BBC BLOGS - Neil Reynolds
« Previous | Main | Next »

Tennessee hit troubling times

Post categories:

Neil Reynolds | 10:28 UK time, Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Each NFL season throws up surprises. You only have to look at the starts made by the Denver Broncos and Cincinnati Bengals this year to realise that is the case.

But the most shocking start of this 2009 campaign has to be the five consecutive losses compiled by the Tennessee Titans.

This is a club that opened the 2008 season with 10 straight wins and one that should have gone at least to the AFC Championship Game last term. They are normally well-coached, disciplined and tough to beat.

That could not be further from the truth this season. Coach Jeff Fisher's men have been plagued by some poor personnel decisions, suspect coaching and a lack of production on the field.

And there are signs that things could get worse. The Titans are a team that got very bad, very quickly. And they are not about to reverse that trend.
The demise began in the off-season when man-mountain defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth - the best in the NFL at his position - was allowed to leave town in order to become a Washington Redskin. Haynesworth made everyone around him better. He routinely tied up two and sometimes three blockers at the line of scrimmage, meaning the ends either side of him could take an easier route to the quarterback.

With Haynesworth gone, we are also discovering that star defensive backs such as Cortland Finnegan, Michael Griffin, Chris Hope and Nick Harper can be made to look distinctly average when opposing quarterbacks have time to pass.

Fans show their displeasure
Titans fans have been left exasperated by their team's performances

On Sunday night, the Titans were shredded to pieces by Peyton Manning during a 31-9 victory for the Indianapolis Colts. There's no shame in that - most teams around the league have been burned by Manning at some point during his illustrious career.

But the Titans have also been ripped apart by considerably less talented quarterbacks such as Houston's Matt Schaub and Jacksonville's David Garrard.

Tennessee also lost defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz in the off-season as he left to become head coach of the Detroit Lions. His replacement, former NFL safety Chuck Cecil, has hardly covered himself in glory and needs to find a way to be more creative and aggressive on defence.

If you're unable to generate a pass rush in normal circumstances, you have to find creative ways to pressure opposing quarterbacks, yet Cecil seems reluctant to pile more stress on a struggling secondary by bringing more defenders on the blitz.

The offence is also in dire form at the moment. Quarterback Kerry Collins is not the solid game manager he was in 2008 and he is turning the ball over far too frequently. The Titans also seem to be passing much more than normal, even though they have Chris Johnson and a slimmed-down (thanks to cutting out tequila) Lendale White in the backfield.

That doesn't make sense to me and Fisher - in his 16th season at the Titans and the longest-tenured current coach with the single team - has to take some of the heat for that approach.

Jeff Fisher

It might be time for Vince Young - expected to be the future of the team when he was drafted in 2006 - to recapture his job as starting quarterback. He had some positive moments as a rookie and then regressed both physically and emotionally, giving his own fans the finger in 2008 after getting booed.

But the Titans may not have an alternative. Collins is struggling badly and Young is due a massive contract payment - around £10 million - in 2010 due to the way his deal was structured.

They need to find out if Young is worth that kind of investment because if he cannot cut it either, they need to send him packing. With this season all but lost, now is the time to insert Young back into the game and see what he can do in live action.

I am disappointed in the Titans but I still feel Fisher should be kept on as head coach. If Tennessee makes a knee-jerk reaction and axes him, they will be cutting loose one of the best in the business and the man who is more than capable of leading the much-needed revival.


  • Comment number 1.

    I would be shocked if they axed Fisher. He rebuilt the team after the McNair-Mason-George-Wycheck era, and has certainly not become a bad head coach between this season and last. And I don't think you can blame him for letting Haynesworth go, as good a player as he is, only Jim Zorn will tell you he is worth what the Skins are paying him.

    I am surprised that people are suddenly pointing to problems on the offensive side - the Titans weren't especially productive last year, they relied heavily on field-goals, and got precious few touchdowns through the air (partly I think because they haven't sorted out how to use Crumpler - or stop him fumbling). But last year they had a mean defense, stingy in all departments, and this year they have nothing. Run defense is average, and the pass rush is non-existent. (I think their only sacks so far this season have been through the porous Pittsburgh line). And with Collins now having to take more risks through the air and without a marquee receiver, that's why their offense is inconsistent.

    Regarding Vince Young, I think they turn to him if they are ready to write off this season in return for restyling the offense. If they want to continue building a passing offense, then I think they keep Collins going and think about trading Young in the off-season (or even sooner).

    But the main problems are still on the defensive line - I still rate the Tennessee secondary, but if there's little pressure on the QB, receivers will get free and worse players than Manning will find them.

  • Comment number 2.

    I actually feel a little sorry for the Titans.

    Their schedule put them up against very strong teams in the opening months; Steelers (lost by 3), Colts, Jets (lost by 7), etc with the likes of the Rams, 49ers, Bills and ther Seahawks later on when it looks like it won't matter.

    They took a gamble that their pass-rush would still function without Haynesworth (it hasn't) and that their running game would be as strong as last season (Chris Who?) - none of these have come to pass.

    As for Collins, well he was only a stand-in while they decided if Young would actually play or not. If Young was any kind of professional the Titans would have a passing game that might have seen them win one of the tight games they lost.

    I'm not a Titans fan, but I'd like to see them go for a big name QB just to freshen things up. I hear a Mr Vick is looking for a team....

  • Comment number 3.

    But if you don't try Vince Young now then you're writing off the season anyway, in my opinion the Titans were pretty unlucky to lose against the Steelers in week 1 but that was very much the high watermark in terms of performance.

    They don't have marquee receivers but against the Steelers, Britt and Gage did a decent enough job, but Collins just doesn't have the accuracy or distance to play a pass heavy offence, his talent was always in managing the game and as the original article said, even that's questionable this year, they have to try Vince Young, if it turns out he can't cut it then the season is no better ot worse than it was already and the team can cut him loose and hope to pick up someone in trade or take a QB in the draft.

    But I've said it before there may be a few down at the bottom looking for QB's this year, The Raiders can't keep letting Russell stink up the field, the Browns have to be in the market given Anderson and Quinn's travails so far, St Louis?, Miami?

  • Comment number 4.

    I don't buy the tough schedule line - Miami had a tough schedule, lost their starting QB, yet they are 2-3.

    I think it's 6-of-one, half-a-dozen of another regarding Young. You start him, the offense is going to look different (and presumably take time to adjust as a result). And if you think Collins has accuracy issues, you're not trading up by starting with Young! More to the point though, it won't be a high-powered offense with either starter, so it is really going to be on the defense to turn the season around (presumably after this week's visit to New England).

    Maybe Young could go to the Raiders - not sure of any of the others (def not Miami who see Henne as their future), Young's issue is that he is not seen as a reliable passer, which is obviously not helpful when you are looking for a starting job... I'd throw in Carolina and Tampa as potential new homes, but neither more likely than Oakland.

  • Comment number 5.

    If Tampa have any sense they'll give Johnson a decent shot, he's got a hell of an arm and his accuracy will pick up working with the first team offense, his accuracy in college was freakish, plus he's got a nifty turn of speed for scrambling. I like the kid. he could be one of the few bright spots of their season.

  • Comment number 6.

    I haven't watched the Titans since the HOF game, but I have to say my sympathy is somewhat tempered having seen the Browns/Bills. Thats a couple hours of my life I'll never get back.

    On the plus side the Broncos paid me off at least. Get in.

    Yep, this post mainly serves as me showing off I predicted something right for once. Carry on.

  • Comment number 7.

    The interesting thing for Tennessee could be who they can get in the draft. It seems to me that if they don't improve and get an early draft pick, the whole franchise has a tough choice to make. It could be the best time to nudge Fisher, Young etc out and start from scratch, alternatively it might be best to hold on to Fisher during the first stages of rebuilding and take it from there.

  • Comment number 8.

    I'm personally not surprised that Denver have started 5-0; a new head coach, a new QB and a tighter D means that they're looking a good bet for the play-offs already. Agreed that Tennessee need a decent QB, I've not watched Sunday night's game yet (hallelujah for VHS!) but given Peyton's dismantling of the Cardinals in Week 3, and at least the Cards got a bit of pass rush going at times, I know what to expect.

  • Comment number 9.

    What do you need after being burned by Manning and falling to 5-0? Oh Tom Brady and Randy Moss with a point to prove!

  • Comment number 10.

    "I'm personally not surprised that Denver have started 5-0..."

    Pull the other one! Denver were making all the wrong headlines in the off-season, and yeah they might have prematurely written off, but 5-0 is huge, especially with a wholly revamped offense. McDaniels is a top offensive coordinator, and Kyle Orton is a very useful QB, but things have fallen into place a whole lot quicker than anticipated... And they got a freakish win in Cincy on Day 1, who knows how important that one Stokley play was in getting the ball rolling in Denver.

  • Comment number 11.

    Eddie-george: I think your spot-on with your last sentence. Denver have come back in the 4th a number of times and the belief to do it may come directly from that one play.

    I think a 40 year old being 5-0 for the Vikings is pretty good too

  • Comment number 12.

    Eddie & Chris: A week after scoring 17 unanswered points to defeat the Cowboys, the Broncos reeled off 13 unanswered points against the Patriots, and if the D steps up to shut down the opponents' offense, it's a great boost for the O. Admittedly, the Cowboys' O has been pretty poor - the Giants' D in Week 2 made hay, how many turnovers? 3 picks and a fumble? - you can't give up that much if you want to win games. But sometimes one piece of good fortune starts a roll, and then ability takes over - shutting down Tom Brady and the Pats' O ain't down to luck alone.

  • Comment number 13.

    As I expected the Pats Broncos game came down to small decisive moments. Horrible call on Merriweather in the 4th quarter which led to the tying touchdown. Having said that great effort from the Broncos to keep a scoreless second half against Brady (although I don't think Brady's still at 100%).

    Still don't rate Orton though.

  • Comment number 14.

    The Titans schedule has been brutal so far (this cannot be denied), but their inept play has been the root of their problems, not their opponents. They have no pass rush whatsoever, as Neil says in the blog above. Peyton had time to recline in his favourite chair, put his slippers on and light up his pipe before throwing the ball on Sunday night. If you give Manning that kind of time, he'll pick any defence apart.

  • Comment number 15.

    The coach that should be worried isn't Jeff Fisher, but defensive co-ordinator Chuck Cecil. They should definitely can him. He lost his players when leading the Steelers in the first game of the year he went into a prevent defence on the last drive rather than keeping up the pressure (like Jim Schwartz would have done) and that ended up letting Rothlisberger drive down the field and win the game. The game is all about momentum, and like the Broncos let a lucky bounce against the Bengals lead them to a 5-0 record, the Titans have let that poor show hang over the D leading them to an 0-5.

    Tht poor D also impacts the O as this isn't a team built to chase. They need to play with the lead, allowing Collins to make percentage passes and the running game to flow without pressure of getting big points to keep up with the opponent.

    Thing is if they do pull the plug on him who do they get? Ted Cotterel? Jim Haslett (if he'll leave his new UFL job)? Romeo Crenell? Bit of a rogues gallery out there...!

  • Comment number 16.

    I was in Nashville this weekend - boy are they depressed about it! Not surprising - five weeks ago they were all thinking SuperBowl. Now they'll be lucky if they make the ToiletBowl. Frankly, Kerry Collins has always been a fairly average QB, and I, along with just about everyone who lives in Nashville it seems, am far from convinced that Vince Young can do the job. Of course, the one person who is convinced about Vince is Titans' owner Bud Adams, a big Texas Longhorns fan... where Vince Young is a bit of a legend. So I'm also not convinced that they will get rid of him. So, back to Collins. A halfway decent player but never likely to repeat last season, especially if all he can do is game manage. A long way short of the best in the league, and getting rod of Haynesworth? Big mistake. Anyway, keep this up and the Titans will have a shot at signing Tim Tebow for the 2010 season...

  • Comment number 17.

    Heres the deal lads, coming from a titans fan. Losing albert was a big blow but typical titans dont wanna spend money.Defence is struggling bad and injuries dont help but we aint pressuirng the qb. its science! pressure the qb you get turnovers. I am a vince young fan and Kerry collins was fine last year but turnovers are killing us both ways and VY needs to be given his second chance to prove he is the man. He has a winning record as a starter, granted with a good defence. lets not forget what he did as a rookie and second year starter, threw some picks but made some plays.

    Also I would not be adverse to a coaching change. Mike shanahan is out there and lets be fair with his run game we would be killing with cj fat landale and javon ringer( who i reckon will be our second rb next year).and this fool who says tim tebow......really. he aint an nfl qb. sam bradford tho could be the man if we wanted to go that way. I would wait tho go for terrence cody to replace haynesworth.

  • Comment number 18.

    Tough schedule I think so far.
    Last seasons 10-0 start included a number of very tight wins, this season they've been hurt by FG losses to Steelers and Texans and of course who can forget the one man turnover show that is Ryan Mouton at Jets.
    Those three losses could easily have been victories, and had they been sitting at 2-3 the season would very much have still been alive.
    The problems start on Defence, allowing 287 yards through the air every week suggest big problems in the secondary, that contributes to giving up 28 points per game which forces your hand on Offence, and Tennessee don't have the explosive weapons to score 30 points a week.
    When the Defence dominated last season CJ and Lendale were allowed to run the ball taking pressure off KC, interestingly to date Tennessee have only attempted 120 rushes (24 per game) compare this to last year (32 attempts per game) and to me it proves they're chasing games.
    KC is never going to be a match winning QB, steady yes, but if you needed a QB to drive 80 yards inside the 2 min warning I doubt KC would get mentioned in the same breath as Brady, Manning, Brees and co.
    Couple this with unspectacular and unreliable wideouts and the answers are clear.
    VY will get a shot soon.
    I was very critical of his attitude and behaviour last season and last off season but he seems to have stayed quiet lately, maybe he's grown up a bit, if he is showing improved attitude at practice and a side likely to go 0-6 I think we'll see him very shortly.
    KC can buy his pipe and slippers and Fisher can build another side.
    A further thought (and it might take an inside person to answer this) but I wonder how much of an effect Steve McNair's sad death has had on the orgnaisation. The franshise QB for many years, still live in the city and loved by the fans, is it possible the upset has rubbed off on the staff and team mates ?

  • Comment number 19.

    BRGF1Nutter - if you are saying you aren't surprised Denver beat my Pats, fair enough, I think most people thought it would be a close game, and indeed it was.

    But predicting 5-0 at the start of the season, that's a call generally reserved for the best teams, and Denver never looked like that with the off-season they had.

    KentuckyBrit and Bethelandy - really hard to blame the Titans for not being willing to match what the Skins are paying Haynesworth. Not for a minute do I think the Titans wanted to lose big Al, but sometimes the price just ain't right. (FWIW, I think Jim Zorn will lose his job because he bet the ranch on Haynesworth rather than shelling out for what he really needs, a big-time QB.)

    Romeo Crenell as defensive co-ordinator does not seem like a bad idea at all, and in terms of the QB situation, I think it really comes down to what sort of offense Fisher wants to build. Because if they want develop a better passing game, I can't see how you can turn to Vince Young. But for this season anyway, to gain some respectability, the D has to improve significantly, because neither Collins nor Young is going to be leading a highly productive offense.

  • Comment number 20.

    "They took a gamble that their pass-rush would still function without Haynesworth (it hasn't) and that their running game would be as strong as last season (Chris Who?) - none of these have come to pass."

    Chris Who? Hmmmmmm that would be the 3rd leading rusher in the NFL and the player who has accounted for nearly 600 yards of the Titans offense so far this season.

    Offensive problems lie with the play-calling, Lendale White and Kerry Collins. Simply put the Titans are not running the ball enough, they run the ball with Johnson but not with Lendale - 33 carries in 5 games is not enough. In the loss to the Jags he had 2 carries.

    I dont know why White slimmed down, before he was a brute of a back that wore defenses down and took at least 2 defenders to bring down, which in turn helped Johnson. Admitedly he isnt small now but that extra loss of poundage is making him easier to bring down.

    Collins isnt a play-maker, when the Titans were in games last year he was able to move the ball with short dump off passes to Johnson, Crumpler, Scaife. This set-up lots of FG and the Titans were good enough on defense to win those games. This year they have needed TD's and they are trying to move the ball down the field throwing middle-deep routes with the new WR's - Collins just isnt the type of QB who wants to throw the ball consistently down the field.

    Im not sure VY is either but the Titans have to look to the future and $10 million next year is a lot of money to be paying a guy you arent sure can actually play. Kerry Collins time is over and its now time for the VY audition to commence.

    The only thing that will cost Fisher is his job is if he refuses to play VY.

    Defensively the passing stats tell you everything you need to know:
    2008- 44 sacks, 20 interceptions and an opposition QB rating of 69.2
    2009- 8 sacks, 4 interceptions and an oppostition QB rating of 108.4

  • Comment number 21.

    The criticism of the Titans secondary is misplaced. They are on a hiding to nothing if there's no pressure on the opposing quarter-back, that's where the Titans problems start. Van den Bosch - 5 games, 0 sacks. Do the math.

    The criticism of Collins - and the offensive play-calling - is a little beside the point. He has his limitations, and the Titans want to play-call with those limitations in mind which means plenty of hand-offs to Johnson and White. But when they are chasing the game, as has happened every game this season bar the Steelers, they have to throw more.

    Here's the operative stats - Collins averaged 27.5 passes a game all of last season. This season he is averaging 37, 32 is the fewest he has thrown in a single game. Yet his completion rate is virtually unchanged - 57% this year (58% last year).

    How to explain all this? When you are two scores behind in the 3rd and 4th quarters, you go to the air. You don't have much of a choice. That's what happening to the Titans, because this year, unlike last, their defense has been weak. And not wishing to belabour the point, benching Collins for Young won't fix the fact the Titans, like last year, aren't equipped to score 25+ points per game.

  • Comment number 22.

    "How to explain all this? When you are two scores behind in the 3rd and 4th quarters, you go to the air. You don't have much of a choice. That's what happening to the Titans, because this year, unlike last, their defense has been weak. And not wishing to belabour the point, benching Collins for Young won't fix the fact the Titans, like last year, aren't equipped to score 25+ points per game."

    Ok, maybe it wont but why keep Collins in? He wont be the starter next year and they have to work out what they are going to do with VY.
    They cant pay their back-up QB $10 million and they cant just give him the starting job without knowing if he is going to be able to do it. This year is a blow out, they have to go undefeated to get near the play-offs.

    As for the 3rd and 4th quarter come backs, they were up versus the Steelers going into the 4th but still Collins had 35 passing attempts compared to 25 rushing attempts.

    They were up and drawing versus the Texans (26th versus the run) in the 3rd/ 4th quartr but still Collins had 35 passing attempts compared to 25 rushing attempts.

  • Comment number 23.

    At 36 Kerry Collins is nearing the end of his career, I think he signed a 2 year deal so is tied to the Titans for 2010.
    In Vince Young they have a #1 round (3rd overall) pick who was to be their franchise QB, attitude issues have got in the way until now and I don't believe VY will turn their season around, but I do think it's time for the Titans to look beyond 2009 and that may mean getting VY in.
    I seem to recall the Giants doing something similar when a young Eli Manning was given his chance ahead of an ageing league MVP winner, Kurt Warner.
    Agree with the comments re running the ball and play calling

  • Comment number 24.

    "He wont be the starter next year and they have to work out what they are going to do with VY."

    I agree on both points. Let's assume that they start Young and the existing concerns about him are re-validated. That damages his transfer value. If the Titans are already leaning towards trading him - I think the fact he wasn't starting week 1 is evidence to that end - then it seems more sensible keeping him off the field.

    Obviously if they start Young and he plays well, particularly if he passes well, then that solves a whole lot of problems. But if Fisher wants more of an Air McNair-type offense, he might well already think Young is not his man, and the rest of the offence will develop better with Collins at QB.

    But either way, this season is a bust - the Colts won't be caught, and at 0-5 a wild-card seems out of the question.

    (On the play-calling, my main point is analysing it is much less important than sorting out the D-line, which is the big reason the Titans are winless so far)

  • Comment number 25.

    Well if the Titans are looking to trade him, I dont see anyone giving up anything. Lets face it there are issues with VY off the field and there also issues with VY on the field. The off the field issues look to be in the past but questions are still raised about the on the field issues.

    The only way a team gives a significant amount for him is if he comes in now and plays well. If he plays poorly it will hurt his trade value but i honestly don't believe anyone would give up a lot for him if they left him on the bench all year.

    I do get your point on the D-Line but a team doesnt go 0-5 with just one set of players being an issue. They cant really change the personnel on the D-Line unless they can get a trade done - Dorsey is avaliable apparently not sure he fits though. As a defense they have to try and bring pressure from elsewhere and that falls on Cecil.

    I'm still not sold on the offensive play-calling and there have been times this year when they had opportunities to run the ball and put the ball in the hands of Collins instead.

    This season is definately gone though.

  • Comment number 26.

    Both the Titans and the Broncos are serving as prime examples of the importance of a good Defence.

    If Denver's defence was still performing at the level it was for the final 3 games of last season then they would be 0-5, but their D has kept them in the close ones long enough for the offence to do enough to do their job and the reverse is true for the Titans.

    For some reason, McDaniels and Orton are getting a lot of credit, especially after beating the Pats last week, but if your opponents average less than 11 points a game then any team is going to win a lot of games if you don't make too many mistakes.

    As far as the Titans, Jeff Fisher comes from a defensive background so he needs to take a leaf out of Lovie Smith's book and take over the role of DC even if its only for the rest of the season, the current guy just doesn't have the experience to deal with the current situation it seems.

    The other change the Titans need to make is to play Vince Young, he has almost zero trade value now, so there's no potential loss there in playing him, they are out of the playoffs with the start they have made so its not like there's any point persisting with Collins, which simply leaves finding out if VY has any value at all to them in the future or not and to do that they need to play him.

  • Comment number 27.

    I've just scanned over the Denver schedule for the rest of the season, and other than their own divisional games, which should be mostly winnable, they have a bit of a horror story of a schedule ahead of them. Its never fun when you get the NFC East as your matchup division, but then add Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Indianapolis to that and you see that we may get a truer picture of how good that defensive line really is.

    They should make the playoffs assuming they dont completely blow up, but I'd be worried about them against some of the stronger offenses out there. A half fit Tom Brady playing against his bogey team and former coach isnt really the best measure.


BBC navigation

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.