Interview with Tom Gower of Total Titans

Tom Gower of Football Outsiders and Total Titans is one of the most rational writers on the internet.

His rapier wit and sense of irony make him a must-read and follow.

He was good enough to answer a few questions about Sunday's game, and I returned the favor for him on Total Titans.

ND: We are nearly two years into the Jake Locker experiment. How do you feel about it?
TG: Too early to tell. Not playing Locker last year was the right move in my book at the time, and I won't criticize it now. It's disappointing he missed a good chunk of this season, though of course that was good blitz decision by the Texans and bad blitz recognition by him, which has been a problem on plays other than that one.

He's a see-it, throw-it passer rather than an anticipation one. He's getting a little bit better, I think, at throwing to somebody other than his first read. He has the arm to attack defenses vertically, so there's some big play potential, but right now he's not a very good quarterback and has a long way to go to get there.

ND: Given how well Peyton Manning has played, do you blame Bud Adams from chasing him in the offseason? It now seems like a good risk to me in hindsight.

TG:  Hypothetically, the Titans pursuing Peyton Manning made a ton of sense. He'd be a big upgrade at quarterback over Locker or Matt Hasselbeck and Bud wants to win a Super Bowl before he dies (I would too).
Even with Peyton Manning, though, I don't think the Titans are in first place in the AFC South. The defense is not very good at all and lacks standout plays (no, paying Jason McCourty and Michael Griffin does not make them better players). I expatiated at length on this back in March, but objectively thought the Titans were about the least attractive potential destination for Peyton Manning.
Yes, signing him would have improved the team, but I put the pursuit in the same category as me dating a supermodel, a theoretically awesome thing unlikely to produce the dreamed-of outcome.
ND: Does Munchak survive to 2013 as head coach of the Titans?

TG: I really don't know. It depends, I think, on who's really making the call and what their expectations for the 2012 Titans were. Coming off a 9-7 season, it's possible that team president Mike Reinfeldt and/or GM Ruston Webster really thought the Titans were a playoff or near-playoff team this year. Vegas didn't think so, putting the over/under at 7.0 wins, and I was the same place they were.
I don't think Reinfeldt and Webster are in danger of being fired, but I really don't know. As far as NFL head coaches go, I don't think Mike Munchak is a particularly powerful one, and I suspect that suits Reinfeldt/Webster.
2013 is the final year in Munchak's contract, and the Titans may have trouble attracting an established offensive coordinator if they look other than at Dowell Loggains or a defensive coordinator if they choose to part ways with Jerry Gray.
Personally, I'm not sure how much I buy that argument, but that doesn't meant the Titans won't.
ND: Evaluate Kendall Wright. Lots of catches. Many seem empty…
TG: Congratulations, you drafted a superstar slot receiver in the first right instead of trying to add an impact defensive player. This is a good idea because … ?
Many first-round rookies aren't outstandingly productive. Wright is one of them. He's a bit of an upgrade on Lavelle Hawkins in that role, but big whoop there.
When the Titans drafted him, I envision him running a bunch of vertical seam routes from the slot, the way Victor Cruz did last year for the Giants. Hasn't happened. I'm not exactly sure why.
Overall, a very blah rookie season, with occasional flashes of something better. I still need convincing this wasn't a mistake.
ND: Britt, Johnson, Cook: how many are back with the Titans in 2013?
TG: Kenny Britt is coming off an ACL injury and didn't play football for almost 11 months, including missing the entire preseason this year. That's a more normal-type recovery, as opposed to an Adrian Peterson-type recovery. He's not moving the same way he did last year. Many players have said after an ACL injury it takes until their second season to get back to 100%. He's inexpensive next year.
Given what we've seen from a fully-healthy Kenny Britt in the past, the only way he shouldn't be back with the Titans next year is if he gets in serious, serious, serious trouble with law enforcement.  
Chris Johnson is scheduled to make $10 million in salary next year. Players who make that much money better be game-changers who threaten opponents on their own, even if everything around them isn't going well. Chris Johnson's productivity is partly a result of game situation and the quality of blocking in front of him. He's not doing the terrible and inexplicable things he did way too often last year, but I wouldn't pay him more than $2-3 million.
That said, I don't run the Titans. I think the Titans would like to be able to run the ball. Chris Johnson is the best back on the Titans (and, in my view, probably the only non-terrible one). Plus, the same Reinfeldt/Webster duo that paid Chris Johnson is still running the Titans, and I don't trust them not to look at keeping Johnson to justify paying him what they paid him.
With four of the hypothetical starting offensive line now on injured reserve and Johnson running better, the groundwork has been laid to keep him next year. I'm more or less resigned to it at this point.
 I think Jared Cook thinks he's a better player than I think he is. I think most Titans fans think a better player than I think he is. The Titans threw him the ball 15 times last week. That's a lot, and would seem to indicate they think he's a better player than I think he's showed he is.
I don't think he deserves top 10 tight end-type money. Somebody will probably give it to him. I hope it's not the Titans. They did pay other tight end Craig Stevens starter-type money last offseason, so I'm hopeful they won't pay Cook as well.
ND: What one offseason move you think this team can make to dramatically improve their standing next year?

TG: The Titans desperately need at least one and preferably several defensive players who impact the opposing gameplan, including at least one pass rusher who demands a double team or can at least win 1v1 regularly.

Kamerion Wimbley, who was supposed to be that guy (but really, he was the best guy they could get), has not had the impact the Titans needed. If this player was a defensive tackle, that'd be great.


ND: Care to guess at the score?

TG: I have no confidence in the Titans' ability to move the ball outside of random big plays. Colts 20 – Titans 10.

My thanks, Tom!

Interview with Tom Gower of Total Titans

Once again, we visit with Tom Gower of Total Titans.  Tom also contributes over at the Footballoutsiders.comTom is a must follow on Twitter as well, and not just for this week.  We spoke to him a couple of weeks ago before the first Titans game.  I answered some questions for him too, so check them out

1.  An inspired performance over the Texans.  A dead on their feet game against the Chiefs.  Which Titans team do we see in Indy this Sunday?

The game against Kansas City was their third dud performance of the year, following the first Texans game and the second Jaguars game.  I suspect the whole team is ready for the year to be over, and my expectations for Sunday are not very high.


2.  What if anything has changed in the last 14 days that could turn the outcome of Sunday’s game?


Now that the Titans are officially eliminated, it may be time for some younger players to get their chance at a larger role.  Jeff Fisher indicated this week the offense may be opened up more; what that means, I’m not really sure, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see more playing time for rookie wideout Damian Williams and second year tight end Jared Cook.


3.  What would winning this game mean to the Titans and Jeff Fisher’s future going into the offseason?


The Titans have had three incredibly flat performances already, and a fourth in the last six games would confirm the players have stopped listening to whatever Jeff Fisher is trying to tell him.  Fisher is still under contract for next year for a pretty high price, so I’m not completely sure he’s gone even if they do put up a stinker, but a win would make it more palatable.


4. The Titans can win this game if…?


They come out ready and motivated to play, maintain that concentration and energy for the entire game, and the Colts help them out by turning the ball over a few times and/or not accepting gifts the Titans try to give them.  I hate to talk about motivation and coming out flat, and all this other stuff, because it normally strikes me as wishy-washy nonsense used to confirm what somebody already thinks.  But it’s Week 17, and there no team goals at stake for the Titans, so it’s a much major factor.


5.  What need to happen in Tennessee to make next year’s annual “Colts/Titans close out the season at Lucas Oil Stadium” game a significant one for both franchises?


Well, both teams need to have something at stake.  Both the Colts and Titans were good in 2008, and the Week 17 game was a total stinker because they were both locked into a seed.  Ditto to a lesser extent the 2007 game for the Colts, though the Titans needed it to make the playoffs.

In terms of the broader picture for the Titans, they need a reliable answer at quarterback.  My best guess right now is they’ll try to make Vince Young that guy. If they do, there’s a chance he could finally develop the off-the-field skills needed to be the right guy on the field, but I doubt it. They could also use a linebacker or two who could cover and probably a safety as well.


6. Finally, do we see Fisher pull out all the stops this week, or has this team cashed in its chips already?


Historically, he has pulled out the stops against the Colts, especially in weeks like this one where the Titans seem like a major longshot.  You remember the onside kicks in 2004.  In 2006, they were roughly 17-point underdogs and came out with an extremely run-heavy gameplan and inspired a rule change with a trick play at the end of the first half.  He could be coaching for his job, so you could see anything.  On offense, that is.  I wouldn’t expect much creativity from the defense, aside from maybe a couple more ineffective zone blitzes like they’ve been doing all year.