The theories have been floated since the start of training camp.
Vince Young has the best group of wide receivers he’s ever had as an NFL quarterback. Young has taken a more mature approach to his profession. Young has learned to read defenses better.
Any or all of them were offered with the idea that the Tennessee Titans might have one of the more productive passing games they’ve had in years.
And after five games Young ranks among the NFL’s top 10 in passer rating and in the top half of the league in yards per attempt. Not only that but 55.3 percent of the Titans’ receptions (42 out of 76) thus far have been by wide receivers, including Nate Washington and Kenny Britt who currently are first and second, respectively, in catches.
“Myself and the rest of the guys are doing a good job of making some plays down the field and doing things to open it up,” Young said. “… We’re all on the same page and looking at the same things. It’s all coming together right now and we’re doing a good job of working together.”
It seems like a noteworthy development for a franchise that routinely has featured the tight end prominently and whose top pass catcher last season was a running back, Chris Johnson.
The truth is that it merely is the continuation of a trend that has developed during Young’s time in Tennessee, namely that he relies much more on wide receivers than the more accomplished passers who preceded him (Steve McNair) and played with him (Kerry Collins).
Check out the percentage of Titans’ receptions by wide receivers in the three years that Young has done the majority of the throwing.
• 2009 – 124 out of 271 (45.8 percent)
• 2007 – 169 out of 288 (58.7 percent)
• 2006 – 126 out of 226 (55.8 percent)
Compare that with 2008 when Collins was starting quarterback for virtually the entire season – 43.4 percent (115 out of 265) – and with 2005, McNair’s final year with the franchise – 41.9 percent (150 out of 358).
The development of Young and the progress people wanted to see is more evident in his yards per attempt, which improved from 2006 (6.2) to 2007 (6.7) and again in 2009 (7.25). Currently, that number is 7.13.
Prior to last season, the last Titans’ quarterback to average better than seven yards per attempt was McNair in his co-MVP season of 2003, when he averaged 8.04.
“(The wide receivers) are getting open, they’re making plays and Vince puts the ball up in the air where they’ve got to make the plays,” coach Jeff Fisher said. “I think it’s probably mostly the fact that they’ve improved outside, but Vince is putting the ball where his reads are taking him too.”
There are several possible explanations for the numbers.
One is Young’s mobility. His ability to evade the rush and keep a play alive offers the wide receivers more opportunity to get open down the field.
Conversely, Collins and McNair (at that point in his career) were much more stationary targets who needed to dump the ball off to backs and tight ends in order to counteract the pass rush.
Another is that Young does not read defenses as well as those two and does not look for the safe play as often as those other two. There’s also the possibility that he simply is willing to take chances the others were not.
Most likely is the idea that he has benefited from a strong running game. Since 2000, when Eddie George rushed for a career-high 1,509 yards, two of the Titans’ top three rushing performances have come when Young has been the quarterback – Johnson’s 2,006 in 2009 and Travis Henry’s 1,211 in 2006.
“When you’ve got somebody in the backfield who makes most safeties move in – and cornerbacks too – that’s something that wide receivers love, “ Britt said. “When you look at our wide receivers, regardless of who’s out there or where they’re at they can make a play.”
It doesn’t hurt that Young seems to throw it their way more often than others.