Tennessee Titans: The Man In the Box
By Josh Gunnels
Tennessee Titans wide receiver Nate Washington (85) talks with offensive coordinator Chris Palmer during OTA at the Titans training facility at Baptist Sports Park. Mandatory Credit: Jim Brown-US PRESSWIRE
It’s not the Tennessee Titans wins and losses thus far this season that has the team drawing so much heat. We all know that it’s HOW they’ve lost their games that is so troubling. Everyone knew before the season that the Titans faced juggernauts in 5 of their first 6 games, and would be lucky to come away with more than 1 win. So coming out of the first 6 games at 2-4 isn’t the end of the world, but rather the way the team performed in those games is what has the coordinators on the hot seat.
Mike Munchak is not Andy Reid or Sean Payton.
He leapt over the coordinator position in taking over the head coaching job for the Titans. Munchak is an organizational controller, but his coordinators call the shots during the games. Whether Jerry Gray or Chris Palmer were his top candidates or the only guys left to choose from, we’ll never know. What is important is that we are stuck with them for the rest of year, for better or worse.
Let’s look at the Offensive side of the ball:
There can be very little argument about the talent on the offensive side of the roster. The Titans have the best receiving corps they have had in a long time, as well as possibly one of the best running backs of all time. Since Mason was shipped out during the purge, the Titans have struggled both through free agency and the draft to put together a wide receiver unit for nearly a decade.
After going through Calico, Brandon Jones, David Givens, Roydell Williams, Ben Troupe etc., the current field of Britt, Washington, Wright, and Williams are a great top-4 to have on a team. That coupled with CJ, Cook and yes, even Craig Stevens, there should be no problem making some things happen on the offensive side of the ball.
So what gives?
Other than the Detroit shootout which had a lot of special teams scores, the Titans couldn’t score more than 14 points in their first 5 games. Unlike the previous year, Chris Palmer had a full offseason and training camp to implement his system. Everyone was excited, because if they could win 9 games with a “dumbed down” version, how awesome would they be with all the bells and whistles? After watching every snap of every game, my conclusion is that Chris Palmer is too smart for his own good.
Palmer’s offense is a close cousin to the one of the mad scientist Martz, where he made the Greatest Show on Turf famous in St. Louis. Multiple receiver sets, multiple formation lineups, and multiple receiver option routes. You’ve heard the Titans coaches say that there were plays there to be made during those games. They weren’t lying. Countless drives stalled out due to an open man not being seen, or simple “mis-communication” between the Qb and the receivers. The plays were there to be had, they just weren’t executed properly. And if the players continually can’t “execute” the system, then it becomes incumbent upon the staff to change the system.
Palmer’s system can work in the NFL. It’s just the implementation of the system that’s the problem. It’s the type of system that needs to be cultivated in layers over years with the same signal callers and receivers. Once the payers absorb and digest the schematics of a play they have to react to the defense. If everyone’s on the field trying to guess what the other guy is guessing, then you’re left with what the Titans had: 10 points on the board.
Palmer just dove in too deep and too fast. If the players aren’t picking up the system fast enough, then it’s up to Palmer to slow the scheme down a little and just focus on getting the basics right within the scheme. His failure to adjust after a few games to this mentality may have him looking for a new job next year.
Palmers move to the box has helped immensely. His new bird’s eye view allows him to see how the players are reading and reacting to the opposing defense during the game as opposed to after the game. He’s made better in game adjustments and asked the players to run less complicated routes, while allowing the complexity of the play itself be what opens a receiver or running lane. Hopefully Palmer can sustain this steady growth of his offense and not throw the calculus book at the offense again after a bye week of conjuring. The execution of the offense as well as the play calling itself over the last 6 games may prove enough to keep Palmer around next year, but it may be too little too late.