Titans coach Mike Munchak has talked repeatedly about what a large difference middle linebacker Colin McCarthy makes for the defense.
But even he was surprised at what a handful of statistics revealed about the second-year pro’s significance to the lineup.
Consider the 10 games over the past two seasons in which McCarthy played at least half the time:
• The Titans surrendered an average of 20.1 points. In the other 12 games, they gave up almost a touchdown more — 26.7 points per game.
• The Titans allowed opponents to score 30 points once. In the other 12, opponents scored at least 34 points six times.
• The Titans forced an average of 1.6 turnovers. In the other 12, they forced an average of one.
• The Titans posted a 6-4 record. In the other 12, they were 5-7.
“I never would have thought it would be a touchdown less in those games — that’s an interesting stat,” Munchak said. “But I think that shows what we’ve talked about. That backs up what kind of player we think he can be and how he does influence
things out there.”
What’s surprising is how quickly McCarthy, a fourth-round pick in 2011, has become a pivotal figure on the defense. He didn’t crack the starting lineup until the ninth game of his rookie season and has played in only 16 games total.
McCarthy’s impact is rooted in his intelligence and his ability to influence teammates on the field.
“He was voted a captain by his peers, so that in itself says a lot about who he is as a person and as a football player,” veteran defensive end Kamerion Wimbley said. “He knows the defense in and out. He’s going to get guys where they’re supposed to be. A lot of players feel more confident when he’s in the lineup.”
Jordan Babineaux, a former Seahawk, said McCarthy reminds him of former Seattle linebacker Lofa Tatupu, who made the Pro Bowl as a rookie.
“There are certain guys who really have intangibles as far as knowing and understanding the game,” Babineaux said, “and he’s one of those guys.”
The other impressive portion of McCarthy’s game — especially when he’s healthy — is his ability to make big plays. Despite starting only seven games last season, McCarthy posted a team-leading eight tackles for loss.
In a win over the Bills he notched 11 tackles, two fumble recoveries and a forced fumble, earning AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors.
“You can see the attitude he brings to the defense,” Bills coach Chan Gailey said. “He is hustling all the time and he tries to hit everything that is moving or touching the ball. He is really a go-getter type of player, really a headhunter out there.”
McCarthy’s problem is his inability to stay healthy.
Last season he missed three games with a hamstring injury and was later slowed by a knee injury. This season he hurt his ankle in the opener, missed the next three games, and has played with the ankle heavily taped the last two weeks.
McCarthy was a walking boot-wearing spectator at Wednesday’s practice.
“With the two games we had back-to-back, I was a little more sore than I was expecting and the trainer was thinking,” he said. “So the boot is a good way to keep pressure off it and allow it to heal a little bit.”
McCarthy said he would try to play this week against the Bills after toughing it out against the Vikings and Steelers in a five-day span.
“I thought I was good enough to get out there and help the team win,” he said. “If that’s the case going into this week, whenever that time comes, we’ll make the decision and go out there and give it a go.”
The Titans are certainly hoping McCarthy will be able to play, based on the evidence of his impact.
Even in the two games he played more than half the time — he was hurt early in the season opener against the Patriots — the Titans are 1-1. They’re 1-3 in the other games.
“We see him as a leader, but until you’re out there playing week in and week out, it’s hard to develop and really influence a team the way we think he’s going to be able,” Munchak said. “He hasn’t been himself really since the first quarter of the Patriots, but he’s trying to battle through. I know it’s really frustrating. But we know we have someone special there.”