NFL Nation: Eddie George

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- In stark contrast to Ray Rice's awkward news conference in May, the Baltimore Ravens running back showed Thursday that he finally understood the weight of his actions from the alleged altercation with his then-fiancée in February.

He delivered the correct message, one the NFL failed to do last week with the two-game suspension, by not only apologizing to his wife, Janay Palmer, but also expressing a desire to become an advocate for domestic-violence causes.

Rice was compelling in his contrition, calling it the biggest mistake of his life. He stood in front of the microphone alone, without his wife standing by his side, and took full responsibility for the incident. Perhaps more importantly, Rice actually said the words "domestic violence," which weren't heard in his statement two months ago.

"My actions were inexcusable," Rice said. "That's something I have to live with the rest of my life."

Before anyone pats Rice on the back, this is what he should have said the first time when he broke his silence in May. Instead, Rice nervously fumbled through notes on his phone and apologized to team officials and his sponsors. That debacle of a news conference came across as damage control to his image.

His 17-minute news conference Thursday hit the right tones. He apologized to all women affected by domestic violence. He accepted the blame for losing the respect of fans. Rice came across as genuinely sorry.

"I let my wife down, I let my daughter down, I let my wife's parents down, I let the whole Baltimore community down," Rice said.

Rice's biggest misstep was not talking about what happened in the elevator. He was asked twice about it and declined to answer both times. His stance against domestic violence would have resonated stronger if he had explained his transgressions.

"I'll be honest: Like I said, I own my actions," Rice said. "I just don't want to keep reliving the incident. It doesn't bring any good to me. I'm just trying to move forward from it. I don't condone it. I take full responsibility for my actions. What happened that night is something that I'm going to pay for the rest of my life."

The only way Rice can move forward from this incident and show he's truly sincere is through his actions. It's not by his words. It's not by a hefty donation, which is merely a gesture. It's by proving this will remain a "one-time incident" and by supporting domestic-violence causes.

Thursday represented a small step forward for Rice. But it was an important one.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -– Chris Johnson's future with the Titans is question No. 1 as the new league year approaches.

Indications are the Tennessee Titans will part with the back, who has been productive and durable but has not produced the effort or yards commensurate with the giant salaries he’s been collecting. He is due an $8 million base salary in 2014.

When he was the feature back of the Oilers and Titans, Eddie George wasn’t a breakaway guy, but the odds of him earning a tough yard were good, and his desire was unquestionable.

[+] EnlargeChris Johnson
George Gojkovich/Getty ImagesFormer Tennessee Titans running back Eddie George on Chris Johnson: "I think Tennessee is better with CJ. I think CJ is better with Tennessee."
I spoke to George this week about his own story.

We also had a chance to chat about Johnson.

“I had a chance to talk to CJ right before Christmas, and he was at the same point that I was at in my career in terms of the dollar amount and where he is. Personally, I think he’s still an effective running back, I think he’s one of the best backs in this league, maybe not the best. But certainly if you give him the right opportunities, he can do great things. Does he deserve $8 million? I can’t say. I’m always going to tell a player, ‘Go get your money. Do what you have to do.’

“But from an organizational standpoint I can see where they have to go, because this league is no longer about a running back. It’s a quarterback-centric league. The teams that are winning, they have an effective quarterback they can build around, and a running game that’s sufficient enough. I look at CJ, the games that he did have 100 yards, how many wins can you account for with those? (Johnson had two, the Titans won both.) Is he truly impacting these games? From an organizational standpoint, is it worth $8 million a year? Probably not.

“But is he still able to play this game at a high level? I believe so. So maybe there’s a middle ground where they can meet on both sides. I think Tennessee is better with CJ. I think CJ is better with Tennessee. That’s just my personal opinion, and CJ has to make that decision from a business perspective he feels comfortable with.”

Johnson is on the record saying he won’t accept a pay cut.

George was a super-accountable player. Johnson has spoken far more in recent years about blocking problems and about the way coaches have used him than he has about his own deficiencies or shortcomings. In fact, I’m not certain beyond talking about a fumble that he has ever said “My bad.”

“I was one to look at myself and say 'what can I do better, can I be a better teammate, can I be a better leader, can I be a better running back, what do I have to work on?'" George said. “But I do understand his frustrations. There were times he was taken out of games when he would be in it -- in the goal-line situations. Those are the type of things that happened with me toward the end of my career. And I know I am not crazy, but it is what it is. That’s a part of the deal.

“I think he needs to be held more accountable, but I can understand his frustrations, because he wasn’t able to do the things he wanted to do because of the lack of opportunities he was accustomed to getting. He’s never missed a game, which is remarkable for a guy his size.”

Eddie George finds new footing

February, 5, 2014
Feb 5
Eddie GeorgeCourtesy Jeff FrazierEddie George just finished a run as Othello in Nashville theater, part of a complicated post-football life for the former Heisman Trophy winner.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Eddie George is an actor, an analyst, a landscape architect and still, very much, a recovering football player.

Fresh off a month performing as Othello in the Nashville Shakespeare Festival at Belmont University’s Trout Theater, he’ll be featured in a piece on “60 Minute Sports” at 10 ET Wednesday night on Showtime.

The striking revelation here is that George had a lengthy struggle adapting to life after football, and it’s going to lead him to an Ohio State classroom where he will try to give students interested in athletics a blueprint for what can happen after the games end.

I talked with him about it at length this week.

“My life was very sporadic, very unfocused, very undisciplined, and that was very unlike me, because I never prepared that way on a football field,” he said. “There was a point in time where I would wake up and just say, ‘OK, what should I do today?’ And that’s OK. But for a long time having this unfocused thought leads to unfocused behaviors. So it’s a story of maturity, or growth, of evolution and redefining myself.”

Such a post-career struggle is, unfortunately, standard fare for a high population of players coming to terms with the end of football. But as the Tennessee Oilers/Titans feature back from 1996-03 and in a final year with the Dallas Cowboys in 2004, I don’t believe you could have found a player in the league you would have judged to have been more prepared for his second act.

He already had opened the EDGE Group, a landscape architecture firm that picked up on his major from Ohio State. Always thoughtful and measured, he was poised enough to work in TV talking football. Most significantly, he appeared to always have a handle on things, and a perspective a lot of his peers lacked.

But he was not immune from the transitional struggle that haunts so many players when football comes to a close. He held out hope for a call that never came, thinking he would be able to end his career on his terms, a scenario that doesn’t play out for many players, no matter how high-quality a professional they are.

He took real estate classes, then got an MBA from Northwestern. It was all unfulfilling.

“It was just a very tough time, and I fell into a bit of a depression because of it,” he said. “I was a little bitter about how things ended, I didn’t quite know what I was passionate about. It wasn’t about having a job or talking about the game of football, but finding something I was passionate about, that I loved doing like I loved playing the game of football. Something that could bring that same job, fulfill that void ..."

For about eight years, he struggled with what would be next. And a Heisman Trophy winner, a first-round draft pick, a player who was a foundational piece for his franchise, turned self-centered while he searched.

[+] EnlargeEddie George
AP Photo/Greg TrottEddie George rushed for 10,441 yards and scored 78 touchdowns in nine NFL seasons.
“Often times I would neglect my priorities, in terms of being a father and a husband, and really be selfish,” he said. “By trying to find things that made me feel good, going out still, traveling around and going around courting women and so forth. Doing things that were a downward spiral for me that I thought were going to make me feel better about myself and where I was ...”

“I am no saint. I’m not sitting here saying I am. My wife and I have gone through it, and I think we’re in a better place right now.”

Ultimately he recognized what he was doing, spent time soul-searching, and dug out with help from counseling, energy healing and church.

There was no “ah-ha moment,” he said. But about 18 months ago he started waking up in the morning feeling good about what he was doing, and that felt new and exciting again.

He took up football and strived for excellence because he wanted to transform the family name, he said. His dad didn’t have a chance to play, he got caught up in drugs and trouble. The son was teased about it.

“We share the same name, and what I wanted to do was change that name from a name that was associated with drugs, bad behavior and failure, to one that was of greatness,” he said. “After rounds and rounds of really delving deep into my psyche, that’s what was at the core of it. I’ve accomplished that through having my father see me accomplish great things.”

The second act hasn’t come with the same kind of clear goals football provided.

So a renaissance man bounces from Nashville, to Los Angeles to Columbus, Ohio, where he is part of the EDGE group, where he is acting, where he will be a judge on NBC’s upcoming “American Dream Builder” reality competition, where he’s a college football analyst on Fox Sports 1, and where he’s working on a curriculum for that class at Ohio State.

I imagine him propping his Heisman Trophy and AFC Championship ring on a desk in front of the room on the first day, telling a class he was on top of the world when he earned those things and still fell hard when the games were over.

Maybe that’s a little overdramatic. He’s the actor, not I.

Sympathetic to others who might not have achieved all George did in college and the NFL and go through withdrawal in a different way, he reached an agreement with his alma mater to craft a curriculum for a class he hopes will be available next semester at Ohio State.

It will cover life, skills, finances, business development, contract law and more. He will teach parts of it in conjunction with the Fisher School of Business in a 12-week case-study method class.

“It’s not going to prevent them from making their mistakes, because they are going to make them,” he said. “But at least you have a blueprint of how you can get out of it, where you can find the help.”

“It’s just a job, it’s not a life purpose. So really, my whole course is designed as personal development. It’s nothing where you’ve ever reached this landscape where you’ve made it. It’s a constant daily grind. You’re going to have successes throughout. But it’s nothing where you can take your foot off the gas pedal and just cruise for the rest of your life. It is constant work. It never ends.”
Earlier Tuesday I wrote about how Shonn Greene's presence on the Titans roster is going to end any chance Chris Johnson has of running for 2,000 yards, though I still expect CJ to tout his annual goal.

Since then, came this column from Alex Marvex of FOX Sports.

In it, coach Mike Munchak speaks so highly of Greene -- comparing him to Eddie George -- I came away wondering why exactly the Titans didn't run away from Johnson when they had a chance in February. Within five days after the Super Bowl, they could have cut him and avoided guaranteeing $9 million of his $10 million base salary this season.

“I know as a [former] line coach myself that we haven’t had a guy like that in a while,” Munchak said of Greene at the NFL owners meeting. “He reminds me of the Eddie George days -- a guy that can fall forward, a guy that’s physical, a guy that can understand his role.

“We’re not going to have him as a short-yardage back, a goal-line back and four-minute back and that’s all he does. We feel he can play all three downs. He may get a series where he gets going and we’re taking over the line of scrimmage and you want that runner in there and we leave him in there ...

“We feel that, especially with a young quarterback, we have to start moving the chains better and getting time of possession better. It’s hard to do when you just have a speed back. We thought the complement would be a huge plus for us.”

When I spoke to Greene on the radio he talked about his niche and understanding his place and his knack for a short-yardage, goal-line niche.

But when the Titans introduced their first four additions last week, Munchak said Greene wasn't simply a short-yardage back, that he was an every-down back. It sounded like lip service. Maybe I missed the message. Marvez got a louder and more clear version.

I don't think Shonn Greene is the second coming of George, a great back who had big-play limitations. Johnson's all-or-nothing style has taken the Titans too far the other direction, however, and it's much more often nothing.

The trouble is, his pay is a long way from nothing.

When he was looking for a new deal in 2011, I was among the masses who said the team had to step up with one.

Since then he's been far too inconsistent. If the Titans see a scenario where they will steer toward Greene in some games, what are they doing paying Johnson $10 million this year? Couldn't they find the speedy half of a complementary duo in the draft for a fraction of the price?

Friday is D-Day for CJ

February, 7, 2013
Chris JohnsonAP Photo/Joe HowellThe Titans' Chris Johnson finished with 1,243 rushing yards and six touchdowns last season.
If the Titans want out from under Chris Johnson and his $10 million base salary for 2013, they have to release him by the end of Friday.

Of that salary, $9 million locks in as a guarantee if he’s on the roster past the fifth day of the waiver period, which began Monday.

A report by The Tennessean’s Jim Wyatt before the season ended said the team had no plans to cut Johnson. Since then, coach Mike Munchak has been making moves that indicate if he’s going to go down in his third year at the helm, he’s going to go down his way. That left me wondering if things might have changed.

Then Wyatt wrote this morning that Johnson was feeling good after a recent half-hour chat with Munchak.

“I am more excited about this year than any other year after talking to coach,” Johnson said today. “I feel better about some of the things we’re going to do, and I want to be a part of it. I feel like coach Munchak wants to put the team back to some winning ways and get things going in the right direction. I feel good about it.”

The most likely scenario is that the Titans look to add a big back and return to the shared-workload system they ran with Johnson and LenDale White in 2008.

But a case could have been made for moving on from Johnson, and I think there was a time Munchak would probably have liked to do so.

They can afford that salary. Ultimately, it should be framed as more of a philosophical debate than a financial one.

The Munchak-Johnson conversation indicates the decision has been made.

But it's worth considering what needed to be considered:

Home run threat: Johnson can break off huge runs, and that’s where his big value comes from. He has six career touchdowns of 80 yards or more. No other player in league history has more than three. That’s incredible, and those runs do a lot for a team. Still, if the rest of his runs are attempts to find that home run and don’t put the Titans in an advantageous down and distance, is that a sufficient trade-off? I tend to say no.

Now if Johnson is changing it up with a more physical guy who can convert third-and-2 more regularly and do more to ensure the Titans aren’t in second-and-12, that changes. Johnson is largely a boom-or-bust guy. Five years of featuring a boom-or-bust back has produced just one playoff team -- not that it’s the lone factor.

Consider that the team’s primary back in its prime years since the move to Tennessee was Eddie George, and the frequent lament was that he couldn’t break away for a big play. Now the lament with Johnson is that he isn’t productive enough down to down. See how a team can wind up in a no-win situation?

You’re rarely going to get the best of both worlds, and you don’t need a guy who can give you both to win.

So given a choice between a home run threat who’s going to strikeout more often or the style they had with George where, in his prime, he was pretty good at getting a couple yards, what do they prefer?

[+] EnlargeJohnson
Steve Mitchell/US PresswireIf the Titans keep Chris Johnson, they might ask him to share carries with backup Javon Ringer or another back who isn't on the roster yet.
Replacement possibilities: Javon Ringer is coming off a knee injury, hasn’t proved himself and is a pending free agent. Jamie Harper has shown little. If the Titans moved away from CJ, the guy who would take his carries isn’t on the roster.

It’s easy to say it’s easy to find a back, that the Titans should just go get the next Arian Foster (undrafted), Alfred Morris (sixth-rounder) or Vick Ballard (fifth-rounder).

But you’d have to have an awful lot of faith in your ability to find that guy. The Titans are a team full of holes. Cutting Johnson would have created another big one, and they don’t exactly have the record of hole-filling that suggests it wouldn’t be an issue.

The scheme: Johnson did run for 2,000 yards in Mike Heimerdinger’s scheme that featured zone-running principles. Under Dowell Loggains as offensive coordinator, the Titans will be more intent on returning to a similar philosophy.

It’s not the best fit for Johnson, at least not as the singular, primary ball carrier. Johnson looks to be creative in searching for room. Zone schemes call for a guy to make a cut and go, not consider and reconsider the path.

“CJ would be decent in that scheme but far from ideal,” said ESPN's Matt Williamson. “You need to be decisive and, when you see it, really hit it. And generally, that fits a bigger back. CJ can certainly hit it at times when he sees it and can take it the distance, but he is far from an Alfred Morris type that consistently churns out yardage, albeit in smaller chunks, run after run.”

If the Titans put Johnson in a timeshare, how will he react to it? My guess is not well. Will that disrupt the locker room and create a headache for coaches and management? Will it lead him to mope? It sure could.

The contract: When he was holding out in 2011, I said they needed to sign him. Most fans did, too. For a long time, the conversation was about a lack of playmakers. Well, they finally had one, and while he wasn’t at what ranks as a premium position anymore, he was the best they'd had in terms of big plays in a long time.

He got four more years worth $53.5 million with $30 million guaranteed tacked onto the two years he had remaining on his rookie deal.

There is a misperception that the Titans don’t spend. They sure spent with Johnson, and now they take heat for it. In hindsight, it wasn’t a good deal. But it hasn’t destroyed them. Keep him as is and they are fine financially, with enough room to get the other parts they need.

While he has said money didn’t change him, Johnson has been a lot more tentative since he signed that deal than he was while he was trying to position himself for that new contract.

The expectations: As Johnson campaigned for a new contract in 2011, he sold himself as not just a back but a playmaker who transcended the position. That was good for selling himself. Predicting 2,000-yard seasons consistently gets him headlines.

But what he does when he says those things is set the bar unreasonably high. He didn’t say, “I’m a playmaker, not just a running back, so long as my line is playing great or so long as I have consistency with a running backs coach.” When it circles back after the fact to those sorts of issues, they come across as excuses.

He doesn’t seem real invested. Last week as a guest on Nashville's The Midday 180 from radio row at the Super Bowl, he said there would be no bad blood if the Titans let him go. Some heard that and almost felt like he was wishing to be released. What would have come across better was, “I want to be back. I’m worth it, and I can be a big part of a big turnaround.”

For the $10 million that’s coming, it’s hardly unreasonable to want to hear that.

So do we have a verdict?

“I assume he is untradeable, but I think I would let him go,” Williamson said. “That is just so much to pay a guy that isn’t perfect for what you do at the position. Use that money on a safety or interior OL and draft a bigger RB.”

Said former Colts president and current ESPN analyst Bill Polian: “CJ cannot carry the load by himself simply because of size. … Rather than focus on system, I would focus on Javon Ringer’s health. If he can take some load off CJ as he has in the past, they become far more efficient. If his injury prevents that, then they must find an adequate replacement for Ringer.”

I’m torn about what they should have done. But I tend to think it wouldn't have been wise to create another hole. Cut him and watch him land in Detroit or somewhere else, and when he makes big plays, you’re going to take grief -- and maybe feel some, too.

I’d plan to find a guy to pair him with.

But I’m glad it wasn't my decision, or money.

Final Word: AFC South

December, 7, 2012
» NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 14:

Nickel issues: When the Patriots see a nickel package on the field, Tom Brady hands off the ball. New England runs against defenses with five or more defensive backs a league-high 73.5 percent of the time, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The Texans have allowed 6.0 yards per rush when using such defenses this season, the worst rate in the NFL, but have allowed the second-fewest yards per rush (3.3) with four or fewer defensive backs on field. Brice McCain (foot) is out, so the fifth defensive back in this game will be safety Quintin Demps, inexperienced second-year corner Brandon Harris or corner Stanford Routt, who signed this week. Tight end Rob Gronkowski is out, so the Patriots are likely to go three-wide a lot. If the Texans don't play better nickel run defense and have a corner on the field that Tom Brady can really pick on, it could be a recipe for big problems.

[+] EnlargeJake Locker and Chandler Jones
AP Photo/Joe HowelTitans QB Jake Locker could wind up facing heavy defensive heat the rest of the season.
Locker and Luck under pressure: Per ESPN Stats & Info, the Colts bring five or more pass-rushers 41 percent of the time, the third-most often in the league. That’s bad news for Jake Locker, who has struggled this season against the blitz. His .480 completion percentage against five or more pass-rushers is the worst in the NFL, a point and a half worse than Michael Vick. The Titans would be wise to put Locker on the move more often and earlier than they did last week against the Texans. In Dowell Loggains’ second game as the playcaller, I suspect we’ll see some major adjustments based on what worked and what didn’t for him last week. On the other side, Andrew Luck has been getting better under pressure. In his past six games, he’s completed 54.9 percent of his passes and averaged 7.8 yards per attempt when under duress or hit while throwing, including a league-best 91.7 QBR (since Week 8). Over his first six games, Luck completed 29.4 percent of his passes under such pressure and failed to throw a touchdown.

The Jets in Jacksonville: The Jets have never won in Jacksonville (0-3), and they’ve scored fewer than 10 points in an NFL-high four games. But the Jaguars haven’t held anyone under 17 points this season, and they are allowing an average of 28.5 a game. Defensive end Jason Babin will play in his second game for the Jaguars and looks to boost an anemic pass rush as it chases Mark Sanchez. There will be a Landry brother on field at safety at all times. LaRon Landry of the Jets and Dawan Landry of the Jaguars have combined to play in 170 games, but this will be first time they’ll be on same field in a regular-season game.

Monday night bigness: The combined 20-4 record of these teams is tied for the best on "Monday Night Football" when each team has played at least 12 games, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. In 1987, the 10-2 49ers beat the 10-2 Bears. New England has won 12 straight December games, tied for the third-longest streak in NFL history. With a win, the Patriots would tie the 1968-72 Cowboys for the second-longest December win streak (the Chargers won 18 straight from 2006 to 2009). If the Texans lose, they will hear a lot about how they still aren’t a championship-caliber team. But even with a loss, 10,000 simulations by AccuScore say Houston still ends up winning the No. 1 seed 63% percent of the time while the Patriots win it in 36% of simulations.

Also: Thirty-seven teams have lost at least 14 regular-season games in a single season. A win Sunday for the Colts makes them the sixth to rebound to post a winning record the following season. … According to Stats & Info, Luck has had six potential interceptions dropped by defenders this season, most in the NFL. … Chris Johnson needs seven rushing yards to reach 1,000 for the fifth straight season. Johnson would be the eighth player in NFL history with 1,000 rushing yards in each of his first five seasons and would match the Titans' last longtime feature back, Eddie George. … The Jaguars have scored only eight offensive touchdowns at home this season, tied for the NFL low with Cleveland. ... Although Houston has the most passes disrupted (40) when sending five or more pass-rushers, it also has allowed the most touchdowns and 30-plus yard passes in such situations. It's a risk-reward deal. ... The Titans are 0-4 against the AFC South this season and 4-4 against the rest of the NFL. They are one of four teams this season winless in divisional games, along with the Chiefs, Seahawks and Lions. Only the Chiefs (minus-53) have a worse scoring margin in divisional games than the Titans’ minus-49. ... We’ll see two of the league‘s best rookie receivers in this game. Kendall Wright’s 54 receptions leads all rookies by a wide margin. The next two receivers on the list are Indy’s T.Y. Hilton and Jacksonville’s Justin Blackmon with 39.

Double Coverage: Titans vs. Patriots

September, 6, 2012
Jake Locker, Tom BradyUS PresswireIn his first start, Jake Locker, left, faces Tom Brady and the defending AFC champion Patriots.

They’ve got a lot of young talent, headlined by a young and unproven quarterback.

And on opening day at LP Field, the Tennessee Titans have the ultimate measuring stick: The New England Patriots are the defending AFC champions and the franchise that’s been the model for consistently contending in the conference.

Titans general manager Ruston Webster and coach Mike Munchak are in their first and second years, respectively, in their posts. They seek to establish a pathway to finding and fielding talent and a team culture the way Bill Belichick has in New England.

A Titans upset Sunday would do a lot for the early stages of the process. It won’t come easily, as the Patriots will bring an eight-game opening-day winning streak to Music City.

In advance of the game, I invited Mike Reiss of to banter about it.

Paul Kuharsky: The popular thinking during the Titans’ quarterback battle was that veteran Matt Hasselbeck would be better able to handle a team like New England than Jake Locker would. But it’s Locker who will be under center Sunday, making his first start against the defending AFC champs.

New England might not be a defensive football team, Mike, but I feel pretty confident that the Patriots will have a laundry list of things intended to overwhelm a young quarterback making his first NFL start.

Mike Reiss: Part of me wonders if Belichick would have preferred seeing Hasselbeck in there, just because there is more NFL background on him to study. Belichick often talks about how the opening game of a season is so unpredictable, and this adds another layer to the preparation. The main thing Belichick has been stressing with Locker is how athletic he is, so keeping him in the pocket with good rush-lane integrity figures to be a focus for the revamped Patriots defensive front. Belichick figures to make limiting running back Chris Johnson a No. 1 priority, with the idea of putting the game in Locker's hands to see how he responds. It seems that's the place to start with the Titans' offense -- Johnson and Locker.

PK: The interior run blocking and Johnson's effort were huge questions in Munchak's first season as head coach. Johnson has admitted his holdout affected his game more than he expected it would. Tennessee looked at a bunch of free-agent centers, including Dan Koppen, before sticking with the status quo. Then center Eugene Amano suffered a season-ending torn triceps early in camp. So Fernando Velasco is the guy now. While new left guard Steve Hutchinson will do all he can to help, I figure the Patriots will be hoping to get Velasco and the Titans' lesser guard, Leroy Harris, in bad spots against Vince Wilfork. As for Johnson, no less an authority than Eddie George said the speedster got into a bad habit last season when he stopped moving his feet upon initial contact. We'll be watching for that Sunday at LP Field. Does he make a quick lateral move and give himself a chance to keep going when the first guy gets to him? Or does he stall? If it's the second option, he'll be doomed.

How about running back the other way? BenJarvus Green-Ellis is gone now, so what's the Patriots' pecking order at the position? The Titans seem pretty solid up the middle if they are at full strength with Sen'Derrick Marks and Jurrell Casey. Isn't New England's group of backs mostly littler than you?

MR: I see what you did there, Paul. Very clever. But as Wes Welker, Danny Woodhead, Kevin Faulk and others have shown us over the years, sometimes the smallest dog in the fight has the biggest bite. The Patriots have really turned over their running back position from just two years ago. What was once the oldest position on the roster is now defined by youth -- second-year backs Stevan Ridley (third round, LSU) and Shane Vereen (second round, Cal) top the depth chart, with the 5-foot-8, 200-pound Woodhead (fifth year) the change-of-pace back who plays a lot because of how much the offense is in the shotgun. Rookie Brandon Bolden, who took the same path as Green-Ellis to make the roster as an undrafted free agent out of Mississippi, is the fourth option. Ridley and Bolden are both 5-11 and 220 pounds. They run with power. Vereen (5-9, 205) brings more of a speed element, although it is unlikely we will see him after he hobbled off in the team's third preseason game and hasn't practiced since. There is more big-play potential with this group that they had last year with Green-Ellis leading all running backs by playing 34 percent of the snaps. Don't sleep on this group, although it's safe to say the Patriots are an attack that will lean more heavily toward the pass. So protection for Tom Brady figures to be key, and they had a shaky preseason in that area.

PK: In my view, for the Titans to have a chance to pull an upset here, they'll need to really harass Brady. I think making New England use Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez as help in pass protection will wind up their best chance to defend those tight ends. Rookie linebacker Zach Brown was drafted because he can keep up with guys like that, but in his first game – while I expect him to have some sort of nickel role -- I think it'd be awfully hard to be a successful part of slowing them. Tennessee's pass rush looks to be operating inside out -- Casey may be their best defensive lineman -- so it will be interesting to see how effectively Brady can slide or step up, and if a second guy will arrive to get to him.

One matchup I think can be better than most think is Alterraun Verner against Welker. Certainly there are some plays where you cannot stop what Brady and Welker are doing. But Verner had a real knack for disrupting the quick stuff that gets fed to slot receivers. I look for him to make a couple plays.

MR: Watching the Patriots this preseason, it's fair to say pass protection is a concern. Brady took some big hits, fumbling against the Saints and Buccaneers. This has been a successful formula for teams that can pull it off -- disrupt the passing game by getting to Brady early. The problem is that not all teams can do that. Here are a few things to keep in mind: 2011 first-round draft choice Nate Solder is now the team's permanent left tackle, stepping in for the retired Matt Light. There have been some growing pains, so if we're talking matchups to watch, how about Solder against Kamerion Wimbley? Also, there is some uncertainty as to who will start at center, as the team's longtime option there, Koppen, was released at the final cutdown. Add in that left guard Logan Mankins (coming back from a torn ACL) played just 11 snaps this preseason and right tackle Sebastian Vollmer (returning from a back injury) played just nine snaps in the preseason, and this is a unit that bears watching on Sunday. The Titans have a chance to control the line of scrimmage.

PK: That's good work in terms of talking me out of feeling like we're going to watch a blowout unfold. (Yes, 2009 is ancient history, but it's hard to forget 59-0 at Gillette Stadium.) I remained convinced the Patriots will find their points. Heck, they scored 30 or more 12 times last season, topping 40 twice. Add Brandon Lloyd to the mix on offense, and I expect Brady to help them post a crooked number. To pull an upset, I think Locker will have to manage the same.

That's as close as I'll come to picking it -- I hate putting myself in position to root for a result to make myself look smart. You know what a challenge that is for me even without making a pick.

MR: I think this is a game the Patriots should win. The Titans are a team that if you sleep on them, they will beat you, but that usually isn't a problem for the Patriots, because Belichick doesn't allow for complacency. The Titans probably hoped for higher temperatures than the predicted mid-70s. Still, look for Belichick to rotate a lot of his personnel as a way of keeping them fresh. The one position that won't be in play is quarterback, and I think it's fair to say that's the big difference in this game -- Brady. Big advantage there for the Patriots.

PK: Impossible to argue that point, so this looks like our ending.
The Titans got Eddie George and Chris Johnson in a room together to talk running and running backs recently, and this segment of Titans All Access is worth watching.

Most striking to me was George talking about Johnson's potential as a weapon in the passing attack.

Johnson was targeted three times in the preseason opener and didn't catch one. He dropped two of them, and looked completely disinterested in working as a receiver.

I talked with CJ early in camp about the idea that he might catch fewer passes this season because the Titans have more weapons. If his approach doesn't change, he may guarantee that QBs look elsewhere because he's not reliable enough.

George believes Johnson can be an incredible two-way threat. This comes at about 12:10 of the video:
"The best thing about CJ is he can alter his game like the great ones in any sport. ... He's going to develop some skills in the passing attack where he's going to be a huge asset because you get him in space and he's dangerous. And now, today's game is working inside out. Meaning that the inside guys are the most important parts of the game -- the tight end, the slot receiver, the running back -- finding those matchups.

"You get him matched up with a linebacker one-on-one in space in the passing attack, it's open. So now his goals can be -- he's already done 2,000 yards -- he can be 1,500 and 1,000 yards. He can be 1,000 and 1,000. He can be 1,500, 1,500. And he's capable of doing that because of his skill set.

"So he's a perfect fit in today's game in being a running back in that capacity."

Later George cites Marshall Faulk as the perfect example for CJ to consider.

We don't want to put too much into one small slice of one preseason game. But Johnson wasn't making anyone think of Faulk with his work in Seattle.

It's time for him to show he's broken the bad habits he fell into last year and that he can be the kind of double-edged weapon George is talking about.

Otherwise, the Titans will need to be quicker to move away from him on offense than they were last year.

Following up the Titans’ 27-17 loss in Seattle on Saturday night:

  • We’re never going to read a whole bunch into a preseason performance. But Chris Johnson did nothing against the Seahawks to make anyone think he’s turned the page from his down season in 2011. Three passes were thrown his way and they all hit the ground, two of them as drops. He turned five carries into 8 yards. The backs who followed him into the Titans huddle didn’t face the same quality of defenders by any means, but Javon Ringer and Darius Reynaud were more decisive and fared better. Eddie George and Keith Bulluck, doing commentary on the Nashville broadcast of the game, thought CJ failed to press the hole on one failed run when he could have more aggressively taken on a charging safety and chose instead to overdo it laterally.
  • Jake Locker was certainly a good notch better than Matt Hasselbeck, but don’t mark Hasselbeck down much for his two interceptions. The first was a fluke play where the ball stayed alive after bouncing up off Nate Washington on the first play from scrimmage and turned into a touchdown by Brandon Browner. The other was on a deep ball that Richard Sherman did better to go up and get than Damian Williams, and effectively amounted to a punt.
  • Tommie Campbell’s been the third cornerback for the Titans throughout camp, but he played into the second half and lost a jump ball to Braylon Edwards. Russell Wilson put it up and Edwards allowed Campbell to go by (perhaps offering some guidance with an arm), then went up and got it for a 39-yard TD. It’s likely the kind of play Campbell can learn a great deal from at this stage.
  • Showed me more than I anticipated: The defensive line overall, particularly active tackle Zach Clayton; safety Robert Johnson; rookie linebacker Zach Brown; Seattle’s backup rookie quarterback Wilson. (What a fantastic naked bootleg TD at the end.)
  • Overtime shouldn’t be possible in the preseason. Bravo to Mike Munchak and special teams coach Alan Lowry for reducing the possibility by having rookie Will Batson, rather than Rob Bironas, try a 36-yard fourth-quarter field goal that could have tied it at 20-20. He narrowly missed it right with 4:46 left in the game. Not that his coaches or teammates were wanting him to misfire.
Steven Jackson has reason to expect a full workload in 2012 even though his St. Louis Rams used a second-round draft choice for running back Isaiah Pead.

Jackson, speaking on PFT Live (via Turf Show Times), indicated he expects to get "25-30 touches" per game while Pead provides an occasional breather or change of pace.

The figure Jackson cited sounded a little high, and it was, but Jackson already has 47 career games with at least 25 touches. He's had 20-plus touches in 80 of his 116 career games. Set aside Jackson's rookie season, when he was sharing time with Marshall Faulk, and the percentages climb higher: 25-plus touches in 46 of 101 games, with at least 20 in 32 of the 55 remaining games.

The chart compares Jackson's career touches against those for former Tennessee Titans running back Eddie George. The comparison seems relevant as George's former coach, Jeff Fisher, takes over the Rams. We should expect the Rams to continue feeding Jackson at a high rate. There should be more carries to go around if the Rams' offense improves.

Jackson is coming off seven consecutive seasons with at least 1,000 yards. He turned 29 this week, sounding the usual alarm bells warning against imminent decline for an NFL running back. He had 260 carries last season, down from 330 in 2010 and 324 the previous year.

History suggests a runner will break down if he carries 370-plus times in a season. Jackson has never come close to that number.

I would think Jackson, with two seasons remaining on his contract, should be able to carry a heavy load in 2012. His new offensive coordinator, Brian Schottenheimer, will obviously have a say in the distribution. I'll be interested in getting a better feel for his plans upon visiting Rams camp beginning this weekend.
Three-fourths of the NFC West wanted a shot at Peyton Manning this offseason.

The Seattle Seahawks' Pete Carroll and John Schneider flew to Denver in a failed attempt to catch Manning before the quarterback departed for Arizona.

The Cardinals met with Manning at their facility.

The San Francisco 49ers then emerged as a surprise finalist for Manning, with Trent Baalke and Jim Harbaugh flying to watch Manning work out in North Carolina.

Manning was a special case, to be sure, but those teams' interest also reflected on relatively weak quarterback situations in Seattle, Arizona and San Francisco. The position has stabilized within the division since Manning signed with Denver, providing an opportunity to bring in Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. for thoughts on where teams stand.

Mike Sando: Let's begin with the Seahawks, the only team in the division to bring in a new likely starter from the outside. Does Matt Flynn improve the situation?

[+] EnlargeFlynn
Scott Boehm/Getty ImagesMatt Flynn provides an upgrade for the Seahawks, but isn't a franchise QB, according to Matt Williamson.
Matt Williamson: Yes, and that is the best word. When free agency hit, I wasn't huge on Flynn. I thought people would be beating down his doors, and he worried me. I think he's good, not great. I would not use the term 'franchise quarterback' for him. But he improves them and I can't be critical of any team that gets better at QB.

Sando: What limits your enthusiasm on him?

Williamson: His overall talent, his ability to throw the football, his size and strength -- they're all just a little above average. He was a seventh-round draft choice for a reason. You have to keep him ahead of the chains, you need the running game. He doesn't take the team on its shoulders if things fall apart around him. If you manufacture offense, know what he is capable of doing, minimize turnovers, I think you can win a lot of games that way. In the end, he is an upgrade. And they did not spend a fortune for him.

I look at Seattle like the arrow is going up, they are getting better in all areas and they are young. This is a nice signing. Tarvaris Jackson played well and he was injured, and he exceeded my expectations, but that is as good as he is going to play. He is still a liability more than an asset. Flynn can get to a point where he can be more of an asset than a liability.

Sando: You said we've seen the best from Jackson. A lot of people think we've seen the best from the 49ers' Alex Smith as well.

Williamson: I agree. I really think it's going to be Colin Kaepernick's job not far down the line. They are going out and getting vertical guys, guys who can really run. That doesn't fit Alex Smith. Yes, it will open up room for Frank Gore and Vernon Davis, but after a while, people are going to realize they don't have to take away the deep ball. I think Harbaugh wants Kaepernick out there. He wants a guy to use the whole field.

Sando: The contract Smith signed was for three seasons and can max out at $33 million, but the 49ers can easily exit the deal after one or two years and a lot less money.

[+] EnlargeSan Francisco's Colin Kaepernick and Jim Harbaugh
Kyle Terada/US PRESSWIREThe 49ers brought back Alex Smith, but Colin Kaepernick, left, is San Francisco's future at QB.
Williamson: Everyone realized that offense was easy to play against last year because they had no weapons on the outside to scare you deep. Harbaugh knew that, so he was really creative with his big-body personnel, using a lot of six-man line sets, double tights, heavy formations. They did a lot of odd things and had to coach up points. I think he wants more explosiveness for sure and more verticality, and Kaepernick has those traits much more than Smith. They traded up to get Kaepernick for a reason. You don’t use a second-round pick for a quarterback who is very toolsy without looking at him as the starter.

Sando: Smith did go 13-3 last season. He did make the winning plays against New Orleans in the wild-card round. Is the trajectory pointing up on him?

Williamson: Smith minimized the negative plays and will never be any better than he was doing that. He may get more confident, may make a few more throws, but what we saw in that one playoff game will be few and far between. He is an OK player, but has a real low ceiling.

Sando: Cardinals fans are hoping that comment doesn't apply to Kevin Kolb as well. Kolb had trouble staying on the field last season, missing extended period with toe and head injuries. He struggled when he was on the field as well.

[+] EnlargeKam Chancellor
AP Photo/Elaine ThompsonArizona's Kevin Kolb, right, has a lot to prove to season after struggling through an injury-filled 2011.
Williamson: I look at Kolb like I look at the rookies last year. The lockout, those guys got thrown into the fire in an unfair manner. Any quarterback changing teams, especially a QB with limited experience, never got the minicamps or the things they needed. But man, I didn't like anything I saw from Kolb. I think their quarterback situation is the worst in the league right now, right there with the Browns and the Dolphins and a few other teams.

Sando: Arizona saw enough to pay a $7 million bonus to Kolb, keeping him on the roster. The alternative was heading toward the draft with John Skelton as the only starting prospect. That would have been rough. What about Kolb bothered you the most last season?

Williamson: I just didn’t see anything to get excited about. Didn’t see tools or the willingness to hang in the pocket. Maybe he was just uncomfortable. A couple guys who floundered last season could step up big after having a regular offseason. I just did not see anything. Kolb does not stand as firm in the pocket as I would like. I'd like to see him more willing to take hits to deliver the football.

Sando: Kolb did that well on a deep pass to Larry Fitzgerald at Washington early in the season, absorbing a crushing hit to complete a game-changing pass. But that play was an exception. Kolb did bail from pressure too frequently, and he could not stay on the field.

Williamson: Ken Whisenhunt was used to Ben Roethlisberger, who is the opposite. Kurt Warner is the opposite, too. He would take a hit, let it go at the absolute last second.

Sando: Any discussion about quarterbacks getting hit should include the St. Louis Rams' Sam Bradford. He took 36 sacks in 10 games last season. Bradford has a new offensive coordinator, Brian Schotteneheimer, and a new head coach promising to protect him.

Williamson: I am a Bradford guy who had no problem with their decision not to take Robert Griffin III. The Rams have had as good an offseason as anyone. The more I look at last season -- mix in Bradford's injuries, the bad line, having no weapons -- it was an impossible endeaver. Throw that away. Jeff Fisher is smart and has a history of bringing along guys slowly, of running Eddie George and playing defense. Schottenheimer did a ton of that with the Jets, maybe even too much, but he had to.

Sando: Right. Schottenheimer was trying to take off pressure from Mark Sanchez, at least until last season.

Williamson: Sanchez isn't close to Bradford. My concern with the Rams would be two years from now, if Bradford still does look like the first overall pick, will they take the reins off? Harnessing him back now, I have no problem with that. Win some games, lean on others. But will they allow him to be great when he is ready? They are conservative by nature.

Sando: Shorter term, the Rams haven't done anything to help Bradford in the playmaker department. They've actually gotten worse in that area after losing Brandon Lloyd to free agency.

Williamson: They will end up with Trent Richardson or Justin Blackmon in the draft, but it would have been nice to add some kind of veteran. Maybe Mario Manningham. At least a No. 2 type. They do have a lot of young guys from last year and maybe someone steps up, but it's not real exciting. I would not have paid what Pierre Garcon got, though. Robert Meachem got good money too. St. Louis is not the most attractive free-agent landing spot for a receiver right now. But the team is set up for the long term, at least. They will get a top-10-type stud wideout in the next year or two.

Sando: Thanks for the conversation, Matt. I'll be on the lookout for you next Football Today podcast, which posts right here each week. The next one goes live Monday.

Four 1,100-yard rushers in one division?

December, 7, 2011
Passing is generally the key to victory in the NFL.

This helps explain why quarterbacks earn the most money, why teams often draft pass-blocking tackles over top runners and why fullbacks have become endangered.

Teams still value running the ball, of course. Defenses would have an easier time defending quarterbacks if they knew with certainty a run was not coming. And every team seeking support for young or average quarterbacks would be better off with a strong ground game.

NFC West teams fall into this group. Each team in the division is on pace to produce a 1,000-yard runner.

One division has produced four 1,000-yard rushers in a season five times since divisional realignment in 2002. Each NFC West team's leading rusher is on pace for at least 1,100 yards. Only one division, the AFC North in 2010, has produced four players with at least 1,100 yards since realignment.

Frank Gore's yardage production for the 49ers has leveled off in recent weeks. Continued strong defense and increased production from quarterback Alex Smith have helped the team keep winning. Facing two backup quarterbacks -- Arizona's John Skelton and St. Louis' A.J. Feeley -- simultaneously lowered the bar for the 49ers in recent weeks.

I would expect the Seattle Seahawks' Marshawn Lynch to gain the most rushing yardage in Week 14 among NFC West backs. Seattle wants to field a run-first offense, which makes sense this week.

The Rams rank second in most sacks per pass attempt, a threat now that Seattle's best pass protector, Russell Okung, has landed on injured reserve. The Rams are averaging fewer than one offensive touchdown per game. That gives Seattle a good chance to win without taking as many chances through the air. The Rams have allowed more rushing yards than any team in the NFL.

Note: With an assist from Anicra in the comments, I updated the projected totals for Jackson, Lynch and Wells to reflect their participation in only 11 games this season. I had previously divided their rushing totals by total team games (12 apiece), using the average to project totals for the remaining four games.
When the Titans' 2010 season unraveled, it was a huge disappointment. But it was laced with sadness too because in the middle of it all, offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger learned he had cancer and began a battle he couldn't win.

Heimerdinger, who had two stints in the coordinator post for Jeff Fisher in Tennessee, died Friday night at the age of 58.

It’s a big blow to those who knew him. He was a gruff and demanding coach, but his public persona was painted too broadly based on those qualities. He was not all about screaming and hollering, though he tended to be loud as he tried to help players see the errors of their ways and come to understand the right way to do things.

Beyond that exterior coaching personality, he was funny and smart, loyal with high standards. He was a no-nonsense Chicago guy who I thought could one day wind up coaching the Bears and being reunited with Jay Cutler, a player who had some of his best days working with Heimerdinger in Denver.

Two successful NFL head coaches, Mike Shanahan and Fisher, counted Heimerdinger among their closest friends and valued his football opinion.

In Heimerdinger's first term as Fisher’s coordinator with the Titans, he helped round out the late Steve McNair’s game and was a big factor in McNair’s co-MVP award in 2003.

I got to know him as a Titans beat writer, and he was the kind of coach a reporter had to respect. If he saw something he thought was wrong, he’d search for you and spell out why.

[+] EnlargeMike Heimerdinger
Brett Davis/US PresswireMike Heimerdinge, who had two stints with the Titans as offensive coordinator, passed away Friday after a bout with cancer.
Once, after I’d written that the organization was simply too protective of McNair when they maintained a poor game was not his fault, he pulled me into his office.

He clicked through film of every drop-back McNair took in the game in question, his red laser pointer drawing my eye to the important spots. McNair made the right read and went to the right place with all but two throws that day. He showed me that in great detail, spelling out the reads. A lot of plays that didn’t come off correctly, he illustrated, were because of good defense, a bad block or route, or a bad play call by the coordinator. I left with a new understanding I could put to use as I covered that offense going forward.

It amounted to the best, most memorable postgame review of a player I’ve ever had with a coach.

Heimerdinger was in Mexico, where his search for aggressive treatments led him, when he died.

His wife, Kathie, released a statement that’s part of Jim Wyatt’s piece on his passing.
We have been overwhelmed and incredibly touched by all of the support that we have felt from family, friends, fellow coaches, players, fans and the league this past year. It is with a heavy heart, but a trust in God, that we say goodbye to our beloved Dinger who lost his courageous battle with cancer yesterday. Mike approached cancer with the same vigor and tenacity that he approached any football game — to win. Even in the final minutes he never gave up — that was our Dinger.

He was a deeply devoted husband and father, loving son and brother, loyal friend and committed coach who loved the game and life. The coming days will be challenging for our family and we graciously and respectfully ask that you allow us to grieve privately.

Here’s’s story and Liz Merrill’s piece on Heimerdinger during his fight.

Here are statements on Heimerdinger released this morning by the Titans:

General manager Mike Reinfeldt
We are saddened today to hear the tragic news of Mike passing. Mike was a good man that brought a great level of dedication and professionalism to his job. He was brave in his fight over the last year and showed such a commitment to the game. Nothing was going to stop him last season from being a part of the team and having his stamp on the games. Our thoughts go out to Kathie and his kids through this difficult time. Mike and his family will always be with us.

Head coach Mike Munchak
My prayers are with his family. Mike was a great football coach; and over the years, we had a great relationship. I learned a lot of football from Mike and I have a number of great memories and experiences that will always be with me. It is just hard to believe his is gone. It is a sad day for his family and for those who knew him.

Running back Chris Johnson
He was a great coach and a tough coach. I know I wouldn’t have become the player I am without his confidence and the trust that he showed in me. My thoughts go out to his family.

Tackle Michael Roos
You don’t expect these types of things to happen and they shouldn’t happen. I felt confident that he was going to beat this after seeing his resolve last season in dealing with it. He was such a competitor and a fighter – the things that made him such a good coach were also the traits that I thought would lead him to beat the cancer. My prayers are with his family.

Former Titans center and current NFLPA President Kevin Mawae
It is with great regret and sorrow that we learn of the passing of Coach Mike Heimerdinger. "Dinger", as many people knew him, was a great coach and a good man. For those who knew him and played for him, they knew Dinger was a man who loved his family, enjoyed his players, and loved the game of football. Dinger's fight with cancer was indicative of the type of person he was; determined and courageous. It was my privilege to play for Dinger while with the New York Jets and the Tennessee Titans. I am better for having known and played for him. The NFL community has lost a great member of its fraternity this week. On behalf of the National Football League Players Association, the players offer their condolences to Kathie, Alicia, Brian and the rest of the Heimerdinger family.

Former Titans running back Eddie George
Any time you lose a friend, you feel it. My heart goes out to his family, it is a terrible loss. Mike was a highly competitive coach and person, who expected and demanded nothing but the best from you. He was a good guy to be around and he will surely be missed in this world.

Former tight end Frank Wycheck
I am really sad to hear the news today. Mike was a man of many qualities – he was humble, he was funny and he was demanding. I loved being with him on the golf course, he was a lot of fun to hang out with. From the coaching side, he brought a different element to our offense when he arrived. He took us to a different level in the passing game. He expected all of us to be accountable and he was a perfectionist when it came to executing his offense.

Over the last year, what he went through gave him great perspective of his life -- he was thankful and proud of what he accomplished.
Eddie George’s lambasting of the Titans for not having already dealt with Chris Johnson's contract has been big news, and rightly so.

Here’s one thing the team’s front office can take away from this: Slow, patient, and even plodding is the right approach sometimes. But not all the time.

From the time I started covering the franchise in its final year in Houston in 1996, it’s always been very deliberate.

Often times, that’s fine. The team that rushes out in free agency doesn’t usually win the Super Bowl. The team that puts a guy on the bench after one big mistake might stunt his development and confidence. The team that jumps out to complain about officiating in a game may suffer consequences at the hands of the commissioner.

But, in the instance of Chris Johnson, George is right on target.

The team should have hit Johnson with a contract offer it worked up during the lockout the moment it ended, and in so doing could have at least talked of an “immediate” good-faith effort.

Steve Underwood was long owner Bud Adams’ right-hand man and top confidante. Underwood is a methodical lawyer, who never jumped to action on team matters, and that tone trickled down through the organization.

Underwood recently retired.

As Adams and the Titans’ front office move forward post-Underwood, their in-house review of how things operate might allow for the possibility that there are occasions where moving quickly can be beneficial.
Sean McCormick of Football Outsiders has picked his 10 most disappointing teams Insider of the last 25 years.

The 2001 Tennessee Titans hold sixth place.

Here’s what he says:
"The Titans went 26-6 in 1999-2000. They were particularly unbeatable at home, winning 16 of their first 17 games played in (then) Adelphia Coliseum. But a shocking 24-14 loss to the Ravens in the playoffs took the shine off their new digs, as Tennessee would go on to lose five home games in 2001 on its way to a disappointing 7-9 record. Injuries to star running back Eddie George were a major culprit, as he managed only 3 yards per carry while playing through toe and ankle injuries. An even bigger culprit was a defense that couldn't get to the quarterback and couldn't cover receivers … any receivers. The Titans' defensive DVOA ranked 30th against No. 1 receivers, 28th against No. 2 receivers and 30th against all other receivers. The bright spot was Steve McNair, who turned in his best season to date and whose development ensured that Tennessee wouldn't stay down for long."

The missing context here is that the pass defense was so bad when compared to the two previous seasons because of a changing of the guard in the secondary that failed badly.

Of the four top guys in the defensive backfield from the two big seasons, free safety Marcus Robertson and cornerback Denard Walker had moved on as free agents and strong safety Blaine Bishop played in only five games because of injury.

Guys who filled in those spots -- corners Andre Dyson, DeRon Jenkins, Michael Booker and safeties Aric Morris, Bobby Myers (one game before injury), Perry Phenix , Joe Walker and Daryl Porter -- simply didn’t make for a good enough collection to support the one holdover who played regularly, corner Samari Rolle.

Most Titans fans regard the team’s inability to pull out Super Bowl XXXIV when it got there and, more so, the divisional-round playoff loss to Baltimore at the conclusion of the 2000 season as the things that are hardest to swallow.

Even before the team’s 0-3 start on the way to their 7-9 record, it was clear the franchise wasn’t the same caliber in 2001. It’s hard for me to imagine those Titans ranking among the 10 biggest disappointments of the last quarter century.