On Sunday at LP Field against the Denver Broncos, Jeff Fisher will coach his 250th game with the Oilers/Titans franchise.
[picapp align=”left” wrap=”true” link=”term=JEff+Fisher&iid=9755747″ src=”http://view2.picapp.com/pictures.photo/image/9755747/nfl-oakland-raiders/nfl-oakland-raiders.jpg?size=500&imageId=9755747″ width=”234″ height=”343″ /]If it sounds otherwise insignificant then what’s about to be revealed to you will hit you harder than Will Witherspoon coming clean on the blitz for the fourth week in a row.
Only seven other men in league history have coached at least 250 games with the same team. ALL SEVEN ARE IN THE PRO FOOTBALL HALL OF FAME.
Fisher joins names such as Halas, Noll, Landry and Shula. It’s a veritable NFL Rushmore.
“It’s actually the first I’ve heard of it, but of course it’s an honor to be mentioned,” Fisher said. “The players get the credit for the wins and often times we’ll take a little bit of the responsibility for the losses. Again, I hate to say this, but this is just about the next opponent this week, but it is nice to be mentioned with those same names.”
These days, owners change coaches as often as they change ticket prices, making Fisher a unique animal in today’s NFL. He easily is the league’s longest-tenured coach. Philadelphia’s Andy Reid is second, and Fisher has five years on him.
Of the seven men on the list, only Shula (whose last year was 1995) and Noll (1991) coached into the 1990s. A couple of teams have had six coaches since Fisher took over the then-Houston Oilers in 1994.
Titans owner Bud Adams has stuck with Fisher. They’ve had a couple of touch-and-go moments, but for the most part those have been few and far between over the past 17 years.
“I’ve said this time and time and year after year, that’s where the credit goes to,” Fisher said. “He (Adams) understands this game very well, and he has surrounded each one of us with great people in this organization that are all pulling in the same direction.”
It all serves to beg the question: Is Fisher someday going to join the other seven in Canton? The coach has become a polarizing figure in Middle Tennessee. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of middle ground. His detractors will point to his lack of championships and his middling winning percentage (.554). It is, in fact, the lowest among the 20 winningest coaches in league history.
But that’s part of the conundrum with Fisher. It’s not a sparkling winning percentage, but there he is on the list of the 20 winningest coaches. He’s third in victories among active coaches, trailing only Bill Belichick and Mike Shanahan.
Only one of the seven coaches with 250 games with the same team, Minnesota’s Bud Grant, never won a championship. But, Grant guided the Vikings to four Super Bowls and had a .622 winning percentage. As Titans fans are all too painfully aware, Fisher and his teams have been to only one Super Bowl. He hasn’t won a playoff game since 2003. Then again, if Kevin Dyson doesn’t come up a yard short in Super Bowl XXXIV the Titans coach already might have been considered a lock for a bronze bust.
Right now, today, Jeff Fisher probably wouldn’t make the Pro Football Hall of Fame. But he’s hardly a Hail Mary away from serious consideration.
After every Titans game I’ll post a six-pack of things I believe I learned about the team. Herewith “the Sixer” on the 29-10 road win against the Giants that moved the Titans to 2-1:
[picapp align=”left” wrap=”true” link=”term=Tennessee+Titans&iid=9857948″ src=”http://view1.picapp.com/pictures.photo/image/9857948/new-york-giants-tight-end/new-york-giants-tight-end.jpg?size=500&imageId=9857948″ width=”320″ height=”412″ /]1. This team is about defense, first and foremost. Yes, it’s still about Chris Johnson, too. But if this is a playoff team it will be because the defense carries it there. The defense had three takeaways, the first of which gave the offense a short field for the first points of the game and the other two of which snuffed out Giants drives in the red zone. It’s a feisty unit that clearly got under the skin of the G-men as though they were these bedbugs everyone is talking about. The front four drew three personal-foul calls from New York offensive linemen that helped quite a bit, too.
2. The Titans by necessity are frontrunners. They need to score early because it’s not an offense that responds well to being behind. From Vince Young to CJ to Mike Heimerdinger, everyone seems to relax more even with just a bit of a lead. The Titans threw on first down six times, including three consecutive times in the third quarter after a safety gave Tennessee a 12-10 lead. That stretch in the third quarter was pivotal. The Titans got great field position at their own 49 following the free kick, and ‘Dinger let VY sling it for 12 yards to Justin Gage, 10 to Nate Washington and 13 to Kenny Britt. The result? First-and-10 at the NYG 16. Three plays later Young hit Britt for a 13-yard touchdown and the game was pretty much over.
3. The running game still isn’t what anyone expected. Seventeen of CJ’s 32 carries went for 2 yards or less. He finally broke a 42-yarder in the fourth quarter to push his total past the 100-yard mark, but he still looks tentative to me. Of the league’s top seven rushers Johnson (4.0) has by far the lowest per-carry average. I know he’s a home-run hitter. I’ve written that several times. But he has to hit more singles and do less striking out. Whether it’s still offensive line communication or execution trouble, there still is a lot of room for improvement in the running game.
4. Jeff Fisher owns Tom Coughlin. OK, in truth, Fisher is 11-7 against his old nemesis for so many years with the Jaguars. But this one was important for both teams, and Coughlin’s bunch was frustrated throughout and never got in a groove.
5. The special teams have been a plus instead of an embarrassment. Entering the games Sunday night and Monday night the Titans ranked eighth in the league in punt-return average and 11th in kickoff-return average. Maybe that doesn’t sound like a huge deal, but the Titans ranked 25th in punt returns last year and 29th in kickoff returns. Marc Mariani’s 45-yard kickoff return to start the second half essentially got the ball rolling toward the safety that gave the Titans a 12-10 lead. His return gave Tennessee great field position, but even when the drive stalled safety Michael Griffin made a terrific play to down Brett Kern’s punt at the NYG 1. The safety occurred three plays later.
6. LB Will Witherspoon already has been well worth his free-agent money. He has one sack in each of the first three games. I’m not about to proclam he’s gonna end with 16 sacks, but however Chuck Cecil has drawn it up ‘Spoon has come clean for an easy sack three games in a row. Witherspoon also was the guy draped all over Eli Manning’s right arm when he decided to try a lefty toss into the end zone that was picked off by Jason McCourty. The guy has made some big plays so far.
I find myself in a more awkward position than the time I asked my buddy’s wife how soon she was due and she told me she had the baby three weeks ago.
The position? Jeff Fisher apologist.
[picapp align=”right” wrap=”true” link=”term=Vince+Young+Titans&iid=9748450″ src=”http://view1.picapp.com/pictures.photo/image/9748450/nfl-oakland-raiders/nfl-oakland-raiders.jpg?size=500&imageId=9748450″ width=”312″ height=”211″ /]I’m neither a fan nor a foe of the Titans coach. He deserves at least a modicum of respect for being the league’s longest-tenured head man, and he’s earned the right to decide who should quarterback his team at any given moment without it touching off a firestorm.
All week I’ve heard criticism of Fisher for his benching of Vince Young after three quarters against the Steelers. I’ve even heard some go so far as to say he wronged Young by pulling him.
The benching came at the start of the fourth quarter, with the Titans trailing 13-3. Through three quarters Young had been intercepted twice and fumbled twice. The offense had amassed 96 total yards, including a whopping 3 in the third quarter.
For anyone rising to the defense of Young, what more did you need to see against Pittsburgh to understand that he was overmatched? Do you honestly believe he could have led the Titans to eight more points in the fourth quarter and within a great catch by Nate Washington and two-point conversion of tying the game in the final minute?
Kerry Collins came on and passed for 149 yards in the final 15 minutes, or 53 more yards than the entire offense had put up in the first 45 minutes. His pass to Washington was a well-thrown ball that gave his receiver a chance to make a play that would have made it 19-17. For that Fisher deserves to be raked over the coals, drawn and quartered in all corners of the globe?
These opinions leave me incredulous. Has Young’s NFL career been so wonderful that he’s beyond reproach? If so, where have I been? Young has 34 career touchdown passes and 41 career interceptions including the two games this season. He’s a 58-percent passer. He has never thrown for more than 2,600 yards in a season.
Here’s a comparison for you with Young and another QB who entered the league in 2006. They have similar numbers of NFL starts (Young has 41 to this player’s 36) and passing attempts (Young has 1,061; QB X has 1,181). QB X has 48 touchdown passes and 49 interceptions. He’s a 53-percent passer who threw for 3,787 yards in 2007.
Anyone getting Derek Anderson’s bronze bust ready for Canton?
Are any of the Young apologists concerned that Fisher said in the aftermath of the 19-11 loss to the Steelers that he and the offensive staff “probably had too much in the game plan?” This is Young’s fifth year in the league. Are the Jets and Ravens worried they’re putting too much in the gameplans for Mark Sanchez and Joe Flacco, two QBs younger than Young?
For his part, Collins, who’s 37, has seen it all. He’s been the guy benched and he’s been the guy who came off the bench.
It comes with choosing to be a quarterback in the first place.
“It’s the position that garners the most interest and recognition,” Collins said. “Obviously when something goes down people are quick to throw their two cents in, discuss, critique, ‘who’s playing better.’
“That’s why, in my opinion, it’s the most difficult position to play in all of professional sports because there is so much scrutiny and so much pressure and coverage and what have you that it just adds to everything you have to deal with day in and day out.”
Collins said after years of being under the microscope he learned not to let things beyond his control affect him.
But he also said it definitely took time to reach that point.
“At first you read everything in the newspaper and you listen to what everybody is saying, but after a while you just realize that it becomes 100-percent counterproductive to what you’re trying to do,” Collins said. “Everybody has got an opinion, and most of the time it’s people who don’t know what they’re talking about to begin with. You realize that’s the deal. Put it in its place and move on.”
We’ll see Sunday against the Giants if Young has put it in its place and moved on.
After every Titans game I’ll post a six-pack of things I believe I learned about the team. Herewith “the Sixer” on the 19-11 loss to the Steelers that dropped the Titans to 1-1:
[picapp align=”left” wrap=”true” link=”term=Vince+Young&iid=9814249″ src=”http://view.picapp.com/pictures.photo/image/9814249/pittsburgh-steelers/pittsburgh-steelers.jpg?size=500&imageId=9814249″ width=”234″ height=”302″ /]1. The coaches can say there’s no quarterback controversy until they’re Titan blue in the face, but you don’t pull a QB who’s an unquestioned starter with a quarter to play and your team trailing only 13-3. Don’t get me wrong. The decision to pull Vince Young in favor of Kerry Collins was the right one, albeit that it came too late in my opinion. I’m left to wonder if anyone brought up the notion at halftime but was too worried about the potential damage to Young’s fragile psyche to pull the trigger. Jeff Fisher said Young will start next week against the Giants. The question is: Will he finish?
2. The defense deserved a much better fate. It didn’t give up an offensive touchdown. It held Pittsburgh to four field goals and just 127 total yards, and three of those field goals came on a short field after turnovers. The Steelers mustered only seven first downs and were 2 of 15 on third down (13 percent). The Titans front seven had four sacks, was stout against the run and kept the team within striking distance.
3. Something is wrong with the running game. There, I said it. Chris Johnson had 16 carries on Sunday, and 10 of them (62.5 percent) went for 1 yard or less. I’d settle for him being a little less of a home-run threat if it meant more singles and doubles. There’s just no way CJ and this offensive line should produce such a high percentage of lousy carries. CJ also deserves to be called out for his lack of effort on Vince Young’s third-quarter fumble. It certainly appeared as though Johnson had a chance to get on the ball, but he didn’t even make an attempt.
4. The Titans have to take better care of the ball. Yes, that’s a “Captain Obvious” statement, but seven turnovers? Elementary-school teams don’t turn it over that much. The Titans fumbled seven times and lost four of them. You’d think the game was played in Pittsburgh in January. It wasn’t. It was played on a perfectly sunny September day in Nashville, and the Titans treated the ball like they’d been asked to hold Paris Hilton’s carry-on at LAX. It’s the kind of thing that snowballs, too. Do you think the Giants will make an extra effort to get a ball loose early next week?
5. Mike Heimerdinger needs to open up the playbook more on first down. The Titans threw four times on first down in the first half. The results? Three completions for 39 yards and Troy Polamalu’s interception in the end zone. Yes, the last result is a bad one, but the Titans were in the red zone in large part because of a 13-yard reception by FB Ahmard Hall on first down to start that particular drive.
6. The offseason moves on defense still look great. For the second consecutive game free-agent pickups Jason Babin and Will Witherspoon each had a sack, and first-round pick Derrick Morgan had half a sack to go with one in Week One. That’s 5.5 sacks from the new faces on defense in the first two weeks.
Chris Johnson told me this week that his streak of consecutive 100-yard games “definitely” will reach 13 come Sunday night.
[picapp align=”left” wrap=”true” link=”term=chris+johnson&iid=9747394″ src=”http://view.picapp.com/pictures.photo/image/9747394/oakland-raiders-tennessee/oakland-raiders-tennessee.jpg?size=500&imageId=9747394″ width=”351″ height=”234″ /]Of course, the Steelers will have plenty to say about that. They’ve given up a 100-yard rusher only once in their past 39 games, including the playoffs and a Super Bowl victory. And in September? Forget it. The men in Black (& Gold) haven’t allowed anyone to reach the century mark against them in the first month of the season since Priest Holmes of the Chiefs rushed for 122 yards and 3 TDs on 26 carries on Sept. 14, 2003.
“They just are a great run defense,” Johnson said. “It’s always gonna be a tough game. That’s the kind of game there’s not a lot of offensive yards. Who stays focused and doesn’t turn the ball over will get the win in the end.”
The Steelers are one of only two teams Johnson has faced at least twice against whom he has not topped the 100-yard mark. The other is the Jets. Pittsburgh did allow Johnson to break a 32-yard run on his third carry in last season’s season opener, but CJ finished with only 57 yards on 15 carries. Eleven of his totes went for 2 yards or less.
Sunday will be a battle of wills. The Titans are 13-4 when Johnson rushes for 100 yards, including 1-0 so far this season. It’s no secret Jeff Fisher will make sure CJ gets handed the ball 20-plus times. The Titans know it and so do the Steelers, who held Atlanta’s Michael Turner to 42 yards in 19 carries in a 15-9 Pittsburgh overtime victory last week.
“We gotta get 13 in a row,” FB Ahmard Hall said. “Our goal is to get CJ his yards. When he gets it we have a higher percentage of winning so that’s our gameplan.
“You just have to do what you do. We run the ball and we play great defense, and that’s what we’re gonna do on Sunday. We can’t allow a defense to dictate to us and scare us out of our gameplan.”
Executing the gameplan against the Steelers 3-4 is another matter. But Johnson remains confident as he chases Barry Sanders’ NFL record of 14 100-yard games in a row.
“Me being myself I’m gonna say the streak is gonna continue,” Johnson said. “But I’m not going into the game thinking about that. I’m just doing what I have to do to get a victory. If we do that, I did my job.”
If the Titans win it will be because Johnson made it to 13. We’ll know soon enough.
After every Titans game I’ll post a six-pack of things I believe I learned about the team. Herewith “the Sixer” on the opening 38-13 rout of the Raiders:
[picapp align=”right” wrap=”true” link=”term=Chris+Johnson&iid=9748445″ src=”http://view3.picapp.com/pictures.photo/image/9748445/nfl-oakland-raiders/nfl-oakland-raiders.jpg?size=500&imageId=9748445″ width=”234″ height=”321″ /]1. The threat of Chris Johnson is almost as good as Chris Johnson. Vince Young threw a 56-yard touchdown pass to Nate Washington off a play-action fake to CJ, and the Raiders secondary bit on it harder than a pit bull on a lamb shank. There wasn’t a safety within 15 yards of Washington.
2. Johnson is impossible to stop for four quarters. I don’t believe the running game was in top form and CJ still posted 142 yards on 27 carries. His first 12 carries netted just 36 yards, and six of those went for 1 yard or less. But it’s the 13th carry that broke the Raiders, a 76-yard touchdown jaunt.”It didn’t feel as good as the numbers (39 rushes, 205 yards) came out,” G Jake Scott said. “I don’t know if we were as efficient as we should be. We had a lot of 1-, 2-yard runs that we need to get ironed out.” But Scott also said if the line covers the opposition on just one play and gives Johnson the smallest seam all that’s left is a vapor trail.
3. The defensive line is as good as I’ve been saying and as deep as I’ve been saying. Three different linemen (Jason Babin, Derrick Morgan and Jacob Ford) had sacks of Jason Campbell. The d-line batted down three passes. Campbell probably could tell you what DT Jason Jones ate for breakfast because Jones was in his face all day. LB Stephen Tulloch told me after the game the d-line was so good it didn’t leave any plays for anyone else to make. Albert who?!?
4. This team wins unlike any team in the league I can think of. It never uses four wide receivers. It barely even throws to them (although Washington did put up three receptions for 88 yards). On obvious passing downs it uses three receivers, a tight end and keeps Johnson in the backfield. The Raiders couldn’t stop the Titans, but will Tennessee need to open it up more against tougher defenses?
5. If S Michael Griffin plays the rest of the season like he did against the Raiders he’ll put a sub-par 2009 behind him and be the Pro Bowler he was in 2008. Griffin made a terrific play to knock away a would-be touchdown pass, recovered a fumble and led the team in tackles with 12. He was everywhere.
6. The Titans have paid a lot of lip service to being better in special teams than they were in 2009, and they were against the Raiders. Now maybe that’s only because it was the Raiders, but there wasn’t so much as even a threat of a decent return by Oakland and all it’s alleged team speed.
The Titans have been peppered with questions about their 0-6 start last season and how they would ensure no such stumbling out of the gate occurs this season.
“We can’t continuously start off slow and think we’re gonna pick it up toward the end of the season and have a good season,” FB Ahmard Hall said.
[picapp align=”left” wrap=”true” link=”term=JEff+Fisher&iid=9593468″ src=”http://view.picapp.com/pictures.photo/image/9593468/tennessee-titans-seattle/tennessee-titans-seattle.jpg?size=500&imageId=9593468″ width=”234″ height=”351″ /]The fact is the NFL did the Titans a favor with the schedule, and if Jeff Fisher and Crew aren’t feeling significant pressure to start at least 2-0, well, they damn well ought to be.
Only three teams in the NFL open the regular season with two home games – the Titans, Redskins and Jets. Of those, only the Titans and Jets are likely to be favored in both games. Washington already is an underdog to Dallas in the opener; New York could be an underdog in Week 2 when New England comes to town depending on Week 1 outcomes.
So it’s possible the only team in pro football that doesn’t have to win a road game or beat a favorite to start 2-0 is Tennessee. Even if the Jets are favored in both games, which sked would you rather have – the Titans’, which has the Raiders and the Ben Roethlisberger-less Steelers, or the Jets’, which has the Ravens and Patriots? That’s a no-brainer.
Anything other than a 2-0 start for the Titans should be considered a monstrous disappointment. Yes, the Raiders are a lot more dangerous with Jason Campbell than last year’s bloated excuse for a QB, but you’re not a team anyone will take seriously if you can’t be Oakland at home in Week 1. Then there’s the matter of catching Pittsburgh without the guy who has helped it win two Super Bowls. Roethlisberger passed for 363 yards in a 13-10 win over the visiting Titans in last season’s opener.
Fisher, of course, is saying the focus is only on the Raiders. There’s no looking ahead to the two-game home start. But there should be.
You don’t get a lot of gifts in the NFL. But the start to the schedule should be considered a head-start for the Titans. A stumble in the first two steps of this race will make it difficult to recover.