Watching the Tennessee Titans in their 51-20 loss to the Chicago Bears on Sunday the iconic scene from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid came to mind.
With the outlaws trapped high upon a cliff and lawmen in hot pursuit, their only option for escape was to jump to the river far below. When Robert Redford’s Sundance expressed reservations because he could not swim, Paul Newman’s Butch bellowed with laughter that, “The fall will probably kill you.”
There is a certain amount of risk involved when you try to change your circumstances, and in this case it seems that the fall just might kill the Titans.
The decision early in 2010 to hire Mike Munchak as Jeff Fisher’s replacement was more than just a coaching change. It was a shift in the overall philosophy of the organization and the vision for what a Titans team ought to be and how they ought to play. He wanted to modernize the offense and simplify the defense.
Munchak, along with chief executive officer Mike Reinfeldt and general manager Ruston Webster have placed a premium on work ethic, character and intelligence, which all sounds really good in theory. They have sought to find players gifted in at least one particular area with the idea that they would find ways to take advantage of those players’ gifts.
It was a direct departure from the days when players like Pacman Jones and Carl Pickens were deemed worth the risk, when guys like Josh Evans were welcomed back after each and every personal misstep. The key, of course, was that those were supremely talented players who were deemed acceptable on the risk-reward scale.
Munchak is not interested in the risk. He believes in rewarding players who earned opportunities with their actions moreso than their athleticism.
The only problem is that character has not translated into competitiveness. In fact, it has been just the opposite. Not only that but the schemes — again — looked unreliable and unproductive.
Sunday’s loss, which included five turnovers, a blocked punt and 28 points allowed in a span of fewer than six minutes of the first quarter was the fifth this season in which the final score was three touchdowns or more in the opponent’s favor.
That is a massive and unforgivable number in a league that prides and markets itself on its any-given-Sunday parity. By comparison, only three other games on this Sunday were decided by more than 10 points.
Already that is most losses by 21-plus points in any season of the Titans era. Even in the worst of times under Fisher, including 2004 (5-11) and 2005 (4-12) they never were blown out to that degree more than three times in a season.
There were five such defeats in Fisher’s final four seasons combined. Even more telling is the fact that when he took over late in 1994, he transformed the then-Houston Oilers from a run-and-shoot team offense to one that featured a power running game. That transition resulted in five defeats of three touchdowns or more in his first six full seasons combined.
In other words: Regardless of what mistakes in philosophy and personnel evaluation Fisher made along the way, his teams were almost always competitive.
Munchak’s current squad, more often than not, just can’t keep it close. It’s not necessarily the same problem every week either, but it’s always something and every aspect of the team has had moments it would rather forget.
When the time came to make a change, owner Bud Adams was willing to take the plunge with Munchak, heretofore an offensive line coach and a Hall of Fame player for the organization whose own character and work ethic were beyond reproach.
It’s been anything but smooth sailing since.