Tennessee Titans' Problem isn't Jeff Fisher's Coaching

Gerald BallCorrespondent IDecember 29, 2010

KANSAS CITY, MO - DECEMBER 26:  Head coach Jeff Fisher of the Tennessee Titans looks on from the sidelines during the game against the Kansas City Chiefs on December 26, 2010 at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Preface: Yes, I know that Jason Babin was named to the Pro Bowl. I also know that Babin—and Dave Ball—benefit from a scheme that gets them sacks at the expense of other areas of the defense, and that there isn't a single other team in the NFL where Babin and Ball would combine for 19.5 sacks. If there were, the Titans wouldn't have picked either of them up for the minimum salary. 

But the fact is that Babin only had 17.5 career sacks in the seven years prior to this one—and only 4.5 since 2006—and Ball had 4.5 sacks in six years before this season. If this information offends you, then you might as well quit reading.

Or maybe you would like to tell me why the Titans' are 28th in pass defense if Babin and Ball are so good at rushing the passer (oh yeah, they're 21st in run defense also). And this despite playing in a lousy division. 

All right, I have been getting grief for bashing Jeff Fisher. Well, ok...I will defend Jeff Fisher the coach. Fisher hasn't done a bad coaching job this year. Instead, the problem is the players. Pick a coach who would have done a better job with this group of players.

I know, you guys love the Titans' players. But you like them because they are Tennessee Titans. They play for your team, they make plays for your team, and they do good things for the fans and the community. That's great. But the fact is that they aren't good football players as a group.

When I first started listening to sports talk radio years ago, there was this excellent host on the One On One Sports Radio Network (now Sporting News Radio) named Bob Kemp (named sports radio host of the decade by Sports Illustrated, who now regrettably works for a local station in Arizona).

Kemp is a former professional athlete (MLB pitcher) who is very knowledgeable and no-nonsense. He'd get calls from fans all the time irate about why he bashed their teams. Kemp would simply reply "they don't have very many good players."

When they would protest, Kemp would give them a simple test: "How many players on your team are better than the players for the opposing teams?" Almost always, that would leave the (irrational homer) fan with no rejoinder.

Well, let's apply the Bob Kemp test to the Titans. Go down their two-deep depth chart and identify the players that would make the average NFL team better. No unfair stuff, like naming guys who'd get playing time for theCarolina Panthers or Buffalo Bills, or pointing out that a guy stinks because he wouldn't get on the field for thePatriots' offense or the Steelers' defense.

Instead, name the guys on the Titans' team that would get the same playing time for the average NFL team. Let's go down the list of guys who started most of the season.

QB Vince Young: He has his merits (see his record as a starter) but no.

RB Chris Johnson: Yes.

FB Ahmard Hall: Yes.

TE Bo Scaife: Not a chance.

WR Nate Washington: Get real.

WR Justin Gage: Please.

OT Michael Roos: Yes.

OT David Stewart: Yes (but don't make Stewart to be more than what he is).

OG Leroy Harris: No.

OG Jake Scott: No.

C Eugene Amano: Not for $25 million!

Clearly you have a below average offense. The Titans have the worst group of tight ends and receivers in the NFL, and the problems in the interior O-line negate the strength of the offense, which is at left tackle, running back and full back.

Now for the defense.

DE Dave Ball: No.

DE Jason Babin (or Jacob Ford): No.

DT Jason Jones (or Jovan Haye or Sen'Derrick Marks): No.

DT Tony Jones: Yes.

LB Will Witherspoon: No.

LB Steven Tulloch: No.

LB Gerald McRath: Maybe (but don't overrate McRath, he'd be a reserve for the Texans).

CB Cortland Finnegan: Yes.

CB Alterrun Verner/Jason McCourty: No (they have upside but aren't there yet).

SS Chris Hope: No.

FS Michael Griffin: No (this will be controversial. Yes, the guy was great in 2008, but horrible in 2009, a nonfactor in 2007, and very inconsistent—far more than a fourth year player should be—in 2010).

This is actually worse than the offense.

Granted, there are some players who aren't on here (Kenny Britt and Derrick Morgan, who was looking quite good before he got hurt) but there just aren't that many players on here that you could plug in on a team likely to finish around 8-8 and say "he'd really make them a better team," or even some teams worse than 8-8.

Take Houston. The only players that the Titans have that would make that team better are Tony Jones and Cortland Finnegan. San Francisco? The only players that makes them better are Vince Young (yes, it's true, he's better than Alex Smith, and if they had him, they'd make the playoffs) and Cortland Finnegan.

This is how bad it is: an alarming number of Titans starters and key players couldn't get their careers going elsewhere. Justin Gage was buried on Chicago's depth chart. Dave Ball and Jason Babin are journeymen. And no one in Pittsburgh misses Nate Washington.

Add that to the large numbers of struggling high draft picks (those still on the roster anyway) and the guys with big contracts that aren't producing (add up the combined contracts/salaries for Kerry Collins, Nate Washington, Bo Scaife, Justin Gage and Eugene Amano and you will see that the Titans are certainly PAYING for a productive offense!) and it results in a shocking conclusion:

Jeff Fisher and staff are actually getting MORE out of this team than the average coaching staff would.

This is the same team that at midseason looked to be headed towards the playoffs, being 5-2 with victories over playoff contenders Philadelphia and the Giants, and dominating performances against teams that contended for the playoffs in Oakland and Jacksonville.

Granted, along the way there was evidence that things were fragile: the losses to Denver and San Diego, the humiliation against Pittsburgh, and barely escaping Dallas. But the fact that this team was COMPETITIVE with Bo Scaife, Nate Washington and Justin Gage catching the ball and Dave Ball and Jason Babin rushing the passer is not a small thing at all.

It is not as if Scaife, Washington and Gage had anything approaching the running game that the Titans had in 2008 and 2009 supporting them, or Ball and Babin have these outstanding Pr Bowl DTs and LBs that teams are concerned with blocking.

The Titans are among the NFL leaders in penalty yardage? Well, bad players commit a lot of penalties, usually because they're being physically whipped by superior players on the other team (holding, et al) but also because they don't have the discipline to become good NFL players despite their natural ability. Not so much evidence that they're undisciplined and poorly coached as it is evidence that they aren't that good.

So, no bashing Jeff Fisher for being unable to coach up a bunch of guys who simply lack the talent to play better than they are. Other than his strange refusal to give more playing time to Kenny Britt and Damian Williams, that is being mighty unfair to Fisher.

So what is fair? Going after the guy who put this lousy team together in the first place. The guy who has done terribly in the draft and even worse in free agency. That's the guy you want. That is the guy that you need to go after. And who is that guy?

You take a guess. I will say it: if Jeff Fisher is in a situation where a strong GM is in place (one that makes most personnel decisions) he does fine. Think about it: some of Fisher's worst decisions as a coach have come from his attempts to justify his own personnel decisions.

If someone else is making those personnel decisions—good ones—then Fisher has no incentive to do anything other than putting the best players on the field and getting them in position to help them win ball games. Fisher can do that, and he can do it in Tennessee. Bud Adams knows this, and that is why he doesn't really want to fire him.

The issue is whether Fisher would accept an arrangement where virtually all his personnel/front office power is given to a GM. The answer: not if Fisher thinks that he can get a better deal elsewhere.

Originally posted at Music City Miracles.


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