by Jeremy Gottlieb, Patriots Daily Staff
October 15, 2009

The Tennessee Titans invade Gillette Stadium this weekend as the most recent reminder of one of the alternative meanings of the acronym, NFL – Not For Long.

Last season, the Titans went 11-0, finished the year 13-3 and had home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. But they squandered that edge in a Divisional Round loss to Baltimore and since then, they’ve won exactly zero games, the most recent being a blowout at home at the hands of the Colts, a team they beat on Monday Night Football last year to accelerate their ascension to the top of the AFC South.

There are a couple of obvious differences. For starters, after being stuffed by the tough Steelers in Week 1 then getting into a shootout with Houston the following week, the Titans seem to have forgotten one of the two biggest reasons they were so successful last year, that being the running game. Chris Johnson, who electrified last year as a rookie with 1,228 yards, nine touchdowns and a 4.9 YPA. This year, Johnson is averaging six yards per attempt, but his numbers are top heavy thanks to a 16 carry, 197 performance in that Houston game. Other than that week, he has not topped 100 yards in a game, has trended downward from 97 to 83 to 34 yards in his last three games and is averaging just over 15 carries per game. Part of the reason Johnson is not being asked to do much is that the Titans are getting behind early and being forced to rely on the arm of Kerry Collins to hang in games, a rather troubling situation. Collins flourished last season because he wasn’t asked to do too much, thanks to Johnson’s emergence and LenDale White’s, er… largeness? Anyway, counting on Collins wasn’t such a good idea when he was younger and stronger so how could it possibly be a good one now that he’s nearly 37?

Second of all, the defense, the cornerstone of last year’s team, is now ranked 29th in scoring (27.8 PPG) and 23rd overall which includes 31st against the pass with a stunning 287.6 YPG allowed. Three members of the Tennessee secondary (Cortland Finnegan, Michael Griffin, Chris Hope) went to the Pro Bowl. This year, Finnegan, Griffin and corner Nick Harper are hurt and the defense was shredded for 323 and three TDs two weeks ago – by David Garrard.

Now 0-5, the Titans are on the brink of jumping ship for the year, as several prominent names are being rumored in trade talks, other prominent folks (hello, Jevon Kearse!) are leaving the stadium before the game is even over and there is even some clamoring for Vince Young, who at this point should probably be playing if for no other reason than that the team needs to see if it will need to draft another QB with its first pick next season. Coach Jeff Fisher is safe and should be; he’s the most successful coach in franchise history, even more so than Bum Phillips from the Houston Oilers days. It’s probably just one of those years. But considering how good and how dominant the Titans were last year, this season is en route to being one of the most precipitous falls from one year to the next in recent memory.

This Week’s Five Best Teams

1. New York Giants: Pretty lucky for the G-men that they got the Raiders in the same week as Eli Manning came down with plantar fasciitis. The injury didn’t seem to hinder the little Manning at all, as he passed for for 173 yards and two scores in one half before making way for another former No. 1 pick, Carr, who basically did the same thing. Then again, I’d be willing to bet that the homeless guy who camps out on my front steps every once in a while could put up similar numbers against Oaktown.

2. Indianapolis: In the wake of yet another clinical dissection of an opponent by the Colts, the frothy mouthed media folks began a rather predictable campaign for Peyton Manning as the possible best QB of all time. It’s not possible yet – he needs to win at least one more title. But where this stuff used to annoy the fuck out of me, it’s now making at least a bit more sense. It doesn’t hurt Manning or the Colts at all that so far this year, the defense (14.2 PPG, 2nd overall; 295.6 YPG, 6th overall) is almost as good as the offense.

3. New Orleans: Had to downgrade the Saints one spot this week through no fault of their own simply because they didn’t play while the Colts were annihilating a division foe fighting for its season on the road. But this week’s home game against the Giants will give us a lot of insight into how good these guys really are.

4. Minnesota: Read something earlier this week by one of the more respected football writers out there that had the Vikings now ranked No. 1  based on a 38-10 win over the Rams. Yes, the Rams. Look, Favre-suckers, the Vikings are very, very good, easily tops in their division and among the best in the league. But better than the Giants and Colts? Really? And if so, is it because Favre is playing as well now as he was playing last year at this time for the Jets and not because the defense is probably the best in the NFL? Honestly?

5. Denver: I think it’s now safe to say that the Broncos are very much for real thanks to their systematic, second half beatdown of the Patriots. And now, their two top receivers Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal, neither of whom did much of anything through the first four weeks, are getting hot. Watch out.

This Week’s Five Worst Teams

1. St. Louis: Kind of hard to have the Rams ahead of the Raiders here since it’s clearly not an effort issue with them, but purely a talent issue. But talent is what pays the bills most of the time and the Rams, with their 15-game losing streak and less than a touchdown per game, just don’t have much.

2. Oakland: Loved Giants linebacker Antonio Pierce’s quotes after his team crushed the Raiders last week. “We’re playing that game the other day and honestly, it felt like a scrimmage or a practice,” he told Sirius NFL Radio. “There was no vibe of trying or effort from a defensive standpoint against their offense. It was shocking to be out there in a game and get that kind of feeling.” Yep, those Raiders sure know what they’re doing, eh?

3. Tampa Bay: It’s interesting to imagine exactly what the Glazer family, owners of the Bucs, were expecting when they panicked and fired Jon Gruden, GM Bruce Allen and half their roster after last year’s December collapse in favor of a bunch of guys, led by new coach Raheem Morris, who combined probably have less experience at this level that Gruden and Allen have in their respective fuck you fingers.

4. Cleveland: I don’t care that they beat Buffalo. The Browns won 6-3, their quarterback completed a whole two passes and their best player in the game was their punter. And besides, Eric Mangini, who is now under fire for getting a rookie running back injured for the season by making him do a blocking drill without pads against a linebacker in pads, is still the coach of this mess.

5. Buffalo: On to this list with a bullet, replacing the winless Chiefs, who at least are competitive. The Bills have scored 13 points in their last three games, and committed nine, count ’em, nine false start penalties in the loss to the Browns. What a sad, sad story.

What’s Trendy

The Bengals: From the Out-Of-Nowhere Dept., Cincinnati has now matched its win total from last season, has won seven of eight games, has won three straight in the final minute, boasts the league’s leading rusher in Cedric Benson (487 yards) and is ninth in defense (18 PPG) after holding division rival Baltimore to season lows of seven points and 257 total yards. Not the Bungles anymore, kids.

Matt Hasselbeck, Seahawks: In the two games he’s been fully healthy, the BC and Xaverian product/Westwood native has passed for 617 yards and seven TDs with a completion percentage of 63.1 and a passer rating of 103.1 while leading Seattle to two wins by a combined score of 69-0.

Mike Vrabel, Chiefs: That’s now 11 career touchdowns on 11 career catches. Not a bad percentage, I’d say. Would be much, much nicer if he was still doing it in Foxboro, wearing No. 50, instead of Rob Ninkovich.

What’s Not

Bob Sanders, Colts: I’ve never really gotten it with this guy. He’s considered all-world by pretty much every media-type there is (I’ve heard him called one of the best safeties of all time) and even won Defensive Player of the Year once. But he’s as fragile as Laurence Maroney. Sanders has not played yet this year and has now missed 40 of 85 career games. Not too sure how he can be thought of so highly when he can barely make it through an average of half a season.

Dre’ Bly, 49ers: Classic stuff last week against Atlanta. Down 38-10 with the Falcons in the red zone, Bly picked off a Matt Ryan pass and, thinking he’d run it back, started high-stepping and holding his head, Deion Sanders-styles, at his own 30. Yes, he was caught and stripped of the ball, which the Falcons then turned into another TD in a 35-point ass whupping.

The Raiders: That’s four straight games with less than 200 total yards and 12 first downs and three straight with seven points or less. God, I love ragging on this bunch of clueless, ineffectual losers. Can’t wait for horror movie monster Al Davis to start calling defensive signals from the owner’s box again, if he hasn’t already. We feel your pain, Big Sey.

And finally…

As one of the multiple, Super Bowl-winning coaches currently out of work, Mike Shanahan’s name has been bandied about quite a bit as a potential replacement for one of the several current coaches who appear doomed to be fired, either during this year or at the end of it. What I want to know is, why? Shanahan got to Denver in the mid-90s and inherited John Elway at his absolute peak, an experienced veteran who had learned how to combine his superior talent with a knowledge of how and a will to win over the course of a long career. They won two titles together (with a lot of help from Terrell Davis) and Elway retired following the ’08 season.

After that, Shanahan coached the Broncos to exactly one playoff win over the next 10 years, seeming to skate every single season until Denver owner Pat Bowlen finally realized that maybe his guy was slightly overrated and shitcanned him after last season and the blowing of a four-game division lead over the schedule’s final four games. For the past several years, the Broncos ranked among the league’s worst defensive teams but I keep reading that when he gets another job, Shanahan will stipulate that he brings in his own defensive coordinator, a guy named Bob Slowik, who presided over Shanahan’s last couple defenses in Denver, outfits that ranked in the bottom third of the league. He is continually regarded as an offensive genius and quarterback guru but after Elway retired, Shanahan got his hands on Brian Griese, Jake Plummer and Jay Cutler and developed none of them into an elite player.

So again, I ask, what’s this fascination with the guy? Why is he such an attractive candidate to get another head coaching gig? He is one the most overrated coaches I’ve ever seen in any sport. Whoever rolls back the truck for him next year better be careful what they wish for.