Cross Examination

Last week’s give and take with Seahawkaddicts.com was well received, so this week were are giving you a double dose.  I asked the same questions to two different Titans blogs.  The first is Total Titans on the MVN network.  You may remember this blog for its excellent breakdown of Collins’ 15 straight incomplete passes a couple of weeks ago.  Total Titans asked some questions of yours truly as well. Be sure to head over and check out my answers.

I also hooked up with the Bloguin network blog Titans Tracker, which is run by a big VY fan.  Always an interesting exchange there.  He also hit me up for some Colts knowledge which I dropped like I was Braylon Edwards.  Be sure to visit both sites as they asked different questions.  Here’s what they had to say about Sunday’s game:

DZ:  1.  What has happened to the Titans secondary?  How do you go from 12 TD passes in 16 games to 10 in four games?

Titans Tracker:  I take a holistic view of things, so I’m especially reluctant to look at the secondary as an isolated unit, because their success is linked to that of the defensive line. That being said, you have a starting corner (Nick Harper) who’s way past his prime, and two rookies (Ryan Mouton and Jason McCourty) who are getting significant playing time. Cortland Finnegan hasn’t been very effective (as a corner or a punt returner). Michael Griffin had a horrible game against the Texans, but the two safeties have been OK.

Total Titans:  Well, with that kind of change, you don’t see just one thing go wrong.  The first big problem was the safeties were overcommitting.  Both Hope and Griffin were biting VERY hard on play-fakes and pump-action early in the year, and ended up badly out of position because of it.  Griffin gave Andre Johnson a touchdown Week 2-he had deep coverage responsibilities over Nick Harper, and despite playing 25 yards away from scrimmage bit on play-action and stumbled trying to backpedal and cover.  The solution to the problem of overcommitting has been to play both guys deep downfield and to play more passively.  The overcommtting, and the passive play reaction to it, also extends to the linebackers.  Heath Miller and Owen Daniels both were able to make plays against David Thornton and Keith Bulluck.  And both those guys are in their 30’s, as is Nick Harper.  Most Titans fans are really down on Harper, but I think they’re overestimating how many of the problems are his fault, and how good he’s been in man coverage in the past (namely, not very).  Still, that’s 3 guys in the back who are a step slower than they were last year.

The problems have been compounded by injury.  Cortland Finnegan currently is expected to play this week, but he missed the Jaguars game, and part of the Jets game.  NB Vinny Fuller is also out after going out early in the Jets game.  That meant the Titans were starting 6th round rookie Jason McCourty opposite Harper last week, while 3rd round rookie Ryan Mouton played the nickel.  Rookies in the NFL get beat.
New defensive coordinator Chuck Cecil is probably also part of the problem.  Nick Harper sniped at him after the Texans game in Week 2, saying the coaches didn’t make adjustments.  Fisher then said that he didn’t know what Harper was talking about, because he knew adjustments were made on the sideline.  That’s very unusual for a team that tends to keep everything they can behind closed doors.  Personally, I’m not sure just how much Cecil is part of the problem, and how much of it is player issues.

DZ  2.  How much does the defense miss Haynesworth?

Titans Tracker:  A great deal. Before the regular season began, I said that Tennessee’s ability to adjust to the loss of Haynesworth would define the Titans’ 2009 season. So far, I think my statement has been borne out. The defensive line has been strong against the run, but they’re not creating enough pressure on passing downs. Some like to point out that Haynesworth was only on the field for around 60 percent of defensive plays. Well, the Titans employ a rotation at defensive line (as does many teams), and Big Al was on the field at critical moments, and, more often than not, he was effective.

Total Titans:  This is another major element of the pass defense difficulties-the Titans don’t have anybody who can reliably beat an opposing offensive lineman 1v1.  Haynesworth demanded a double team, which made it easier for the other guys to rush the passer.  Kearse was once able to beat guys off the edge, but aside from his annual sack against Texans RT Eric Winston, he hasn’t done much this year.  Vanden Bosch was that kind of guy not too long ago, but he hasn’t really done that since before he was injured early last season.  I like second year man Jason Jones on the inside, but he’s not at that level.

In terms of run defense, the defense doesn’t really miss Haynesworth at all.  The defensive linemen that play are all very disciplined in terms of gap control and tend not to get moved around.  Unless you can move the second level defenders around with misdirection, you’re probably not going to have any success running against the Titans.  Then again, the Jaguars showed last week you don’t have to even try to run to put up points against the Titans.

DZ:  3.  Jeff Fisher gets a lot of love from Colts’ fans because of his in game coaching.  What crazy thing can we expect from them this week?

Titans Tracker:  If Fisher does anything crazy against the Colts, I expect it to be on offense (as the saying goes, you can’t stop Peyton Manning; you can only hope to contain him). The craziest thing he could do is to start Vince Young in the lineup, but that’s not going to happen this week. I hope to see tight ends Bo Scaife and Jared Cook more involved, and LenDale White needs to get more carries.

Total Titans:  Titans fans are very confused by opponents expecting crazy things from Fisher.  Aside from running the Emory and Henry formation on punts earlier this decade and the fake punt every preseason, he’s really never been crazy aside from that one game in Indy in 2004 when they didn’t have a chance in heck of winning without lots of crazy stuff happening.  He’ll occasionally go for it on 4&4 from the opposing 35, but really doesn’t do anything interesting.  He does like to bring out wrinkles for the Colts, though, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see a swinging gate formation or something along those lines.

DZ:  4.  Chris Johnson has become sort of a boom/bust runner…lots of big plays, lots of no gains and rushes for loss.  What do the Titans have to do to become more consistent in the run game?

Titans Tracker:  I don’t know how important is is that Chris Johnson become more consistent… a stat guru may disagree. He’s not Jerome Bettis… he will never move a pile of tacklers forward with his own strength. Barry Sanders had his share of negative runs, and he’s in the Hall of Fame. If there’s a point in the game where the offense wants to maintain time of possession, LenDale’s your guy.

Total Titans:  Not to put too fine a point on things, but blocking better would be a good start.  The basic cutback play isn’t working at all, for reasons that are opaque to me.  I really don’t understand the run game struggles.  Some fans are clamoring for more LenDale White, but I don’t really understand why you’d play your best offensive player less.

DZ:  5.  Give me your realistic best case scenario for the rest of this year.  Is this team really this bad, just unlucky, or is there some thing else going on that we might not be aware of.
Titans Tracker:  I have a confession to make: I thought this team would go 8-8, primarily because of Haynesworth’s absence. So as of today, 8-8 is my best case scenario. I’d love it if VY started game seven and the Titans won 10 in a row, but that’s not realistic.

Total Titans: Realistic best case scenario?  How can a team that can’t stop anybody on the pass, can’t pass the ball well on its own, and can’t run the ball consistently win any games?  Really, from where the Titans are right now, anything better than 8-8 this year would look like a tremendous accomplishment

DZ:  6.  Vince Young:  the answer, part of the problem, or not relevant at all to the team?

Titans Tracker:  None of the above. We don’t know who Vince Young is right now. His resume consists of a season in which he and the season exceeded expectations (2006), a season that saw him regress (2007… and I had to take off my burnt-orange glasses to admit it), and the infamous game against the Jaguars in 2008. Overall, he looked good in the preseason, but that’s not saying a lot. Whether or not he’s the answer remains to be seen, but first he has to get on the field and prove it.

Total Titans:  Considering he’s been firmly planted on the bench thus far, he certainly doesn’t seem to be part of the problem.  Not relevant seems to be the best characterization of him thus far.  Of course, a highly-drafted backup quarterback who led the team to 8 wins as a rookie and the playoffs his second year looks great when you have an older starter who’s struggled, so there’s been a lot of very understandable clamoring for VY to play.  I can’t help but think, though, of Bill Polian’s radio show comments last year about how much of a liability VY was on the field in 2007 and the whole to-do at the beginning of last year that resulted in Collins taking over the starting job.

Realistically, I don’t think Kerry Collins’ play ranks higher than 6th or 8th on the list of problems that have to be fixed for the Titans to look good the rest of the year, and if you fix the higher priority problems, like the pass protection issues and the run game, he looks like even less of a problem.  I guarantee you VY doesn’t lead the Titans to 17 points against the Jets in the entire game, let alone the quarter and a half.  Given Fisher’s general lack of wackiness, don’t expect to see VY anywhere other than on the bench Sunday night barring an injury.

That said, if the Titans are 0-6 after Sunday and the trip to New England the next week, I don’t see any good reasons not to go ahead and start VY anyway-your season’s basically over at this point, so why not see if the kid can salvage his career.

DZ:  7.  If things don’t get better, who will take the fall for the team’s struggles this year?

Titans Tracker: Since I put so much weight on Haynesworth’s departure for Washington, and because of some questionable personnel decisions over the past month, I’d say GM Mike Reinfeldt deserves much of the blame. However, if the Titans don’t win at least seven games, this might be Jeff Fisher’s farewell tour. There are good coaches available who might be more capable of taking Tennessee to the Super Bowl.

Total Titans: Most fans will probably say DC Chuck Cecil would be demoted back to the secondary, or OC Mike Heimerdinger, but I’d expect the veteran players to.  Since 2010 will almost certainly be an uncapped year, that’ll mean you can axe all the guys who won’t be around the next time you’re good and veterans making too much for their contribution.  Going 4-12 and saving $10 million beats maybe going 7-9, so it wouldn’t surprise me to see 7 defensive starters gone off this year’s team.

Thanks to both guys for great answers!
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