Why Chuck Cecil Is Not The Problem

People questioning Chuck Cecil's performance are missing the boat. Mostly. Instead, consider this.

One question: do the Titans have good personnel, especially at DE, OLB, CB and safety? Last year, the answer was most definitely NO. The starting DEs at the beginning of the season (Jevon Kearse, Kyle Vanden Bosch) are now gone, and no one misses them. Except, maybe, Paul Kuharsky and Jim Wyatt, who for years insisted that Vanden Bosch was a lot better than he actually was. (The truth is for all the talk about his having a "non-stop motor" and all the leadership and effort and drive he brought to the team - he was a team captain and all, right? - Vanden Bosch only actually exceeded 7 sacks twice in Nashville: in 2005 and 2007 when he greatly benefited from Albert Haynesworth double teams. And by the way ... Keith Bulluck hasn't been missed either. At least, er, not on the field. The guy has 11 tackles for the Giants, only two more than Jamie Winborn, who will be returning to the bench soon.) This year, the answer is DEFINITELY. The DEs and CBs are much better, the safeties are playing better, and when McGrath returns, the LBs will too. So, the problem last year wasn't Cecil, it was the players, especially some guys that were held onto for too long, and with guys who were going through injuries and other issues and at least one guy who wasn't ready (Jason McCourty) thrown in. 

Another question: if the Titans have good personnel at OLB at safety, then why haven't the Titans been able to defend spread offenses in over ten years? Now THAT is what we should be focusing on.

Throughout the Jeff Fisher era, the Titans have done great against teams who go with the traditional two back two WR formation where the QB drops back and tries to go through his progressions and throw downfield. They stop the run, which keeps the QB in negative down and distance situations, and a combination of great (or at least good) pass rushers and aggressive CBs make throwing deep against this defense very difficult. 

OK, fine. The problem is that virtually no one does it any more. The Giants still do. You saw the result against the Titans. The Raiders do - or at least did at the beginning of the season. And you saw the result. (Incidentally, the Raiders have since junked Jason Campbell and their vertical offense - no protection for Campbell - and gone with a short passing game with Bruce Gradkowski.) And the Broncos did it ... for the first half. But the second half? That's the problem. And it has been for years. Whether it was the Rams in the 1999 Super Bowl. The Raiders in the AFC title game. The Patriots in the playoffs. A bunch of regular season games with the Colts. And so on. Whenever a team abandons the 2 WR/deep ball strategy and goes to 3 or 4 WRs and a quick underneath passing game, the Titans have no recourse. The QB gets the ball out before the DEs get there. And the WRs avoid what the Titans like to do in coverage by running short, underneath or timing routes. So, they have no problem dropping back and completing passes.

Big deal, the Titans can just stop them for short gains, right? Wrong. If you complete a bunch of 5 to 7 yard passes, it is the equivalent of a tailback getting 5 to 7 yard runs. You move the sticks. Also, the Titans DBs are better at run support - flying to the line of scrimmage and the ball and stopping tailbacks for no gain - than they are at limiting the yards after the catch of WRs (and TEs). 

Now again, this has been a problem FOR YEARS under a number of different coordinators. The Titans really haven't been hurt that much because few teams had the ability to effectively run a short passing offense. But now, thanks to the rules changes and the copycat NFL building a bunch of Colts and Patriots clones, they're all over the NFL. And the Titans are going to have real problems going forward unless they change their personnel and scheme to be able to stop these "death by a thousand cuts" dink and dunk offenses. Against the Titans, you don't have to run the ball, and you don't have to throw downfield. Instead, if you have a reasonably accurate QB and WRs that are decent at running routes and catching the ball, you can do the same thing to the Titans that the Broncos did on Sunday. 

That's why going after Cecil is just scapegoating. Cecil didn't put this defense together, Jeff Fisher did. And it isn't Cecil's playbook or philosophy that he is running: it is Fisher's. Fisher's defense is basically based on defending what NFC East and NFC Central teams were running in the 1980s and 1990s. Well, what would have worked against the Dallas Cowboys or Green Bay Packers in 1989 is not going to work in today's NFL, and especially not in the dink and dunk happy AFC. (It would work better in the NFC where there are still a lot of more traditional dropback/west coast offense teams, but even a lot of those can go to a dink and dunk offense for a game or three if they need to.)

So, instead of talking about Cecil, the discussion needs to be about why the Titans' need to upgrade their defensive scheme and get the personnel needed to run it. In other words, the same problem as it is with the offense. (Incidentally, the Titans were a lot better against these spread type offenses when they had a penetrating DT like Albert Haynesworth who could collapse the pocket and disrupt the timing of these dink and dunk offenses. Not saying that the Titans need to pursue Haynesworth. But if they are going to keep their current philosophy on defense, getting another DT LIKE Haynesworth is a necessity. However, my position is that the Titans need a MODERN philosophy on defense. And a modern one on offense wouldn't hurt either.)
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