Well, the bloom is off the rose. With players like Bernard Pollard talking about today's contest against the San Francisco 49ers as a "must win" to avoid going into the bye on a 3-game losing streak, the Titans turned in their worst performance of the season, going down 24-0 and hardly showing a pulse until the fourth quarter in a 31-17 loss that sends them into the bye with that 3-game losing streak and under .500 at 3-4.
The 49ers started off pretty good on offense. They only had 3 points on their first two drives after stalling out in field goal range and starting at the 1, but scored touchdowns on their next two possessions. Colin Kaepernick had some nice throws and made some plays with his legs (an area where the Titans struggled once again), Frank Gore ran hard, including scoring two touchdowns, and Vernon Davis and Anquan Boldin made good catches. There were less productive after that, but at 24-0 this game was basically over.
The Titans for the first three quarters or so looked a lot like the same offense we'd seen the previous couple weeks. Chris Johnson looked okay at times, but never noticeably got any extra yards. Jake Locker in his return looked kind of sharp, but almost all of his throws seemed like they were of the short and quick variety, designed to protect him against a pass rush that might be able to get to him. He had his first INT of the season, when the corner didn't bite on a Nate Washington double move. The first big play came at the end of the third quarter, when there was no double-move and Nate outjumped the corner for the ball. That led to a field goal, and a screen CJ took 66 yards made it 24-10. A defensive stop gave the Titans life, but a Darius Reynaud muff recovered in the end zone for a TD to make it 31-10 confirmed the game was indeed over. Locker found Delanie Walker for a score to make it 31-17, but the onside kick failed and that was that.
Take-aways from this game? I think this three-game losing streak confirms the Titans are no better than an average/mediocre team. They've played teams similar to who they want to be, and come up short against all of them. That was the big question after the encouraging 3-1 start, and I think it's been answered. Locker was better than I feared he would be and did not seem to suffer any negative consequences from playing. Darius Reynaud was awful-not just the muff, but an awful fair catch and some awful kick returns. It's not a surprise if he doesn't make it to St. Louis. Kenny Britt barely saw the field early and struggled with his composure, earning a 15-yard penalty (that should have been offsetting) after possibly getting kneed in the head.
Penalties were an issue with the Titans, notably a spate of them early that took away about anything positive the Titans did. The most consequential of those was an Akeem Ayers low hit flag that negated a Bernard Pollard pick on the 49ers first TD drive. The Titans aren't good enough that they can make mistakes and hang with good teams, which just reinforces my big takeaway from today's game.
Tom, I read your posts for a long time and you've been negative towards this coaching staff for a while. Have you come to the conclusion that this coaching staff is just simply not competent enough to field a winning football team? I really like Locker and many of the players we've drafted but . . . it's just getting hard to watch. Your thoughts?
@Joshua C Coaching is a tough thing to talk about from the outside, at least in terms of things like playcalls. I would never hire a position coach without greater experience as a head coach, so I'm predisposed not to think of Munchak favorably. I just don't think he has the experience managing large groups of people or overseeing all the aspects of a team to be a good NFL head coach.
I think the Titans' plan on offense this year is failing. Chris Johnson is not a sustaining runner, and they're trying to win with a sustaining run game. The offensive line they spent so much money on hasn't been what they thought it would be, or even met my lesser expectations in terms of letting them run the ball and control the line of scrimmage. Locker's been better than I thought, mostly in a controlled environment. I see people talking about how good he was today, and I wonder if they watched the same game I saw, one where the Titans didn't run a play beyond the 45 until almost three quarters were gone in the game. Spasms of life, no more than that.
As I discussed in my podcast with Paul Kuharsky this week, before today the defense had been up to their expectations, which were higher than mine. They've shown a distinct weakness lately, though, against quarterback runs and couldn't get off the field on third downs today. And without a good defensive performance, the bad offense makes things go phhhhhffffffffffffft.
Yeah, I never understood how Munchak could say that he wanted to control the TOP with a runner like CJ. I thought that the team was starting to make some major turns in the right direction but now I'm seeing a lot of the SOS.
Also, I didn't like the idea of Munchak hiring his good friend as the OL coach and then moving a former high school coach into a prominent position. Bud apparently rules out nepotism but the "buddy" system is just as bad. I think that Williams brought a little bit of competence to the team and that's why we started out good but now all that is starting to wear thin. I hope they turn it around but I have no confidence that our staff can win in the playoffs.
I do like Locker and think you've been a little hard on him. He's made good progression (and he should given the time he's been in the league) and I saw some very good passes last year and many this year. However, the coaching staff seems to little confidence in his passing abilities. They would rather run CJ into a wall of linemen than throw. They keep on acting like our line is dominant but it's just not. When we're down and there is no other choice but to throw I think he does really good (like the Chargers game). He's no Luck and we shouldn't expect him to be but I love his work ethics and I think he has the mental strength to push through the failures and become much better. I sure don't want to start over with a new QB.