Home > NFL > Titans Lack of Passing Game Could Shake up AFC Playoff Picture

Titans Lack of Passing Game Could Shake up AFC Playoff Picture

MIAMI - NOVEMBER 14: Coach Jeff Fisher of the Tennessee Titans shouts against the Miami Dolphins at Sun Life Stadium on November 14, 2010 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images)

I’m confident that the Tennessee Titans need Vince Young in order to be a successful team.  I’m also confident that they do not believe this.  And regardless of who is right, a torn flexor tendon in Vince Young’s thumb is expected to sideline him for the rest of the season anyway.

This means a few things: Jeff Fisher has things the way he wants it.  He doesn’t have to rely on Young as his leader because Bud Adams, the team owner and Fisher’s boss, believes he should.  It also means that Jeff Fisher is, very officially, a coach on the hot seat right now.  This is a really good Titans team who has taken three really bad losses since beginning 5-2.  Their performance over the last three weeks has been more consistent with a 5-2 team than a 3-4 team, and before that, they were playing closer to a 6-1 level team than the 5-2 team they actually were.  This is a team that beat the Eagles, blew out the Jaguars on the road, blew out the Raiders, something that just they and now the Steelers have done this season.  They blew out the Giants on the road.

This Titans team was great before it’s bye week.  Maybe the best team in the NFL.  In it’s two games since the bye, the results haven’t been there.  The Dolphins loss was surprising.  Less so was the Redskins loss, but playing at their pre-bye levels, that wouldn’t have been a close game either.  What happened to this team?

Simply, put the blame on Chuck Cecil’s defense.  Two sacks vs. the Jaguars in their Monday Night blowout. Then one sack against the Eagles. One sack against the Chargers.  One sack against the Dolphins.  One sack against the Redskins (plus two where McNabb tripped over his own lineman and was covered up by the nearest Titan).  That pass rush hasn’t been much of a factor since the beginning of October, and even weak offenses have started to post yards per attempt results that would make Bill Walsh plus.  The Titans don’t play very tight zones, but at one point, they had a pass defense around the top of the league.  Right now, it’s a pass defense in the middle of the league, lead by an aggressive pass rush that just isn’t getting to quarterbacks.

You can also point to the loss of Kenny Britt to injury.  The Titans added Randy Moss to replace Britt at the bye, but in two games, Moss has just one catch as a Titan, and Britt’s absence looms large.  Chris Johnson is even running better now than he was at the beginning of the year, but it hasn’t seemed to matter.  The Titans have showed no other way of moving the ball.  At the bye, their offense went the way of the do-do (extinct).

Somehow, with no pass rush to lead their defense, and no passing game to save their offense, the Tennessee Titans remain a good team.  They still have a top ten NFL defense, which only looks bad compared to where it was a month ago.  They have an above average offense, and their running game looks much better than it did a month ago.  They feature a great special teams unit that just returned another touchdown and features excellent coverage units.

The Titans are a top team in the AFC.  They are just a game out of the division lead, have 5 division games out of 6 total games to finish the year.  Clearly, this is not a dead in the water team.  It is a team that will need to beat the Colts at least once to make the playoffs.  In the best case scenario, the Titans will be able to start the immobile, aging Kerry Collins at quarterback.  If not him, they are starting a rookie undrafted player, Rusty Smith, who no one expected to be a legitimate NFL quarterback.  With Britt still expected to miss more time, the Titans offense simply may not be good enough to recover from a three game losing streak by doing something else than simply treading water.

With three games remaining against the Texans and Jaguars, it’s not impossible that they can get to nine wins and do so independently of what they do against the Colts.  But just some quick math suggests that roughly 11 wins is the benchmark to compete for the AFC wild card and 10 wins is the benchmark to compete in the AFC South.  The first step to get back into the playoff race for the Titans, who probably are the best overall team in their division is to win their next two division games, leading up to the Colts game.

There’s a difference between being the best team over the course of a season, which favors them, and the position they are in now which is being in two back to back must-win games with the Texans and the Jaguars — and doing so with Rusty Smith at quarterback.

This team is too good to expect them not to go into the showdown with the Colts at 7-5 and tied for first place in the AFC South.  I absolutely expect that from them.  The big picture here is that the AFC Playoff Field loses one of it’s favorites if they cannot win two consecutive games with an undrafted rookie at quarterback who didn’t even project well among his own class.  He’s a bottom of the barrel third stringer.  And their next opponent, the Texans, is a professional team consistent with the Titans in three phases of football, missing only a competent pass defense.

It’s a fascinating time to play this Week 12 match-up in the AFC South, and Jeff Fisher — the NFL’s longest tenured head coach — has precisely the conditions he has asked for: a rookie quarterback playing for him in a must-win with his job on the line.  Wait, what?

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