resuming running. Last year he was also at time completely allergic to contact, to the point of diving head-first into the ground to avoid a tackler, but he hasn't resorted to those extremes this year, at least not yet.
Against the Texans last week, he actually did run forward without stopping and ended up with 141 yards on the ground. Will that continue into this week's game? It's certainly possible, but I won't believe it until I see it.
PJD: You guys have Steve Hutchinson on your roster, who use to play for us. We dumped him because he was overpaid due to his back problems. Have those cleared up? Has he done well for you?
TT: His back problems haven't flared up in Tennessee, but right now Steve Hutchinson is playing like an almost-35-year-old offensive lineman. I didn't have particularly high expectations for his play (he's a far cry from the All-Pro he was seven years ago), but he's underachieved even my expectations.
PJD: I always remember the Titans as having a stellar defense that would fly around the field, rush the hell out of you, and smack you in the mouth with your linebackers. Where is the current defense now, their strengths and weaknesses in comparison to teams of old?
TT: Current defensive coordinator Jerry Gray arrived last year and started implementing his preferred Under front, including the first true Sam linebacker the Titans had had in about a decade. Think Seattle's defense, only without all the good players.
The current defensive weaknesses of the Titans are stopping the run and stopping the pass, especially the latter. Aside from a decent showing against the Chargers' terrible offensive line, the Titans have barely gotten within breathing distance of the opposing passer this season. It's shown in the results, as over 75% of passes against the Titans this year have been completed. Opposing tight end-type players have scored seven touchdowns against the Titans this year, which wouldn't be a bad total for an entire season. Things may be somewhat better if middle linebacker Colin McCarthy, who's missed the last three games with an ankle injury suffered against the Patriots, returns, but I'm not expecting anything different.
PJD: The Titans are 1-3, but it's been a rough start to the year. Patriots, Chargers, and Texans were all losses. Those are some pretty good teams. How did they beat you, and will the Vikings find similar weaknesses, or have they been cleaned up?
TT: The Patriots and Texans pretty much moved the ball up and down the field all day with ease and didn't let the Titans receivers get open. That's a good formula, and it's also one that's not very hard to accomplish given the apparent quality of the Titans' defense and wide receivers. For the Chargers, they let Philip Rivers bail them out on third-and-long in the first half, which he did thanks to wide open holes in the secondary, and just ran the ball down the Titans' throat in the second half.
As to whether those weaknesses have been cleared up, well, defensive tackle Jurrell Casey (who can beat up on bad offensive linemen) noted on Monday that when watching tape, everybody on defense is on a separate page.
PJD: Your win against the Lions was pretty exciting. How close were you to a heart attack during that game? And thank you. If you can continue to beat other NFC North teams, we'd appreciate it.
TT: I was in my living room and normally sit on my couch and watch games, but I don't think I sat down for the last hour of the game. I'd like for the Titans to beat the Packers and Lions, but it's hard to see it happening, especially the game in Green Bay in late December.
PJD: What do you think your game plan will be heading into the Vikings game? What are your strengths you'll use to try and sneak out a win on the road?
TT: Gameplan? The Titans have at times shown an irrational philosophical belief in that they're a running team on offense. They tried it the first two games, didn't against the Lions, but then did it again against the Texans, finally with positive results. They'll probably try to run the ball early in the game on offense, it'll fail, and they'll have to throw the ball virtually every down. Matt Hasselbeck's skills are much more conducive to the quick passing game, but unless the Vikings are willing to make a game of things by trotting out last year's secondary (Cedric Griffin against Damian Williams would be a great, very competitive battle) he needs more of tight end Jared Cook, who has the speed to outrun linebackers in the seam, and a healthy Kenny Britt, to really threaten defenses. If Cook and Britt are active and able to contribute, then the Titans have a shot at scoring enough points to keep up with how many the defense allows. Scoring on defense and special teams (like they did three times against the Lions) would really help a lot as well.
PJD: What are you most worried about? Where do you think the Vikings will be able to most easy exploit you on both offense and defense?
TT: What am I worried about? A defense that's allowing almost 3 points a drive and even worse than that in the second half. Offensively, set the edge against Chris Johnson and dare him to run between the tackles, which he's manifestly failed to do most of his career. The non-Britt/Cook receivers don't really threaten your defense, though Nate Washington can do some damage in the slot. Cover those guys, dare the other players to beat you, and the Titans will probably fail to score more than 14 points for the fourth time. On offense, the Vikings should just do what they're good at, though I'll warn you the starting corners, Alterraun Verner and Jason McCourty, are pretty good at tackling most of the time (the rest of the team, not so much). Throwing the ball to Kyle Rudolph will be a pretty good idea (and I'm not just saying that because of fantasy football).
PJD: Vikings win! Right? What is your game prediction for Sunday?
TT: I hate making game predictions, just because of the nature of the NFL. To win, the Titans will need some breaks, and they haven't been good at making their own. Let's say Vikings 24 – Titans 17.
Thanks again, guys! And be sure to jump over to their site to check out the Q&A we did for them.
PJD Game Preview up later today. YES!