Game 4 Preview: @ Tennessee

Sunday’s game with Tennessee could be reasonably subtitled “The Revenge Bowl”, in that:

  • Ken Whisenhunt, Tennessee’s first year head coach, was vetoed by Joe Banner before the 2013 season. And in 2014, when they interviewed him again, Banner and Whisenhunt got into a shouting match during the interview.

When Whisenhunt asked why he hadn’t been hired, Banner said his staff was deficient– prompting Whisenhunt to ask (correctly) what Banner knew about football.

  • The defensive coordinator, Ray Horton, was hired in 2013 and then fired at year’s end. because Horton is the greatest defensive coordinator in NFL history (just ask him– he’ll tell you), he took this amiss.

The defense also features LBs Kamerion Wimbley (the Barkevious Mingo of the Phil Savage era) and Quentin Groves (who was offended to be cut after last season).

The Titans will have incentive to win. It’s doubtful that will be sufficient, however.

While I like Whisenhunt as a coach, I didn’t agree with the coachign change for two reasons.

1. It was not clear that Mike Munchak did a bad job. Munchak inherited a team that had declined under Jeff Fisher– from 13-3 to 8-8 to 6-10. Given a team that had gone 14-18 (.438 winning percentage) in the last two years, Munchak went 9-7, 6-10 and 7-9 (22-26, or .458)– a little better..

You could argue that the record was deceiving, because Munchak had played 36-year-old Matt Hasselbeck (who went 11-10) and 31-year-old Ryan Fitzpatrick (who went 3-6). Or you could argue that Munchak was correctly trying to avoid playing 23-year-old QB  Jake Locker.

Like Blaine Gabbert, also taken the same year, Locker was viewed as a “developmental type.” That’s scoutspeak for a guy with great physical skills who plays badly. In four years at the University of Washington, Locker completed only 54% of his passes, with a 54-35 TD-INT ratio.

When a player isn’t completing 60-65% of his passes in college, and he also doesn’t have a 2-1 TD-INT ratio, you should expect him to bust. If you like his ability, you take him late and bring him along slowly.

Soon-to-be-former-GM Mike Reinfeldt reached for him in the 2011 draft, taking him eighth– ahead of three Pro Bowl defensive linemen (J.J. Watt, Robert Fairley and Ryan Kerrigan,) and two Pro Bowl offensive lineman (Tryon Smith and Maurkice Poncey).

When Locker’s struggles, coupled with the play of rookies Andy Dalton and Colin Kaepernick (both taken in round two) sunk Reinfeldt, the Titans hired Ruston Webster, who had been the Seahawks’ GM whnen they went to the Super Bowl with Mike Holmgren as coach.

In 2012 and 2013, Webster didn’t give Munchak a QB. Or much of anything else, frankly. He did draft WR Kendall Wright in 2012– a fine player whose absence prompted Browns GM Tom, Heckert (who wanted him) to panic and go to his backup plan (draft Brandon Weeden and get Puff Gordon in the supplemental).  Last season’s #1 (T Chance Wamack has been adequate). No one else has even been that good.

2. Whisenhunt was the worst possible choice for the team. Whisenhunt is a fine assistant. but the complaint about his offensive system– repeated over and over by players– is that it’s hard to learn. It’s not one of the recognized flavors, and it is said that the terminology, schemes and plays do not resemble anything other teams use.

Apparently if you’re smart and work hard and stay with it, it works well… It did take the Cards to a Super Bowl.  But Locker is none of those things, so, to the surprise of no one, The Titans have dropped from scored 22.6 points per game in 2013 (19th in the league) to 15.0 (30th) in 2014.

On the other side of the ball, Whisenhunt was the first head coach in NFL history ever to believe that Ray Horton could or should run a defense. Horton (hired in 2011) helped get Whisenhunt fired after 2012. And, as we all know, he helped terminate Rob Chudzynski’s lifetime dream in 2013.

Hortin is working his customary magic. Tennessee allowed 23.8 points (16th) in 2013; it has fallen to 27.5 (27th) in 2014, and Horton is challenging his players to show that they are real men. But, of course, they lead the league in “Fewest Yards after catch by former SEC receivers”, which just demonstrates Horton;s greatness.

In his prediction for the game, the ESPN writer offers an impeccable reason:

There is very little reason to pick the Tennessee Titans to win a game again until after they win a game again… They are not as bad as they’ve played the past two weeks, with five turnovers playing a huge role… The problem is, the Cleveland Browns are a better team than originally anticipated and have a lot more to feel good about right now.

Actually, the statement is incomplete. The Titans have turned the ball over 7 times in the last three games. Locker has thrown 3 TDs and 4 interceptions. In game 3, he went 17-34 for 185 yards, no touchdowns and 2 INTs in week three (a 33-7 loss to the Bengals)– and injured the wrist on his throwing hand. (That’s a 41.9 rating, if you’re wondering.)

Locker was replaced by Charlie Whitehurst (Seattle’s starting QB in the dreadful 6-3 loss to Cleveland in 2011), who  posted a sparkling (for the Titans) 74.0 rating before being pulled for the immortal Zach Mettenberger. Both threw interceptions.

Actually Mettenberger is a rookie, but it’s a funny-sounding name and he was a #6 pick.

The only positive thing: the Titans can run. Both Shonn Greene (154 yards, 4.7 per carry) and rookie Bishop Sankey (123, 5.1). And both Wright and TE Delanie Walker can catch– if someone can throw the ball near them.

Locker is supposed to start… if they ask him to throw, the Browns ought to have a field day with him. If Tashaun Gipson doesn’t get another interception– maybe a pick-six– it will be a surprise. Also, because Wright is a smurf (5’10, 194), he won’t have a mismatch against the team.

Defensively?  Hey, you remember Ray Horton’s defense last year. It blitzes too much, It overpursues, The one significant bright spot is the play against teh run (3.8 yard average, fifth in the NFL). NT Jurell Casey is the best player on the defense… Ihave no idea who the second-best player is.

Prediction: It’s possible to imagine an upset here. Horton comes up with some sort of tricky game plan to stop Hoyer (hey, he came close to stopping Tom Brady last year), while the Tennessee offense goes run-heavy, dispenses with the turnovers and “manages the game” to a win.

It’s not likely though. The Browns have played three challenging opponents, and Tennessee isn’t close to any of them (at least New Orleans could score). If they play as well as they’ve looked in spots over the last three weeks, this shouldn’t be close. Browns 34-7.

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