The Way To Fix The Tennessee Titans' Running Game

The remedy to Tennessee's running game is actually simple: quit pretending as if he is Eddie George. The Titans' vanilla offense worked (kinda sorta) when Eddie George was the feature RB because a big 245 lb. tailback can consistently move the pile against loaded fronts, getting at least 2-3 yards on every carry without losing yards. That would often set the Titans up with 3rd and short to intermediate situations where Steve McNair could have a run-pass option (basically either dump it off to Frank Wycheck or take off) to move the sticks. Do that 3 or 4 times a drive and you are in field goal range, especially if either George, Wycheck or McNair actually has a long gain. And do it five or six times a game, and it shortens the game and keeps the opposing offense off the field. Also, by punishing the opposing defense with George and McNair, often defenses would get tired, and George would really get going in the second half. Or at least that was the theory. In practice, it only worked about half the time, usually against bad teams. But at least with George, it made sense.

But with Chris Johnson, who is a 190 lb. speed back and not a 245 lb. power back, this has no chance. When he runs into an 8 man front, he isn't going to move the pile and keep the Titans into third and short. He isn't going to move the sticks to get into field goal range and keep the opposing offense off the field. And he certainly isn't going to punish a defense and wear it down so he can get going in the second half. All running Chris Johnson into 8 man fronts produces is 3 and outs. Even if Johnson breaks a long run, defenses will give up a long TD run in return for keeping the Titans' bottled up for most of the day on offense. 

Now of course, Jeff Fisher and the Titans' coaches know this already. So why are they sticking with this ridiculous game plan that is guaranteed to fail? Simple: they are back to their "we are stuck with a QB that we don't want in Vince Young so we are just going to make sure he is a bystander as much as possible so that he doesn't get any credit for our success and the hope that we can get a QB that we actually want is alive!" old ways. Don't be fooled: these are the same guys who let Kerry Collins throw the ball as much as 40 times a game in 2008 and 2009 despite his 58% completions, 12 TDs against 9 INTs, and 80 rating (in 2008 ... it was much much worse in 2009). Not only that, the Titans allowed Vince Young to throw the ball a lot more in 2007. What's going on is that Fisher believes - or at least believed until Sunday - that with a great OL and a great defense, he would win games while marginalizing Young at the same time. Or at least that WAS the plan.

Now Fisher knows that his interior offensive line isn't nearly as good as he thought it was (how's that 5 year $26 million dollar contract for Eugene Amano looking right now!) and that his secondary isn't either even when the Titans are rushing the passer effectively (6 sacks Sunday and they still give up 35 completions!). In short, Fisher knows that in order to win - and save his own job in the process - he has to let Vince Young make plays and take credit for victories in order to open up the running game and keep pressure off the defense. 

How? It really isn't that difficult. All the Titans need to do is abandon the Eddie George-Steve McNair power offense that they don't have the personnel for, and switch to a scheme that they DO have the personnel for: more of a spread style offense. Go with 3 WRs or 2 TEs (not that it matters because other than Kenny Britt, none of the WRs or TEs are particularly good) and spread the field. Incorporate the shotgun to give Young a better view of the field, and to give those WRs more time to get open, and to give Nate Washington (who really doesn't like contact) more space to operate. That would get those defenders out of the box and Johnson more room to run.

This isn't to say that the Titans should become the Colts, Saints or Patriots. Vince Young isn't that type of QB, and more important the Titans don't have their WRs. (Anyone think that Randy Moss and Wes Welker or Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark or Andre Johnson and Andrew Walter or Marques Colston, Devery Henderson and Lance Moore instead of Justin Gage, Bo Scaife and Nate Washington wouldn't make Vince Young a much better QB? Anyone? Bueller? Anyone?) They can throw the ball 25 times a game (really, this doing their level best to humiliate Young by only allowing him to throw it 15-18 times has to stop ... like we don't remember that Young went threw a stretch where he had 41, 41, 31 and 31 attempts in 4 straight games in 2007, and this was with Roydell Williams, Eric Moulds and Brandon Jones catching the ball!) with a lot of short passes and slants with the occasional deep throw to Nate Washington mixed in to keep defenses honest. 

Sound familiar? It should. The 2 TE offense was used to get the Titans to the 1999 Super Bowl with Frank Wycheck and Jackie Harris. Now Scaife and Cook are no Wycheck and Harris, but they are all the Titans have. Also, going with a lot of 3 WR looks was what got the Titans to the playoffs in 2002 and 2003. They don't have any WR as good as Derrick Mason (although Britt has the potential to be), but they have guys who can be as good as Justin McCareins and Drew Bennett (neither of whom did squat when they left Nashville and were no longer playing with McNair) or better. 

But realize that the point of doing this isn't to have a passing game that produces 4000 yards and 30 TDs. The point is to get Chris Johnson going again. With Johnson running for 150 yards a game (or even better, with Johnson and Ringer combining for 200 rushing yards a game) they don't need a passing game like the Patriots, Colts and Broncos have. If Fisher can just get past his "I wanted Matt Leinart in 2006, and had we gotten him Norm Chow and I would have developed him and things would be great but now I am stuck with Vince Young!" temper tantrums, it would happen, and the result would be a Titans' team that competes for the playoffs, possibly makes it, and even wins a game or two.

But if that happens, Vince Young gets his long-term deal, and Jeff Fisher is stuck with him. Basically it comes down to what Jeff Fisher wants more. Does he want to win? Or does he want to get rid of Vince Young? The irony is that most of the success that the Titans have would be credited to Chris Johnson and the defense anyway, and Fisher would get credit for drafting Chris Johnson when everyone else had the guy rated as a 3rd round pick, and would naturally get credit for the great defense. People would see Young as a passenger with Fisher and Johnson being seen as the pilot and co-pilot. But hey, when you are dead set on running a guy out of town, I guess logic doesn't matter much?

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