Bears questions for Total Titans

It’s part two of our Q&A with Ryan Tennant of From the Midway, where I answer questions about the Titans.  For part one, see here. For my answers to his questions, see below the jump.


1. After giving up 30 sacks in 2007 with a mobile quarterback, the
Titans are on pace to surrender single-digit sacks with
concrete-cleated Kerry Collins under center. What has lead to the huge
improvement in pass protection this year?

There are two parts to this question.  First, the Titans’ offensive
line excels at pass protection.  Michael Roos has been smooth and
efficient at left tackle since pretty much day one at the position in
2006, Kevin Mawae is a great veteran center that excels at the double
team and makes the right line calls, David Stewart at right tackle is a
mauler, and ex-Colt free agent acquisition Jake Scott has replaced the
retired Benji Olson at right guard without a dropoff.  I’m not as
enamored of Eugene Amano at left guard, but he hasn’t been a big
liability.  The bottom line: Collins is almost never forced to make an
unplanned quick decision on where to throw the football.

The Titans had a pretty good offensive line last year, too, though,
and VY was rarely forced to make an unplanned quick decision.  The
problem with VY last year, however, and the difference with Collins, is
that VY wasn’t very good at making quick decisions or even not-so-quick
ones.  The key to being a good, or at least decent, NFL quarterback is
that you have to be able to make quick and right decisions.  VY visibly
labored at that-you could almost see him mentally go through the things
he had to do-Ok, I have to check for pressure.  Who’s coming, who’s
dropping into coverage?  If X comes and Y drops into coverage, I can
wait to see if that pattern is open downfield, but if it happens the
other way, I’ll have to hit my hot read.  With Collins, this process
seems much more natural.

I think part of the reason for that, though, is Collins’ automatic
response to any potential indecisiveness is to throw the ball away or
dump it off.  There’s a reason he has a 57% completion percentage, and
it’s not because he’s taking chances throwing down the field.  That
results in fewer sacks and increased ball security (QBs seem to throw
more interceptions when they’re confused and fumble more often when
they’re pressured).

2. How much confidence do the Titans have in Collins? If
Tennessee is trailing by two scores in the fourth quarter, is he a
quarterback capable of bringing his team back? And on a related note,
what role, if any, does Vince Young have for the remainder of 2008 and
in to the future with the Titans?

The Titans seem to have absolute confidence Collins will throw the
ball away or dump it off when pressured, and generally will not throw
an interception (exception: the Ravens game).  Like the Bears before
last week’s game, though, the Titans have not been a team that’s spent
a lot of time trailing.  Their largest decision of the season has been
8, in the third quarter of the game against the Colts on Monday Night
Football.  Whether or not Collins is a quarterback capable of bringing
his team back from a two score deficit, particularly in the fourth
quarter, is still a very open question.  When I mention that the
Titans’ #1 wide receiver is Justin Gage (yes, THAT Justin Gage), you
probably can guess which way I lean on that question.

Vince Young’s role with the 2008 Titans right now looks like it’s
to ride the bench so long as Kerry Collins is healthy.  There have been
reports in the national media about how the Titans have worked on a
Wildcat-type package for VY since training camp, but the local media is
less high on those reports and the Titans, as is their normal practice,
haven’t said a thing.  He’s not as well-known or abrasive about it as
Belichick, but Fisher isn’t really any more enthusiastic when it comes
to talk about what’s really going on at Baptist Sports Park.  VY could
be listening to his iPod the whole time he’s in meetings and you won’t
hear about it from the Titans.

3. Jeff Fisher has been the Titans coach since the end of the
1994 season and is the longest-tenured active coach in the NFL. He is a
career 16 games over .500, but he has brought Tennessee only one Super
Bowl appearance – a loss – and five playoff appearances total. Is
Fisher the coach to lead the Titans back to the Super Bowl, or is
change possible at the top if he continues to be only mildly successful?

Jeff Fisher’s job security is pretty much unquestioned-he may have
a firmer hold on his job than any other coach in the league.  His
contract actually ran out in 2006, and he coached the Titans on a team
option in 2007.  Since then, he’s signed a multi-year extension that
pays him a hefty chunk of change, probably ranking him among the top 5
coaches in salary (the details are pretty murky).  Owner Bud Adams
supposedly loves him for the job he did in keeping the team together
during the tumultuous move from Houston to Nashville, when they played
in 4 stadiums in 3 cities in 4 years, and the down years of 2004-06 and
recovery from cap hell don’t seem to have lessened that love any.

In fact, Fisher’s powers have recently expanded.  GM Floyd Reese
was hired about the same time Fisher was and lasted a dozen years
himself.  The two apparently constantly butted heads over pretty much
everything from the beginning (Fisher supposedly wanted to take DE
Kevin Carter with the pick the Titans used on Steve McNair, for
instance), and Reese eventually resigned/was forced out in 2006.  The
Titans do have a new GM, Mike Reinfeldt, but Fisher appears ahead of
him on the organizational chart, and I’m pretty sure that means Fisher
has the final say on player decision-making.  I’m actually somewhat
concerned about this from a longer range perspective, because Fisher
has a strong pro-defense, offensively run first bias that I think
better reflects the NFL of the early 1970′s than that of latter half of
the first decade of the 21st century.

4. The Titans are the lone remaining team in the NFL and appear
in good shape to secure a playoff spot and home field advantage for the
playoffs. Are the Titans as good as their record indicates, or are they
beneficiaries of their schedule or the down seasons other teams in the
AFC South are having?

The skepticism of the Titans’ success based on record and
performance applies much more to last year’s model than this year.
 That team skated to a lot of closer wins against a mediocre level of
competition.  This year’s outfit is clearly superior in my eyes-the
defense has been at least as good, the pass game with Collins is
reliable, and Chris Johnson provides a big play ability that was
entirely lacking when LenDale White was getting the bulk of the carries.

In my eyes, this is the third best Titans team of the Tennessee
era.  Tops is the 2000 team that went 13-3 and earned home field
advantage, then lost in the playoffs to the Ravens in the Al
!#@%!@#$%!@%# Del Greco Game-that team had a defense every bit as good
as the Ravens, Eddie George in his last decent year, and Derrick
Mason’s breakout year as a returner and wide receiver.  That was a
really great team, but they ran into a team that was almost as good and
got the breaks they needed.  Next is the 2003 team that went 12-4 and
lost to the Patriots-that team was keyed by an explosive passing
attack, but the defense was prone to fits of badness and Eddie George
put up lots of statlines like 21 carries for 67 yards.  That was a very
good team in a year where the AFC had about four very good teams (NE,
IND, KC).

I’d put this year’s team in the “very good” category right behind
the 03 outfit.  In a platonic world where all the great, very good,
good, etc. teams are distributed evenly, they’re probably not 8-0 and
don’t get home field advantage.  So, to an extent then, yeah, they are
beneficiaries of their schedule and down seasons by the Jags, Colts,
and other AFC contenders.  I don’t expect them to finish 16-0, and they
wouldn’t “deserve” to be 16-0 based on clearly outperforming every
other team in the league in the regular season the way the Patriots
did, but they’re still a very good football team.

5. Tennessee reminds me a lot of the ’05-’06 editions of the
Chicago Bears, with their power rushing attack and their nasty defense.
Can you give some insight in to that defensive scheme and what the
Bears will be up against on Sunday?

One of the interesting things about the Titans the last couple
years has been the resurrection of defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz’s
reputation.  When the Titans had liabilities starting on the defensive
line, at linebacker, and in the secondary, he looked like a bad coach.
 Now that the Titans don’t have nearly as many clear weaknesses, he
looks like a great coach.  It’s just evidence of the accuracy of the
mantra that while offense can be about scheme and execution, defense is
about talent.  If the Bears can’t block Albert Haynesworth, it doesn’t
matter whether the Titans are playing two-deep man or cover-3 zone.

That said, the Titans will probably start out playing cover-2 zone
and see if they can get pressure with a four man rush.  They’ll mix up
coverages like every team, of course, and have played more Tampa-2 in
their base package since the faster Stephen Tulloch replaced Ryan
Fowler at MLB.  Peyton was able to take advantage of Tulloch with his
eyes, but I’m not nearly as troubled by the possibility of Rex Grossman
doing the same.  If they decide they do want to bring pressure against
Rexxy, I’d look for them to bring nickel corner Vinny Fuller from the
slot and OLB Keith Bulluck.  The one wild card in this is how worried
the Titans are about Hester’s speed.  They tend to be excellent
tacklers, but you can’t tackle what you can’t catch, and Hester has a
clear speed advantage of Nick Harper at corner.  I think they start out
a little conservative, and if weather dictates a more conservative
attack offensively, the Titans will feel free to be a little more
aggressive.

My prediction: Titans 20 – Bears 10.  I think little of Rex
Grossman, and expect turnovers to be the difference in a low-scoring
game.

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