Don McPeak-US PRESSWIRE
After the firing of Jeff Fisher, Titans fans everywhere looked to Mike Munchak to be the change they could believe in. Was our hope misguided?
I like Mike Munchak a lot. He seems very down to earth, personable, and even if it hasn't translated into results, I think he genuinely has a solid basis of knowledge about football. All of that makes this kind of difficult because you hate to see such a genuine guy fall short, but that's exactly what's happened here, he's fallen short.
The Tennessee Titans were done with Jeff Fisher. As a fan base, as a team, as a front office, they were done with him. Whether he meant to or not, his constant confrontations with his quarterback, his veteran preference, and his team's aversion to covering anybody had us fed up. I think I speak for all of us when I say that it was time to make a change at the top. The point of changing head coaches is to get better results from the players you have and, for the intangibles crowd, change the culture of a losing team. Since being promoted from the coach of the offensive line to Jeff Fisher's successor at head coach, neither of those things have happened.
We can talk all we want about the "results" that the 2010-11 season yielded; a winning record, optimism abound, second place in the division, all that, but I think I've made my feelings on last season clear. I know that lots of us here are divided in between the "realists" or "haters" and the "optimists", but sometimes it's just necessary to look at things objectively. Let's start by looking at the offensive line.
2010 was Jeff Fisher's last season as head coach of the Titans. Football Outsiders provides us with the data on all of these. I think it's important to note that there has been a surprising level of continuity among the offensive line over the past three years. It obviously hasn't been the same group every year, but the tackles are unchanged and the interior line has been comprised of the same group of characters (Harris, Amano, Velasco, up until this year Scott) in varying degrees. I understand that talent regression and progression does happen among players, but this is what the data says. In 2010, the Titans finished second-to-last in run blocking. Chris Johnson actually out-performed league standards that year, but only because of an astoundingly good display of evasiveness in the open field. The Titans were stuffed on more than 25% of their running plays. Despite that ugly number, the Titans have not drafted an interior lineman in the past two drafts (UDFA not included) and have really only been active once in trying to get an established player through free agency. Even then, it was Steve Hutchinson who has played decently well, but was clearly in decline.
Despite the offensive line looking downright awful, the front office decided to go with Mike Munchak as head coach. Shockingly, they had hired the man responsible for basically the worst run blocking unit in the game to oversee the whole thing and the rebuilding of a franchise that was trying to make its way towards a more dynamic offensive approach, if we care to take the drafting of Jake Locker to mean anything at all. This probably should have been the first red flag, I could go on for hours about why this is a terrible idea but it's easier to sum it up in one sentence: Don't hire your weakest link to run the show. In 2011, they got worse, finishing dead last in run blocking. Chris Johnson struggled after holding out for a contract extension and fingers were pointed all over the place. This year, things are looking up, the Titans have only the sixth worst run blocking unit in football. Just like in 2010, the run game looks like it's chugging along just fine due to a ridiculous open-field prowess displayed by our running back. The offensive line couldn't run block with Jeff Fisher and they cant' block with Mike Munchak. Nothing has changed.
Another problem that has persisted in the Munchak era is the lack of a pass rush. In 2010, Fisher's last season here, the Titans were thirteenth in pass rush efficiency and eighth in the NFL with 40 sacks. In 2011, those numbers went down to 26th and 31st. The team managed 28 sacks all season. This year, they are still 26th and are on pace to reach the same number, 28 sacks, for the second year in a row. Something interesting I learned while doing this: to highlight the uselessness of the tackle stat, the Titans lead the NFL in tackles with 701, 31 more than the next closest team.
Finally, all of us know that the Titans just don't cover tight ends. They didn't cover them when Chuck Cecil was the defensive coordinator and they don't cover them with Jerry Gray calling the shots. In fact, lousy pass defense in general has been a pretty sad theme that we've all been witnesses to over the past two years. In 2010, the team was actually a little bit better than average against the pass, they finished 15th in weighted pass defense, which takes into account the schedule. Last year that took a dive as the Titans came in at 21st, this year they've been historically bad, and yet somehow, mercifully only rank as the third worst pass defense in the league. What makes very little sense to me is that there are talented players in the secondary. Jason McCourty and Alterraun Verner are, on their worst days, league average cornerbacks. Michael Griffin is bad, really, really bad, but even he shouldn't be able to bring down a unit like this.
And finally, let's just look at the wins and losses. Munchak is now 12-13. Fisher complied a 14-18 record in his last two "disaster seasons" here. I highly doubt that Munchak surpasses that record, as long as I'm trying to stay objective here, I think that the Titans are knee-deep in the search for a new head coach by season's end. Let the Sean Payton Rumor Mill begin.