Stillers 34, Jags 24 ���. Nov. 25th, 2001 ����Game #10
Stillers-Titans Postgame Analysis and Grades
The Stillers marched down to Tennessee, a house of horrors that has plagued the Black & Gold the past four seasons. Soon enough, they found themselves behind 14-3, and that "uh-oh" feeling started to seep in. But to their credit, the Stillers showed incredible moxie and determination in hostile territory, and came right back and quickly sliced the lead to 4. They then put it into 5th gear in the 3rd quarter, and cranked out 24 2nd-half points in a solid display of offensive football, beating the Titans 34-24.
1. On Tenn's first play from scrimmage, MccNair hits Dyson on a deep post for a 68-yard TD.
2. Kris misses a 47-yard FG on first play of 2Q.
3. Josh's punt is partially blocked midway through the 2Q, which enabled Tenn. to get good field position and march for a TD and a 14-3 lead.
4. Stewart comes right back and hits Plex on the first play from scrimmage, good for 35 yards and setting up the later 4-yard TD pass to Plex.
5. Mason is ruled OOB with no time remaining at the end of the 1st half, negating what could have been a Titan 45-yard FG attempt with 0:01.
6. Bus fumbles on our first play of the 3Q, but he recovers it. The next play, Stew takes off on a scramble and runs 48 yards for a Stiller TD.
7. Troy takes the kickoff after Tenn. scored a FG to tie the game, and races 81-yards, setting up Amoz's 25-yard TD.
8. On a 3rd & 18 at the Tenn. 25, Amos Zereoue takes a quick-screen and breaks 3 tackles en route to a 25-yard TD.
9. Chad snares a short pass intended for the surprised Wycheck, and races 45 yards for a Stiller TD.
QB: Kordell Stewart was pretty impressive today, combining crisp passing, good accuracy, solid decision making, and good running en route to what might be is best all-around performance since the halcyon days of 1997. What impressed me most were the numerous on-target passes Stew was able to complete under duress caused by some leakage in the O-line. Time after time, Stew stood tough in the pocket and unleashed a good throw in the face of harassment. Stew also had a crisp scoring strike to a wide-open Burress. The TD jaunt was a thing of beauty, as Stew showed good speed, change-of-gears, and moves on the run. Not to be the skunk at the picnic, but I'd be remiss if I didn't point out a few flaws from today's otherwise good game. The only sack came on a play in which Stew was hesitant and tentative in the pocket, and stood wooden-legged instead of scooting from pressure. Ironically enough, he did exactly the right things when he scooted from pressure on his long TD run. The downfield deep passes were a bit poor. The long passes down the s-line, other than the one Ward lost in the sun, were either too long, too short (such as Plex's 35-yarder), or too devoid of arc. Stew also wore the charm of lady-luck today, with 3 very catchable INTs dropped by ham-handed Titan defenders. Lastly, there was the imbecilic, Tomczak-like aimless pop-fly pass that Stewart threw up (literally and figuratively) while under pressure on a 3rd & 4 from the Titan 21 on the first play of the 4Q, with the Stillers clinging to a thin 7-point lead. Instead of either eating the ball or throwing it through the end-zone or OOB, Stewart throws up a 40-foot high pop-fly pass to nobody in particular, and the ball plopped softly down to a scrum of players at the Titan 5-yard line. By the good grace of God, the Titans were unable to snare the pass, and Kris followed with a FG to give the team a 10-point lead. In such a tight game in the 4Q, this was a dum-dum pass that goes beyond any definition of jackassed stupidity, and removes Stewart from receiving an "A". In all, aside from the noted dings, a very good effort. Perhaps the best stat for Stew, was the impressive 8-for-10 on 3rd down. This is the kind of QB'ing that can take this team far in the playoffs. B+.
RB: Bettis was contained pretty well by the rugged Titan defense that sold out to stop the run. To his credit, Bus had a couple good runs in which he hit the hole hard, and/or plowed for extra yardage after the initial hit. His 16-yard run in the 3Q was a nice piece of work. Bettis foolishly attempted an off-balance pass into double-coverage on a HB Option play, which should have been INTd by Tenn. The Doughboy should have either thrown the ball away, or tucked the ball in & tried to gain what he could. Amoz had one token carry, and only 1 catch, but he turned that catch into a golden 25-yard TD with good moves, acceleration, and determination. Fu had one carry on a 3rd & 2, and gained a yard. B+.
FB: For no apparent reason, Jon Witman re-assumed the starting FB chores, and stumbled about in his typical upright stupor for the better part of the first 20 minutes. On both the 3rd & 4th drives, Witman drew my ire with his typical failure to get push on a defender and finish his block. Kreider was finally permitted to play later in the 2Q, and did the bulk of the work from that point on. Kreider wasn't overly prominent, though he did lead Bettis on a couple good runs. Kreider was at his best on Bettis' 3-yard gain in the 2Q, in which he picked off one Titan, and then continued on & a split second later, hit another. It may have appeared to the uninitiated that Kreider botched the lead block for Bettis on the slow ground play that lost 3 yards late in the 2Q near the Titan goal-line, but Kreider actually had 2 defenders (Godfrey and Kearse) shooting unmolested into the backfield, and was simply overwhelmed in terms of isolating his block on one man. I bring this point up in contrast to Witman, who has clumsy troubles trying to block one man. B.
WR: A mostly good day from this crew. Burress is probably going to demand a trade to any team in the Titans division next season, as he once again had a big game against Tennesse. Plex caught 8 balls for 114 yards and a TD. To his discredit, he dropped at least 2 passes, including the 2-step hitch that was thrown high, but clearly went right through his hands. Another drop was the result of Burress being too cool and casual on a crosser in which Stewart threw a perfect pass while on a rollout, but Burress failed to pluck the ball and tuck it in, and the DB was able to poke it loose for an inc. pass. (To his credit, Plex came back the next play and caught a low 26-yard pass with a diving effort.) And even the 35-yard grab, while a nice effort to out-jump 2 defenders, was literally caught in his chest, not with any outstretched hands. Imagine a basketball player jumping above the pack for a rebound, and instead of snaring it with his outstretched hands, he waits until the ball drops into his chest. This is exactly what Burress did, and while it worked this time, this is not the technique of choice in the NFL for that kind of play. In fact, I'll bet that every ball Burress caught today was caught against the breast-plate of his shoulder pads. Ward had a solid day, grabbing 7 passes for 99 yards. His RAC work was superb. Ward allowed the one lob down the s-line to go right through his hands, but the glaring sun made this a pretty tough catch. Ward was flagged for PI, which was declined, as well as holding, which negated a short 3-yard gain by Bettis. Troy had a clutch grab and nice RAC work on his only ball, gaining 12 yards. Shaw wasn't thrown any passes, but contributed a crushing pancake block on AZ's TD. A-.
TE: Jerame Tuman made his first start in place of Mark Bruener (injured reserve), and immediately made his presence felt with a 1-yard reception that was credited in the books as a 2-yard gain. Matt Cushing played some as a 2nd TE in short yardage sets. The blocking was adequate -- Bettis' struggles were far more the result of the Titans' selling out to stop the run, than the loss of the God of Blocking, Mark Bruener. B.
OL: Already forced to insert Ross as the starting RG, the Stillers then had to insert Keydrick Vincent into the game when Marvel Smith went down with a knee sprain in the 1st qtr. Vincent ended up doing the RG chores, with Ross at RT. The line stood up just well enough to enable the offense to move, but the leakage from this patchwork line was quite evident throughout the game. To their credit, only one penalty was assessed to this unit all game (a false start by Vincent), which is pretty damned good in a hostile environment and facing such quick rushers as Kearse and Carter. B.
DL: This unit played some solid football today. Smith led the way with some decent harassment, as well as a crushing hit on George on a gut run. Kimo also provided some decent pressure. The down note is the rushing yards given up to Freddie George, who was able to average nearly 4 yards a carry. B+.
LB: Kind of an off-day for this crew. This probably had something to do with the mamby-pamby, passive defensive scheme that Lewis ordered for the first 35-plus minutes of the game, which may have relaxed this crew from their normal terrorizing mayhem. Holmes led all players with 9 solos, and added an assist. Holmes also chipped in a couple stuffs of George. He did allow George to slip through a tackle and gain some extra yardage. Bell was 2nd on the team with 6 solos, but wasn't as active on the blitz as he's been in recent weeks -- again, probably due to scheme, not Bell. Even Joey Porter, who's been wreaking havoc all season, was a bit quiet today, often times dropping into coverage and other times simply getting stalled by backup LT Jason Matthews. Jason Gildon was, as usual, soft and flaccid all game long, getting bullied a few times on good gainers by George. Jason was able to get pressure on McNair a few times, but he either flailed & whiffed, or was shrugged off by McNair like a little toddler. In fact, Jason finished with 3 tackles -- equal to the number of easy sacks that he meekly missed. Gildon's play was expected and par-for-the-course, but I expect better performance from the Big 3. B.
DB: A somewhat spotty day for this crew. Chad Scott got abused on Tenn's first play from scrimmage, allowing Dyson to dash right by for a 68-yard TD. Chad was also flagged for PI and also for holding. To his credit, he hung tough, and jumped on the McNair pass in the flats and raced 45 yards for the TD that sealed the game. DeWayne held up fairly well in coverage, and chipped in a few tackles. Lee Flowers is beginning to emerge as the 2nd-largest chink (behind Gildon) in the Stiller armor, with a pitiful play on Wycheck's TD pass. Lee was covering Wycheck on a crosser in the EZ, but Wycheck stopped his route and curled a step back. Meanwhile, Lee kept running, full speed, for another 5 yards, before finally realizing that Wycheck had put on the brakes and was now snagging a TD pass. Lee also joined Gildon, just after Gildon was shrugged off by McNair, and Lee was shrugged off a second later on his sack attempt. Brent chipped in with 4 solos. Townsend and Logan played admirably in the nickel defense and dime defense. Logan slashed into the backfield and dropped McNair for a sack, and also had a late INT. It won't happen in a Cowher regime, but Logan's continual emergence gives cause to consider if he can ably replace Flowers as the starting SS if Flowers' woes continue. Again, probably due to scheme, the coverage was a bit soft was times. Additionally, because of the anemic pass rush much of the game, the DBs were asked to cover for an awfully long time, and to their credit they did an above average job. B.
Spec teams: A mostly lousy, typical day from this bunch of stragglers and stumblebums. Myron Bell was flagged for an illegal block on the opening kickoff. Brent was flagged for a false start on a punt. Josh Miller is working hard on his post-NFL career as an FBI handwriting expert. Miller took the snap on a 2Q punt, and carefully studied the football to verify the signature of Paul Tagliabue. Josh, an ever-concerned citizen trying to abide with the rules of the Bureau of Weights & Measures, also took some time to check the air pressure inside the football. Alas, Josh finally went to punt the ball, but not before drifting a step into the direction of an on-rushing Titan (former Stiller Daryl Porter), who got a paw on the ball, causing the punt to travel only 26 yards. In addition to Miller's pond-water speed in getting off his punts, I'll bet his peripheral vision is no greater than that of a drunken cyclops, as Josh has yet to show any reaction to obvious pressure coming right into his face. To be sure, Myron Bell was lethargic and sloppy with his block on Porter, and Witman, the safety valve man, may have been slow or totally amiss in providing help. Hank was held in check all day on punt returns, and nearly dropped one fair catch deep in his own end. Kris improved a bit on his KO's, and even got 2 TBs. But he missed a 47-yard FG (wide right, of course) and nearly missed another. The one bright spot was Troy Edwards. Troy took the kickoff after Tenn. had tied the game, and dashed 81-yards to set up the go-ahead TD. And Troy also had a 41-yard KO return. Additionally, Troy crushed Mason late in the game in punt coverage, with a brutal blast after Mason was initially stacked by other coverage men. With only a minute left in the game, it would have been easy for Troy to take it easy on Mason, but Troy hustled and delivered a vicious hit that is exactly the kind of hitting you want from your coverage teams. John Fiala had a nice stick and stop in kickoff coverage. C-.
OC: Mularkey apparently anticipated that Coach Fischer would sell out to stop the run, and he had the offense ready to attack the Titans through the air. Getting Plex involved, after three weeks of being frozen out far too much, was a nice touch by Mularkey. But there were far too may flaws and boners committed by Mularkey, as follows:
- On the very first series, the Stillers faced a 2nd & 1 at the Titan 15. Smith got hurt, so an injury TO occurred prior to this play. With the extra time allotted to him, Mularkey got cute and stupid, calling an HB Option pass that fooled exactly 2 people in the entire stadium, neither of whom was on the field at the time. Not only had this play not been set up with any kind of repeated toss sweeps (one toss sweep was run, 10 plays prior, and was stopped cold for a 1-yard loss), but it was run to the side of the field manned by two backup blockers (Vincent and Ross), and the leakage and failure to fool anyone forced Bettis into a hideous pass that should have been INT'd. Not content with that imbecility, Mularkey follows that play with a fake plunge/quick toss to Bettis, who was engulfed by four Titans for a 3-yard loss. This was imbecilic for 2 reasons: a.) Bettis had already run the exact same gadget-play 8 plays prior, which burned the Titans for 10 yards. b.) Instead of running this play behind his best all-around blocker (Gandy) and his best run blocker (Faneca), Mularkey The Genius runs the ball behind Ross, making his 2nd-ever NFL start, and Vincent, who had exactly 1 play of NFL experience under his belt prior to this play.
- Facing a 3d & 2 on the Tenn. 30, Mularkey orders a feeble, cutesy delayed-handoff to Fu (lined up as the lone back), which was stuffed for a 1-yard gain. I don't mind running the ball there, but not with a cutesy play -- replete with lots of cutesy motion -- that fooled nobody and took away our agression and our power brand of football.
- Late in the 2Q, Amoz ran the ball on first down from the Titan 15-yard line, for 2 yards. Amoz was stopped at 2:23, and unbelievably, the entire offense stood around playing grabass and allowed the clock to run down to the 2-min. warning. The offense, which had already wasted one TO trying to draw Tenn. offsides on a 4th down, ended up punching the ball in for a score, but this is precisely the kind of slovenly clock usage that has plagued this offense all season.
- With about 6-1/2 minutes left in a 3-point game, the offense faced a 2nd & 9 from their own 31. Stew, under center, ran a QB draw up the gut for 5. No problem. But faced with a 3rd & 4, Mularkey calls a chickenshit SG Draw, which was easily snuffed for a 2-yard gain. With the way Stewart was throwing the ball with poise, accuracy, and confidence, combined with the way that Plex and Ward were abusing the Titan secondary for easy receptions, there's absolutely no reason for Stew to be prohibited from even attempting some sort of pass play. This is the kind of juncture in a tight game that can either help salt the game away, or give a deficit-opponent a chance to come back.
Even the TD screen play to Amoz, on 3rd down and 18 from the Titan 25, was a weak-kneed, turtling playcall. Only Amoz's breaking/eluding of 3 tackles en route to the EZ allowed this play to gain enough yardage for a first down. More often than not, a playoff caliber defense is going to make the stop short of the sticks on 3rd & 18, forcing a FG. In all, there was some adequateness from Mularkey, but there was far too much imbecility for a team poised to make a serious run at the big show. C+.
DC: Tim Lewis apparently wasn't happy with the results last week, in which his defense began softly and passively, before being permitted to crank it up with aggressive blitzing that forced numerous Jaguar turnovers. So Lewis rolled out his Charmin Defense again today, going well into the 3Q with a softee, mamby pamby defense that applied no more pressure on McNair than what a trio of elderly invalids could have. Lewis continually went with softee 3 and 4-man rushes, which were easily gobbled up by the Titan O-line. All the while Mcnair had eons of unfettered time back in the pocket, and was looking as pinpoint as a young Kenny Anderson. Finally, Lewis extricated his head from his buttocks, and started to send the hounds after McNair. Voila, McNair started to lose accuracy and timing. And Logan nabbed McNair for a sack. Flowers' blitz -- not (as was suggested by a radio talk-show host or caller) Gildon, who was easily picked up & crushed into the ground by Eddie George after being left unblocked at the LOS -- disrupted McNair into the hasty, sloppy pass that was INT'd by Chad for the TD. It's readily apparent that Porter and Bell are at their best when they are allowed to play aggressively, but somehow the dimbulbed Lewis prefers passive play that negates his advantage over the opposing offense. Facing an injury-riddled Titan offense, this was very, very poor. D+.
HC: The foolhardy offensive calls, and more so the softee defense, are decisions that Cowher inherently approved of during the week and during the game. As the head coach, Cowher is therefore responsible for this kind of tomfoolery that will inevitably snatch defeat from victory in the playoffs. For a fired-up kind of guy that Cowher is, I can't imagine for the life of me how Cowhead could stomach -- and tolerate -- the kind of passive, sack-o-dung defensive scheme that pervaded the defense the better part of 3 quarters. C.
Synopsis: The Tennessee curse has been broken !! Suffice to say, I'm relieved that I was wrong in my pre-game prediction, and that we came back from a rocky start to beat the Titans. It's always difficult to play catch-up football on the road, especially against a decent defense like Tenn's. But the offense held together and responded with a good all-around effort. The passing game is improving and gaining confidence each week. The key now, at 8-2, is to start working on the small (and large, in some cases) warts in all 3 phases of the game that can bite a team in the butt come playoff time. Barring a Cub-like collapse, it's pretty much a given that this team will make the playoffs. But, there's a difference between flying high into the playoffs, and limping sorrily -- as they did in the '96 season. This team is playing good football, plain and simple. However, as I've stated, the small leaks need to be addressed, and fixed, before they cause a flat tire against a fierce playoff opponent. Next up, an interesting game against the Vikings, a team that Bill Cowher has yet to beat in his 10-year coaching career.