John Crist: Vince Young has gone from Rookie of the Year to sophomore slump to clipboard-carrying backup in stunning fashion. You have to give Kerry Collins a lot of credit for leading the Titans to an undefeated mark through eight games, but how has Young handled the demotion? What kind of future does he have in Tennessee at this point?
Doug Farrar: Well it's been a weird situation, to say the least. Young suffered a sprained MCL in early September at the same time people around him were questioning his emotional well-being after the quarterback was supposed to have discussed suicidal thoughts with a therapist. These types of things should never be minimized under any circumstances, but it's hard to know exactly what happened and where Young is with all of it. Young later claimed that he was never depressed, while Titans head coach Jeff Fisher was of the mind to think that Young needed to get some things in perspective before getting back on the ride.
This situation was exacerbated by the fact that the Titans haven't lost a game with Collins under center. That most likely has more to do with the factors around him than Collins himself – Bears fans know how a team can carry a quarterback to greatness, as opposed to the other way around. But Collins is the right guy for now, and I don't see Young supplanting him this season.
As for the future, I think the Titans need to seriously consider drafting and developing another franchise quarterback. Whatever emotional baggage Young may or may not have aside, I have never been impressed with his ability to operate at the NFL level outside of a few spread-style plays that fit his limited skill set. This team is too good – and set up to be too good for too long – to risk it all on a quarterback who can't get it done.
JC: "Thunder and lightning" is an overused term when it comes to describing running back tandems in this league, but the Titans have the quintessential thunder-and-lightning combo in speedy Chris Johnson and burly LenDale White. How is Tennessee splitting their carries? Are there specific situations when each of them is on the field? Are they ever together?
DF: The split is 146-98 in carries in Johnson's favor so far this year. It's not completely unusual to see them in the same backfield, though you'll also see a lot more two-tight end looks with a single back. Johnson, who's got a tug-of-war going with Atlanta's Matt Ryan for Rookie of the Year, ran a 4.24 40-yard dash at the combine and hasn't stopped since. Not only does he have incredible straight-line speed and exciting agility, but he'll break more tackles than you'd expect for a back of his size. At this point, he ranks fourth in the league in rushing with 715 yards.
White is more the up-the-middle, goal-line back – he leads the league in rushing touchdowns with 10. But as you may have seen, these guys can do role reversal as they did against Green Bay last week. White blasted through the Packers defense for a 54-yard gain, and then Johnson bulled his way in for the touchdown on that drive.
JC: Since the Titans run the ball so well and their wide receivers are a below-average bunch at best, what does that say about their offensive line? Aside from veteran center Kevin Mawae, they're a pretty unheralded group. Do they run a man-on-man style, or is it more of a zone-blocking system? I assume they've been facing eight-man fronts all year, right?
DF: The Titans offensive line can go man-on-man, but they also excel at various aspects of zone blocking – they will pull, use slide protection, and unleash combo blocks on play-side overloads. Mawae is the name, but left tackle Michael Roos is the potential superstar. Roos is in his fourth year. He's a 6-7, 315-pound behemoth with excellent technique and a real mean streak.
That this line has developed into a fine unit isn't really a surprise when you consider that position coach Mike Munchak played with the Houston Oilers from 1982 through 1993, made nine Pro Bowls, and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2001. There isn't one thing his linemen can do that Munchak didn't probably do better at some point in time, and he's been coaching great lines in Tennessee since 1997.
JC: If the regular season ended today, it wouldn't be much of a surprise if Albert Haynesworth was named MVP of the league even though that award always goes to quarterbacks and running backs. Still, many fans only know him as the guy who stepped on Andre Gurode's face a few years ago. Just how dominant has Haynesworth been from his D-tackle position?
DF: I'll tell you. I did a Cover-3 Profile of Haynesworth for Football Outsiders this year, and I reviewed the Titans' win over the Vikings. In that game, there was one late Vikings play in which the Minnesota line triple-teamed Haynesworth. Left guard Steve Hutchinson, center Matt Birk, and right guard Anthony Herrera all filled the middle around him, which allowed tackle Tony Brown to come through unobstructed, pressure Gus Frerotte, and force a bad throw which was intercepted by cornerback Nick Harper. Johnson scored on the next play, putting the game completely out of reach.
If you watch the Titans defense long enough, you'll see as much of what Haynesworth's presence allows his teammates to do as what he himself can rack up stat-wise. He commands a double-team on every play, and woe is your offensive line when Haynesworth and end Kyle Vanden Bosch decide they want to start running little stunts and twists. That's when you get Haynesworth on a tackle or a tight end outside, and you might as well go home.
To put it succinctly, he's the most dominant defensive player in the game, and he deserves that MVP award. No defensive player has won the award since 1971, but I don't know who else has that same kind of impact on his own team this season.
JC: Would we be talking more about Tennessee's impressive 8-0 start if this was, say, New England or Indianapolis – two teams with high-profile QBs always in the playoffs? Nobody really expects the Titans to run the table like the Patriots did last year, but their formula for success is tried and true. Can Fisher and Co. legitimately win the Super Bowl?
DF: Well, nobody's surprised when the Pats and Colts go 8-0, but I think the problem with the Titans is that they're just not sexy. Their home uniforms make the players look like giant blueberries, their starting quarterback is an 80-year-old journeyman, and the thing most people know about their best player, as you intimated, is that he stepped on an opponent's face. They're using the formula of the 1985 Bears, 2000 Ravens and 2002 Buccaneers – that a great defense, stellar running game, a quarterback who just doesn't try to do too much, and outstanding coaching can win it all.
Certainly Fisher is the best current NFL coach never to win a Super Bowl, and with the AFC's former big kids staggering this year, it wouldn't surprise me at all if the Titans finally have their shot at the top.
To read Part II of this three-part series, where John answers five questions from Tim, Click Here.
Behind Enemy Lines: Part I
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