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VOL. 39 | NO. 42 | Friday, October 16, 2015

Better Titans doing nothing for Whisenhunt’s record

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The whispers are already out there. How much job security does Ken Whisenhunt really have with the Tennessee Titans?

It seems a little soon for message boards and talk radio to be discussing the ouster of the Titans coach, but such is life in the coaching fish bowl when you lose games that should go into the win column, like the Titans have done in their past two games.

No doubt Whisenhunt’s resume – 3-17 after Sunday’s loss to the Bills – leaves quite a bit to be desired.

That’s a 15 percent – or .150 – win percentage. That’s not even a good batting average, much less an acceptable winning percentage.

Whisenhunt’s success rate since he took over the Titans isn’t much above that of the Washington Generals or Wile E. Coyote. And at home – Nissan Stadium, LP Field or whatever – Whiz’s won-loss record is even worse – 1-10, or a winning percentage of .091.

So it’s no wonder calls for him to be fired are beginning to gain volume in and around Nashville.

But before that call to pull the plug on Whisenhunt begins to generate too much buzz, let’s say one thing on that topic: It’s not going to happen – at least not now.

The Titans are in the midst of probably the darkest chapter since moving to Tennessee, having not made the playoffs since 2008 and having not won a postseason game in 12 years.

Of course, very little of that is on Whisenhunt’s plate, given that he has only been on the job for 20 games.

The case can certainly be made that the Titans have gotten worse on his Whisenhunt’s watch. Record-wise, it’s hard to argue. Last year’s 2-14 debacle was the worst since moving to Tennessee in 1997.

And while the talent on hand looks much better, the 1-3 record has yet to reflect it.

Despite his many problems and stalls in getting the Titans back to respectability, Whisenhunt does not appear to be on the hot seat just yet. And there are some legitimate reasons why.

At the top of that list, of course, is Marcus Mariota.

While the rookie quarterback is far from a finished product, credit must be given to Whisenhunt, general manager Ruston Webster and the Titans scouting department for knowing exactly what could be with Mariota.

While most saw a spread quarterback who had never taken a snap from center or called a play in the huddle at Oregon, the Titans saw an extremely bright quarterback prospect with the talent to be the franchise quarterback this team has desperately sought since Steve McNair was traded in 2006.

As Whisenhunt and Webster have gone all in on Mariota, with good early returns, you can be assured that the coach who is charged with developing him into a franchise quarterback will get every opportunity to finish the job he was assigned.

If Titans ownership has been paying attention these past few years – and there’s really no guarantee of that, is there? – it should have taken notice that the previous quarterback hopeful, Jake Locker, had his growth stunted by having to learn three different offenses in four years.

Stability in the scheme is almost as important as stability in the quarterback position.

Mariota looks like a keeper, and in today’s NFL, having a franchise QB is half the battle in establishing respectability.

Second, the Titans’ overall talent, even though there are still noticeable holes, is better.

The defense, now under the guidance of Dick LeBeau, has improved, as has the offense, thanks in large part to Mariota’s quicker-than-expected growth at quarterback.

Recent draft picks like Taylor Lewan, Dorial Green-Beckham, Avery Williamson, Chance Warmack and Jeremiah Poutasi look like pieces of a good foundation, while free agents like Brian Orakpo, Delanie Walker and Perrish Cox have helped to fill a few of the problems that existed on the roster.

While Whisenhunt’s tenure hasn’t yet produced much success, he still has time and opportunity to right the ship.

Now, if we’re still talking about improving and getting over the hump at this time next year, then you can start the clock on the Whisenhunt watch.

Five things to watch

1. Dan Campbell’s first game: When the Dolphins decided to fire Joe Philbin after an embarrassing loss to the Jets in London, they named untested Dan Campbell as their interim head coach.

Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt says facing the Dolphins in their first game after a coaching change is sort of like facing a team in a season opener, in that you don’t know exactly what you will see from them.

2. Improving the passing game: There’s a statistic making the rounds that Marcus Mariota has completed only 42 percent of passes of more than 10 yards during the three games since the win at Tampa Bay.

That has to improve in order for the Titans offense to become more explosive and loosen defenses underneath. The inability to stretch the field was obvious against the Bills, and the Titans need to challenge the Dolphins secondary.

3. Have some end-game confidence: The Titans should be 3-1 right now. But they have given away what looked like certain wins to the Colts and Bills.

That said, the Titans are close, but close isn’t close enough to the win column.

This is a team that desperately needs to figure out a way to win a game, especially at home, where they have won once in Ken Whisenhunt’s tenure.

4. Kendall Wright’s plight: Kendall Wright made news when he said he wants to be relevant again in the offensive scheme. And while he is the Titans’ leading receiver with 16 receptions, it will be interesting to see how much, if any, his postgame brooding following the loss to Buffalo plays into the Titans offensive plans going forward.

5. Get some takeaways: Maybe the best way for the Titans to snap their slump is to get a batch of turnovers.

They had one fumble recovered on special teams by Steven Johnson, but they need to get some takeaways from the defense to help set the offense up with a short field.

Three key matchups

Warmack vs. Suh

Warmack has been out the past two games with a sprained MCL in his right knee, but the Titans need him back in time to match up against Suh. Suh’s divorce from the Detroit Lions hasn’t worked out well for him or his former team, but the talented defensive tackle is due for a breakout game with his new team. The Titans have to make sure it doesn’t come against them.

Al Woods vs. Mike Pouncey

Pouncey is one of the top centers in the NFL, but Woods has played well anchoring the interior of the Titans’ defensive line, which has been more active in recent weeks trying to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks and in slowing down the run. Woods has played well enough that he probably keeps the starting job even after Sammie Hill finally gets back from his knee injury.

Ryan Tannehill vs. Titans pass rush

Tannehill has not been particularly sharp this season, and his inconsistent play may be one of the reasons why Joe Philbin is no longer the Dolphins head coach. The Titans have improved their pass rush in recent weeks and will need to make Tannehill uncomfortable in the pocket in order to try and force some turnovers.

Terry McCormick covers the Titans for TitanInsider.com

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