A once-proud Tennessee Titans franchise seems to be at a crossroads. The team is going nowhere, the fan base is fed up and the owner is so ticked off he flew back home to Houston in the second half of Sunday’s pathetic 51-20 home loss to the Chicago Bears.
Mike Munchak is not entirely responsible for the Titans’ 3-6 record. The second-year head coach can be responsible, however, for the effort his team puts forth every Sunday. Too many times this season, a befuddled Munchak has stood arms crossed on the sideline in the fourth quarter of a blowout loss. It’s a troubling trend.
The Titans have the NFL’s worst point differential, a staggering -126 through nine games. Five of their six losses have been decided by 21 points or more, and those games were essentially over by halftime. When any team is uncompetitive in the majority of its games, the blame ultimately falls on the head coach.
One could argue Munchak stepped into an unfavorable situation last season. For starters, he was taking Jeff Fisher’s place, which would have been difficult for any first-time head coach. Munchak also inherited a team short on talent, which can be attributed to below average
drafting and developing over the years.
Still, Munchak does not appear to be a great fit as an NFL head coach. He is a great guy, but not all assistant coaches are made out to be head coaches.
His team may have posted a 9-7 record in 2011, but this is a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately league. Unless owner Bud Adams’ public comments spark a much-needed fire in Munchak and the team, it is safe to say he is not going to be the one to lead them back to the
If Munchak goes, so does the entire staff. Coordinators Jerry Gray and Chris Palmer have been disappointments. Gray’s defense is ranked dead last in total defense and points allowed. Palmer’s offense has underachieved as the potentially-effective weapons have been misused.
Costly mental mistakes have been glaring in every phase of the game, which again falls on the coaching staff. It is unacceptable when 10 players are on the field for consecutive plays on a game-tying drive in the fourth quarter of an important game. It is unacceptable when receivers line up incorrectly and get called for illegal formation penalties on consecutive plays. And those are only recent examples.
Adams saying the Titans were “grossly outcoached and outplayed” Sunday is a sign changes will indeed occur if the team doesn’t improve in the final seven games. But really, the win-loss record from here on out shouldn’t define Munchak’s future (or GM Ruston Webster or anyone else in the front office). Ever since the remarkable 2008 season in which the Titans went 13-3, they have tried to patch together a roster with inadequate replacements to valuable veterans – and the product has deteriorated.
The Titans need a new leader, a new identity and a new vision.
In other terms, they need to start from scratch no matter what happens between now and Week 17. The future is more important than the next two months. This is not to say the Titans should just tank the final two months, but ending 2012 with a 4-12 or 5-11 record would not necessarily be a bad thing.
Last season the Indianapolis Colts took one loss after another on the chin, but they committed to a rebuild and selected quarterback Andrew Luck first overall in April’s draft. Now look at Luck and the Colts – in the playoff mix less than 12 months after finishing 2-14
and gutting three-fourths of the roster.
It is clear the Titans need a difference-maker (particularly on defense) – and they certainly are not going to pay for that player in free agency. A top-five selection in the 2013 draft would be a nice coup, as there will be many highly-touted defensive players available at the top.
Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones, a junior, is the cream of the crop, but he may not schematically fit with the Titans unless they change to a 3-4 defense. There will be an assortment of elite defensive linemen that on Saturdays wreak havoc on opposing quarterbacks, an element the Titans have not had since Albert Haynesworth and Kyle Vanden Bosch left town.
The college prospect that could provide the biggest lift, though, is Notre Dame senior linebacker Manti Te’o.
Colin McCarthy is a good inside linebacker. At times he is the best player on the Titans’ otherwise soft defense. But players like him get recycled in the NFL ranks. He is not an All-Pro and he will not be making return trips to the Pro Bowl.
The NFL’s top defenses from the last 5-10 years have all had something in common: an anchor – Ray Lewis in Baltimore, Troy Polamalu in Pittsburgh, Brian Urlacher in Chicago, Patrick Willis in San Francisco; Houston’s J.J. Watt will soon join this list. Te’o, if his potential is met, could be a building block the Titans have needed on defense for a long time.
With that being said, we are still over five months away from the draft. Things could change, like the Titans going 8-8 and ruining their chance at drafting Te’o or any other premier defensive player.
While the defense needs an extreme makeover, the offense looks bright for the future. But if the offense is going to center around Jake Locker, Kenny Britt and Kendall Wright for the foreseen future, why hold on to Chris Johnson and his paralyzing salary? That money should be spent on defense (and not to mention: a young, consistent, humble running back).
Personnel changes are inevitable and mandatory, no matter whom they include. However, the disconcerting thought there is that the Titans’ current brain trust – starting with Adams and working its way down the totem pole – cannot be depended upon to make the right decisions. The right move is to sever ties with most of the staff in the front office and on the sidelines.
Titans teams in the early 2000s had a clear identity – run the football, play hard-nosed defense, make home-field an advantage and compete for a division crown. These Titans do not even come close to resembling those teams from the past.
Vintage standard-definition highlights of Steve McNair, Eddie George and Jeff Fisher’s motorcycle mustache are always nice, but I am sure Titans fans are ready for a new wave of success they can bask in the glow of for the next decade.
There may be seven games left in 2012, but the Titans need an extreme makeover from top to bottom if they wish to replicate those glory days.
by Game Reporter Ryan Porth