The Blame Game (The NFL on REO)

Titans Talk

Sunday’s game in Miami was brutal to watch. The Titans were never able to find any offensive rhythm under backup QB, Matt Cassel. It is no surprise, that after a 16-10 loss to a painfully bad Miami Dolphins’ team, many people in the Titans’ organization are getting blamed. And there is plenty of well-deserved blame to go around. Unfortunately, most of the local writers, radio talkers, and fans are pointing their fingers in the wrong direction. That is where I come in. Consider this the official Blame Index for the debacle in South Florida.

Officials: 50% of the blame.

I am not a “blame the refs” kind of guy. I will complain about the refs. I will criticize the refs. I will yell at the refs. But in almost every game, the refs do not ultimately decide the outcome. There are always plays that can be made to overcome bad officiating. But what we witnessed in Miami was so awful and so game-changing, that it has to be number one on this list. There were multiple examples of incompetence throughout the game, but the sequence late in the 1st quarter proved to be the most damaging so we will focus on that.

With less than a minute left in the 1st quarter, down 0-3, Matt Cassel did something no one watching that game thought he could do: He completed a pass more than 10 yards down the field. In fact, he threw a decent ball down the field to Delanie Walker for a 59-yard touchdown. Titans’ fans celebrated. Then we saw the flag. As all fans of the Tennessee Titans know, you don’t cheer for the team until you are completely sure there is no flag on the field. (On a personal note, my oldest son will wait a minute or two before he celebrates because he is convinced that the refs will never allow anything good to happen to the Titans. Thanks for killing my son’s spirit NFL.) We waited for the call from the officials…and were rewarded with one of the most spectacularly wrong-headed penalties in the history of the game. Pass interference on Jonnu Smith, rookie Tight End of the Titans. “That doesn’t seem like that bad of a call,” you say. “If he interfered with the defender, perhaps that is how Walker got open.” If only it were that simple. No, Smith and his defender (the defender who initiated contact by the way) were TWENTY yards away from the catch.  (Watch the play here.) There was less contact, less hand-checking than in virtually every pass play in every game in the NFL this season. That’s only a slight exaggeration. It was minor contact, by both players, that literally had nothing to do with anything that happened on that touchdown pass and catch. But the officials think that everyone watches NFL games to see them throw flags and awkwardly talk to the crowd so…

It was a bad call. But it was a back-breaking call for the Titans in this game because that one play could have been the very play that allowed them to get the offense on track. I’ll explain.

Up until that point in the game, and throughout the rest of the game, the Titans struggled to do much on offense. With Cassel as your QB, your options are limited at best. The Miami defense did not respect the Titans’ passing game and with good reason. So, they were stacking the box, daring the Titans to throw. If that TD to Walker stands, the entire defensive strategy changes for the Dolphins. Suddenly, they now know the Titans can throw the ball over the top. Putting eight or nine guys in the box is no longer an option on every play. That opens up the running game, which is exactly what the Titans wanted. If the TD stands, the Titans take a 7-3 lead and start to control the game on the ground. This serves two goals: Wear down Miami and keep your defense fresh. But the refs decided that an obvious no-call should take away the biggest play of the day for either team.

Two plays later, Cassel drops back and gets hit while he is throwing the ball. The ball travels a good 10-15 feet forwards in the air. Of the 22 players on the field, all but one stop playing. The pass is clearly incomplete. A lone Dolphin runs and picks up the ball and runs it to the end zone. Most of the refs have stopped officiating. One ref half-heartedly follows the Dolphin player but stops before he gets to the end zone. Dolphins’ players from the sideline make their way onto the field while the ball is still being carried to the end zone. The refs huddle for two minutes and when it is all said and done, they announce that they ruled the ball a fumble and then a touchdown for Miami. (You can watch the play here.)

There were probably 20 things wrong in how the officials handled that call. I don’t really want to waste anyone’s time going through all of them. I’ll keep it simple by saying the refs were just as confused as the players and the fans and they really had no idea what happened in the play and they used the replay system to bail them out. It’s the most cowardly and incompetent form of officiating out there and more and more NFL referees are doing it. They are relying more on the cameras than their own abilities and it is hurting the game.

Regardless of the details, this two-play sequence took 7 points off the board for the Titans and put 7 points on the board for the Dolphins. Without Marcus Mariota, the Titans just don’t have enough offense to overcome that kind of scoring swing.

 

Coaches: 25% of the blame.

They ran the ball 18 times on Sunday. They threw the ball 32 times with a back-up QB. That’s all you need to know about how the coaches did on Sunday. Unacceptable.

 

Matt Cassel: 10% of the blame.

I have heard way too many people put all the blame on Cassel. That’s insane. He played poorly. But he did enough (before the refs pratfalled their way into the game) to win. IF the Walker TD stands, he ends up with 200 yards passing, 69% completion percentage, and 2 touchdowns. Not a bad day for a second string QB. But, he does deserve a little blame because he showed no pocket awareness, taking way too many sacks, and just didn’t have the ability to make the big pass when his team needed him to in the 2nd half.

 

Offensive Line: 10% of the blame.

I realize they lost Taylor Lewan for the majority of the game and they were trying to protect a statue for QB, but this unit has to play better. If they don’t get it figured out, this season will be a major disappointment and will set the Titans back a year in the development.

 

Roger Goodell: 10% of the blame.

Because in any conversation, Goodell deserves criticism.


Cracks in the Hull: Leadership

A few weeks ago I wrote about some things the NFL needs to do to improve its image. I highlighted a few areas, one of which was leadership. You can read that article here. I’ve covered a few of the issues in the intervening weeks and would like to spend a little time on the leadership problem today.

Roger Goodell has finally issued a statement sort of saying that the players should stand for the National Anthem. Too little and too late. If Goodell was even average at his job, this is an issue he would have handled a long time ago. Instead, he tried to play politician for too long and it has cost the league dearly.

He needs to go. Now. I’ve been saying it for years. The decisions he has made as Commissioner will eventually ruin the league. We are starting to see the first signs of that. If the NFL wants to survive and thrive 20 years from now, they have to get rid of Goodell as soon as possible.




Quarter Season Power Rankings (The NFL on REO)

Phill’s Quarter-Season Power Rankings!

We should probably call this edition: “Not Available.” That will make more sense in a bit. This season has been unpredictable, which is one of the reasons the NFL is so much fun. Contrary to some opinions, there have been some really good games this year and we are once again shaping up to have a good number of new playoff teams in the mix. As you will see below, the Top Ten has been invaded by many new faces this time around. And that’s a good thing. I don’t know if these teams will be able to keep it up for the next 12 games, but so far, they have earned their spots on my list. Feel free to tell me I’m an idiot in the comment section below. I can take it. (You can view the first Power Rankings right here.)


10. Rams (Last Time: N/A)

I don’t believe in them yet but you can’t knock them too low with a 3-1 record. New coach Sean McVay has done wonders with the offense.

9. Patriots (Last Time: 1)

The Pats have too much talent across the board to be playing at their current level. They will get this figured out. Unfortunately…

8. Broncos (Last Time: N/A)

They did get their third win against an Oakland team that lost their starting QB, so things could look very different right now at 2-2. Still, they have played solid football through 4 weeks.

7. Eagles (Last Time: N/A)

Once again, it’s still too early to know a whole lot about any team, but the Eagles look competitive. I fully expected them to make a move to the Top Ten during this season and they are not letting me down.

6. Bills (Last Time: N/A)

The Bills have very little offense. The Bills have an insanely smothering defense. They have only given up 54 points this season. That is not sustainable but it earns them a spot in the Top Ten this week.

5. Panthers (Last Time: N/A)

They have the pedigree to be a very good team. I don’t love them because their offense has been mostly MIA and losing Olsen won’t help at all. Still, I think they have enough pieces on both sides of the ball to make this a good season.

4. Packers (Last Time: 5)

About what I expected from them. Good offense. Average defense.

3. Steelers (Last Time: 3)

They looked bad one game this season – against a bad Bears’ team. Their offense will win them a lot of game this year but their defense has been more impressive so far.

2. Falcons (Last Time: 2)

I can’t put them lower yet even though they have not looked great. They are 3-1. They are doing what they need to do to make a playoff push. But Matt Ryan has been inconsistent and if he doesn’t improve, they will be one-and-done come postseason time. (Ryan is on my son’s fantasy team and he is ruining everything.)

1. Chiefs (Last Time: 10)

I didn’t see this one coming. I never expected Kareem Hunt to be such a game-changer. His addition to this offense has completely opened things up for everyone else. And the defense, which was good last year, hasn’t lost a step. Can they keep this up, particularly when Hunt hits the rookie wall? We’ll have to wait and see.


Titans Talk

Nope.

No.

Aaaahhh!!!11

That was the worst defensive performance I have seen from the Titans since the 59-0 loss to the Patriots back in 2009. They were out of position the entire game. It was as if Houston could read their minds before every snap. I will say this, if Mariota plays in the second half, the score is not that lopsided. Houston still wins, and wins by quite a bit, but the Titans probably score another 14-21 points in the game. It would have made it look a little respectable in the end but it still would have been a massive misstep in an otherwise promising season. Coach LeBeau has to get this figured out ASAP or this team is in real trouble.

And that’s all I have to say about that game.




The Flag, the Protests, and Finding Some Common Ground (The NFL on REO Special Edition)

Last week on The NFL on REO, I highlighted a few areas where the NFL needs change. While it was not my intention to use an entire article to deal with any one of those issues, sometimes events and cultural conversations become too large to handle in a paragraph or two. As most everyone is aware, over the weekend, President Trump made some very pointed and controversial comments about national anthem protestors in the NFL. The NFL and its players responded forcefully on Sunday during the games. That is the immediate context. The larger context is much more complicated.

Generally, I try to stay away from a few topics when I write about the NFL and the Titans. I avoid politics as much as possible. I avoid religion as well, for similar reasons. The majority of people that read articles about the NFL want to read about just that – the NFL. They don’t want another political screed, diatribe, or pontification. I hope this is not that. But, this topic is so big, so intense, and so interconnected with the sport I love the most, I feel it would be a massive oversight on my part to completely avoid it.

Instead of simply writing down my thoughts on this issue, which are tangled and not entirely coherent, I decided to bring some of the other REO writers to the table for a conversation. Joining me today are Gowdy Cannon and my brother, David Lytle. Hopefully, something said here will help those of you that are struggling with making sense of all of this.


Phill: To kick things off, I want to lay down some groundwork. First, I believe I speak for everyone at REO that the NFL players have a right to speak out and stand up for issues they are passionate about. Second, there are injustices in our country that need to be confronted, addressed, and corrected. And finally, this weekend was a mess.

Prior to this weekend, what did you think about the limited anthem protests that have been happening in the NFL for the past few years?

Gowdy:
Prior to this weekend my thoughts towards the protests were very mixed. My very first reaction was that the time, place and manner were unwise and that instead of creating dialogue and awareness, they only further divided the country along racial and political lines and brought about a new angle of racial justice promoters vs. Veterans and not just police. At first, I thought, that can only be a bad thing.

Yet at the same time I never for one second thought Kaepernick or anyone else should be disciplined or muted and especially not fired. Because of US history and current politics, I felt that could be yet another step to dividing us. I think the protesters need to be heard.

And as I have read and listened to people like Benjamin Watson, Lecrae, John Perkins and a whole host of others on racial issues in the United States, the more sympathetic I have felt towards the message behind the kneeling and I had changed my perception of it greatly. It may be divisive but I think I have to believe that either wise, Christian black people are way off on this, or that attention desperately needs to be brought to racial injustice in the US in 2017. I do not believe the former is correct. For that reason, I think it is worth making some people mad to start the national discussion. Surely some people will never change their minds. But some, like me, will.

I had some disagreement towards Kaepernick and Michael Bennett for reasons that were not specifically related to kneeling. But the act itself to me was something I would not condemn.

Phill:
I had a similar reaction Gowdy. If the NFL allows this sort of protest, which actually goes against the operations policy it distributes to each team, then these players have a right to kneel, or sit, or raise their hand. I have no problem with any of that. I’m not sure how much good it does in the long run, considering most fans didn’t agree with the protests, but it was their right to do it. My biggest issue stemmed from Kaepernick’s comments after his protest started and some of the other things he said, did, or the clothing he wore – police as pigs on his clothing. He made positive comments about Fidel Castro, which were ill-informed at best, and that completely ruined his credibility among many, myself included.

The issue was dying down. Most of the players that had protested with Kaepernick at the beginning had moved on to other ways of bringing awareness to what they saw as racial inequality in our country – one-half of one percent of the players were still protesting. The protests were going to be mostly gone, probably this season. And then Trump happened.

This has the potential to be a source of debate with our readers, but I don’t believe Trump acted wisely by saying what he did. In fact, it all feels very opportunistic and calculating. Trump gets beaten up on a daily basis by the media, unlike any other president I have seen in my lifetime. He is criticized for things he deserves and for things he does not. The media reacts to him like a petulant, angry, child would. So Trump occasionally makes comments where he knows he has the majority behind him – and he does on this issue. Most people dislike the anthem protests. His most rabid supporters hate the protests. Many of them have already turned their back on the NFL. He was preaching to the choir on this one and he knew it would ignite a firestorm because that is how he likes to operate. And the media played right into his hand, as we all knew they would because that is who they are.

So, I guess my question is, how do we deal with this? How do we condemn what Trump said but still understand the anger and the frustration many Americans feel when they see wealthy athletes kneeling or “disrespecting” the flag, the country, and the anthem? And how do we do all of those things while acknowledging that there are real problems with injustice in our country?

David:
It is a shame that Trump is bringing a new level racial tension and political division into America’s favorite sport. By having such strong and vulgar words aimed at NFL players, he made standing for the National Anthem a referendum on his presidency, when it was just a side issue having to do with basically one former player. He backed NFL players as a whole into a corner and forced the issue. When bullied, people punch back. I was not upset with the Titans for staying in the locker room. It seemed like a respectful way to let the president know that he shouldn’t bully. It won’t do any good, because its Trump, but it was an effort. An effort that did not infuriate me as much as the President’s words, but still bothered me deeply.

Gowdy:
I will echo you guys that Trump’s comments Friday were a disaster as far as national dialogue and unity. It is incomprehensible to me that a US president would speak using those words, as loudly as possible, completely unashamed. Other presidents have definitely helped divide us but the whole spectacle was unprecedented in delivery and pejorative, at least in my lifetime. I’m not one who gets outraged about everything any president does or says, but I am still stunned by the comments. My sympathies for the kneelers are at an all-time high as a result.

I don’t have many answers. Something that I have seen good, balanced Christians post to social media (that often gets drowned out) is James 1:19. As a Christian, I absolutely should be slow to speak, slow to anger and quick to listen. Yet this is so poorly practiced, by me and others quite often. But thanks to godly people in my personal life and on social media, I am trying to get better at it. I want to listen when Tim Scott, the only black Republican senator in the US, says that he had been stopped by police seven times in a year for driving a nice car and no other reason. I want to listen to Ben Watson when he says there is a fear in the black community of the police. I want to listen to an unnamed friend that talks about how they once had a gun pulled on them by police for playing their music loudly while driving. A good friend just lent me a book by “Coach” Wayne Gordon, a pastor in Chicago, called Do All Lives Matter? I read it in a day. It helps me want to live out James 1:19

I don’t have to agree with everything someone says to listen to them. But I will not argue with a non-white on this topic, especially if they speak of their experience. Data can be argued but I will not even do that because I personally feel that is counterproductive in most cases. Others may feel differently and that is fine. This is a topic and a time for me to practice James 1:19. At the very minimum, I wish people would stop talking in cliches and posting and tweeting without trying to understand others. Especially face to face. (Tim Scott and others have launched a huge movement of inviting other races into each other’s homes for Sunday lunch. Let’s do this, people!)

However, I am not a veteran or a cop and if I were I may feel differently. I can only imagine what it is like to be in battle and view the flag as a source of pride. I can only imagine because I’ve never been in battle. Right now I remain convinced it is worth the controversy because many veterans and cops support the kneeling and because many protestors have tried to be clear that people will not listen unless we go to extremes sometimes and they truly mean no disrespect to the flag, veterans or policemen. Based on US history, I personally am not comfortable constantly telling black people or other races or ethnicities how and when they should peacefully protest.

Phill:
I don’t disagree with any of that. I completely agree that dialogue is important. Listening is important. Empathy is important. We do too little of all those things. We are quick to speak and quick to anger and very slow to listen. Here comes the but…

We could spend hours and way too many words discussing the validity of these protests. We could talk about statistics, evidence, facts, and all those other things. I’m not really interested in that and I am definitely not qualified to speak intelligently about it. I want to keep this focused on the NFL, Trump, and how everyone can do a better job of having this public debate.

As David said, there has to be a better way to do this. And this is not saying minorities need to find less uncomfortable ways to protest. I would simply urge people to find wiser ways to protest – ways that will not give off the appearance of disrespect for our nation. They are less likely to change minds when you start from a position that puts people on the defensive.

The fact is, for too many, this protest is attacking everything they think the flag and the anthem stand for. For too many, these NFL players are showing contempt and disrespect for the flag and our country. These people will never be able to see past this form of protest. To them, it feels completely un-American. Kaepernick’s original comments were very pointed in their criticisms of the US. Too pointed for many. And they made it clear that he was showing contempt for the flag and the nation because he felt the nation was showing contempt for minorities.

And for people who agree with Trump, the NFL has only further confirmed in their mind that it is full of players that hate our country. I believe the overwhelming majority of these players love their country and meant no disrespect to the flag or anthem this weekend. But that is not how many people see it. And a productive conversation on this issue will never happen if we are starting on such polar opposite ends.

Without sacrificing their voice and their position, what can NFL players, the league, and the owners do to make their statements without alienating, angering, and inflaming millions of fans? And what can fans do to listen and understand what is truly being said through these protests?

David:
At the end of the day (or beginning of the game), kneeling for the anthem or even staying in the locker room is counterproductive. Perhaps attention is called to an area needing reform, but players can do a lot of good with their money and influence in ways that don’t make the nation think they hate their country. The flag and our national song about it, however, stand for the ideals of this nation, not the problems. The first and greatest of those ideals is that “all men are created equal.” Those who cannot stand up for this ideal are either tragically uninformed (like Kaepernick) or worse (like the dictator on his T-shirt).

I think Trump has been wanting to get back at the NFL going all the way back to his days as a USFL owner days. He resented being excluded from their club and now he is using his power to revive a dead issue and forcing the nation into a false dichotomy–Boycott the NFL or hate America. I won’t be Trumped.

Gowdy:
The events of this past weekend are still fresh so this is a quick reaction and could easily be ignorant in hindsight, but…is it too idealistic to think what the Cowboys did is a reasonable alternative? If you missed it they knelt as a team, including coaches, staff and even Jerry Jones, before the anthem. Could this still bring awareness and yet placate many veterans and others who feel that honoring the flag and anthem are important?  Again, my first reaction says it could work. But I also know if you try to please everyone you often please no one. I know there were boos by the Cardinal fans, though they could have been just a knee-jerk reaction/assumption without realizing what the Cowboys were actually doing. Or could be that they were just booing the Cowboys! And I can theorize on the other side some protesters still feeling silenced or unheard or feeling that kneeling before the anthem totally misses the point.

So I don’t know. Just some raw thoughts mere days after the incidents.

Phill:
My suggestions would be pretty simple: Listen more, react less. And while you are at it, ignore the media as much as possible. Don’t allow the media or the fringes to frame the issue. Those that are angry about the protests are not all racists and white supremacists. Those that are protesting are not all anti-American traitors. In fact, I would argue that there are very few on either side that fit those descriptions. There are real problems with equality and justice in our country – so even if we disagree on what those problems are or how widespread they are – we need to be willing to listen to people that feel strongly about them. And for those that are on the other side of the debate, be willing to empathize with those that don’t see eye-to-eye with your position and be very careful about labeling them as racists or evil because of their differing perspective.

We are much closer on most of these issues than the media, Trump, etc… would have us believe. Having real conversations where we really listen will go a long way towards helping us see that.




The NFL Needs To Change (The NFL on REO)

The NFL is in trouble. That’s the bad news. The good news is that most of the problems with the league can be corrected, as long as the NFL acts decisively and quickly.

The NFL is best seen as a giant battleship. It’s enormous and built to last, yet its size makes it unwieldy and difficult to change course quickly. Right now, it is the biggest and baddest ship on the water, but it is headed in the wrong direction. To make matters worse, it has dozens of small cracks along its hull that are slowly taking in water. Not one of those cracks is enough to sink it, but collectively, those cracks will eventually bring it down.


The Cracks

The NFL has multiple image problems, some real and some imagined but no less damaging. This includes player safety, a problem that is a little bit of both. On one hand, the NFL sustained a massive self-inflected wound with the way they handled concussions in the past. That crack is big and the league has done very little to patch it. On the flip side, many paint the NFL as too dangerous and too violent and are doing everything they can to bring it down. Everyone associated with the NFL – owners, players, fans – knows that the sport is dangerous and violent. It is part of the deal, and most of us are good with it. The day the players are no longer good with the risks is the day the league goes under for good.

Another image issue, and one that dominates headlines, is the National Anthem protests. We live in a society where the media thrive on controversy and division. The more hyperbolic the report, the better for business. Colin Kaepernick is the poster boy for this issue, though it has grown to be much larger than just one man. The problem with it is you have people from both sides of the political divide that are now tuning out because of it. Those on the far left are demanding that the NFL force someone to hire Kaepernick. (Stupidest idea possible.) Those on the far right feel that the league is full of a bunch of rich, entitled, unpatriotic jerks that hate the country and the flag. (Ignorant at best.) You know it is a huge issue when commentators as good as Al Michaels are going out of their way to update you on who did or did not stand for the anthem. The media in general is terrible and sports media is not that much better. They have decided that this controversy deserves ALL THE COVERAGE because of ratings, not realizing that their constant coverage is going to hurt the ratings for the NFL, which will then hurt their own ratings.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you: THE MEDIA

 

The League has a leadership problem.

I don’t care for Jerry Jones. He comes across as boorish and arrogant. If Jerry takes a position on something, I am usually going to be on the other side. But, reports indicate that he is standing in the way of Roger Goodell’s contract extension. I believe I have made my thoughts about Goodell very clear in my time writing for REO. This then becomes similar to the recent presidential election. Do we have to side with one of these two?

With that said, many of the NFL’s problems can be directly traced back to Goodell or the overall leadership of the league. And even if the problems are not entirely Goodell’s fault, sometimes it is just better to make a change in leadership for appearances. Most people don’t care who the commissioner of the NFL is, but if they were to replace Goodell with someone with greater vision and self-awareness, it would do wonders for the overall image of the league.

 

The League has a product problem.

I saw a Twitter poll posted by Clay Travis recently that asked the question, “You can only watch college football or the NFL on TV this year — which do you pick?” And College Football won. Overwhelmingly.

Now, I realize this poll was posted by Clay Travis, someone who has made his career covering college football (and making fun of ESPN), but I think the results still have validity. There is a perception among many, right or wrong, that the college game is better than the pro game. I could post stats about blowouts in the college game, or how close games are in the NFL on average, but those stats usually fall on deaf ears. People see what they see and feel what they feel and stats and facts are rendered meaningless. The college game can be incredibly exciting. I enjoy it. But I enjoy watching the best of the best playing the same sport on Sundays more. But there are issues built into the professional game that can be fixed or tweaked that will make the game more entertaining for fans, and the NFL needs to start working towards those soon or they will continue to lose fans.

 

Over the next few weeks, I will be doing my best to tackle a few of these issues and present some ideas for change. These cracks need to be fixed or the NFL will cease to be the powerhouse that it is. Let us know in the comment section what you would do to fix these issues. Or, if there are issues you have noticed that I have not addressed, let us hear about them.


Crack: The Diminishing Product

Thursday Night football is unwatchable.

I love the NFL. I can watch any real NFL game and be perfectly satisfied. I will watch a game between the New York Jets and the San Francisco 49ers and find plenty to enjoy.

But Thursday Night football is a completely different animal.

Thursday Night football is sloppy. TNF is ugly, poorly played, and worst of all, boring. TNF is a match-up between two teams that are tired and not recovered from the previous week. The product on the field completely supports my assertion – you only have to look at the most recent Thursday night game for proof.

Thursday Night football needs to be taken out back and put out of its misery. Effective immediately. It is a prime-time game that is as poor of a representation of actual professional football as one can find. It will not create new fans. It will not engender good-will towards the league or the game itself. In fact, I contend it is doing the exact opposite. It is too much football. And it is football that is a poor representation of what the game is supposed to look like. It makes the NFL look greedy, ugly, and uninteresting.

NFL, if you want to keep your league at the top, get rid of Thursday Night football as soon as humanely possible. It is a blight on your league and your product. Focus your immense power and money on Sunday and Monday football. Make those games as good as they can be and stop diluting your sport with inferior product.


 

Titans Talk

That was fun. What we saw in the second half of the game against the Jaguars is what fans of this team are expecting this season. A physically dominant performance in all three phases of the game. And there is no Titans’ player that better epitomized that physicality than Derrick Henry. Let me be clear about something – DeMarco Murray is the number one running back for the Titans. But until he is 100% healthy from the hamstring pull, Henry is the better option. The Titans have the luxury of having two number one backs on their team and they need to take advantage of that starting Sunday against the Seahawks. Sit Murray and start Henry. Do that until Murray is completely healed. If they want to make a run late in the season and into the post season, they will need Murray. If you want to see what I mean by Henry being the best representation of Titans’ football, go check out this article at Music City Miracles. Those guys do great work covering the Titans.

There is a youth movement at work for the Titans and it should be very exciting for fans of the team. This year’s draft is showing up all over the field, with players like Adoree’ Jackson, Taywan Taylor, Jonnu Smith, Corey Davis, and Jayon Brown already playing big minutes and contributing in a number of ways. The future is very bright for the this team. Enjoy the ride Titans’ fans.

This week poses a significant challenge for the Titans. The Seattle Seahawks are a good/great defense and they have a mobile QB that can extend plays with his legs. The Titans have struggled against mobile QB’s in the past and Russell Wilson is better than most, so it will be imperative for the defense to stay on course and not deviate from their assignments. The good news is the Seahawks have a terrible offensive line and the Titans’ pass rush should have plenty of opportunities to get to Wilson. For whatever reason, I have a similar feel about this game as I did for the Green Bay game last year. I am hopeful that the Titans’ offense will pick up where they left off in the second half of the Jaguars’ game. It should be a fun one.




The NFL on REO: Old Faces, New Places

Week 1

Week one is in the books.

Contrary to popular opinion, we don’t really learn much after one week of play in the NFL. It is going to take a lot more to convince me that the New England Patriots are as bad as they looked on Thursday night against the Kansas City Chiefs. Similarly, it will take a lot to convince me that the Los Angeles Rams are as good as they looked against the hapless Indianapolis Colts.

Game one is never the strongest indicator of future performance. You just have to look at the two years Ken Whisenhunt coached the Tennessee Titans. If you only saw game one in those two years, you would have thought the Titans were a juggernaut of a team. Unfortunately for fans of the team, those two games were far and away the highlights of each season.

The point is, game one is not the be-all, end-all. Yes, it is important to start the season with a win. Yes, that one loss can come back to haunt a team at the end of the season as they fight for a playoff spot. But, many times game one will be viewed as an aberration by the end of the season. So, if your team won this weekend, congrats. If your team lost this weekend, there are still fifteen more games to get things on track. Of course, all of this is completely out the window for a team like the New York Jets. They are just the worst.


Old faces in new places

For this week, I want to spotlight three faces that found themselves in new environments. Three players that have excelled at their various positions that are now in different homes, with very different supporting casts. We will look at them in ascending order, from the most underwhelming debut in a new place to the most impressive. Let’s start with Adrian Peterson.

Adrian Peterson is a bad fit for the New Orleans Saints. They are a pass first team, with very little desire to establish a consistent run game. Unless they have a big lead, Peterson is never going to be a 20 to 25 carry-a-game back in that offense. Peterson has been an above-average receiver in his career, but it is not his biggest strength. So, his chances will be limited in New Orleans and with that, his career is going to come to an ignominious end. He looks old and slow.

There is another veteran running back who has found a new home. Marshawn Lynch had been out of football for over 600 days. He returned this Sunday against the Tennessee Titans and looked very close to his old self. He ran hard. He ran aggressive. He made good defensive players look bad on more than one occasion. As a Titans’ fan, it pains me to even mention this, but you can see below that Beastmode is still going strong.

Lynch is not going to lead the league in rushing. He is never going to be a top 5 running back again. But, in that Oakland Raiders’ offense, he is a perfect fit for what they need: a big, bruising back that can pick up tough yards when needed. He gives Derek Carr a much needed cushion to bolster the passing game, by taking some of the pressure off of it.

And finally, we have Tony Romo. I was the first to question the decision of CBS Sports to hire him and place him with their number one NFL commentary team. He has no experience in the booth. This is all new to him. Now, I was fine with Phil Simms being replaced as Jim Nance’s partner. I like Simms and think he works much better in the studio – as he has proven with his work for Showtime’s Inside the NFL. In the booth, Simms was just too dry and uninteresting for me. And teaming him up with Nance, one of the least exciting play-by-play guys in the business meant that their games were always more boring than they needed to be. But replacing a known commodity like Simms with someone that had never even worked in the business was risky and felt a little desperate.

Evidently, CBS knew what it was doing. Or they just got really lucky. Romo was fantastic. He brought so much energy, intelligence, and passion to the broadcast. He added plenty of technical knowledge while still maintaining a sense of fun and excitement for the game. He sounded like a fan that happened to have played for over a decade in the league and knew the game better than any fan you have ever met. He was a little hyper at times, but as he said from the start, with a huge grin on his face, he was nervous and had butterflies. I won’t fault him for his exuberance. It was a much-needed improvement to the CBS A-Team.


 

Titans’ fans, calm down. You never want to start 0-1 but the Titans lost to a better team on Sunday. It hurts to have that loss at home, but in the grand scheme, if this team plays to its potential, it won’t affect them too much down the stretch. Just a few thoughts about the game – positives and negatives:

  • Positive: Corey Davis’ first catch was something the Titans haven’t had in years. He went up and snatched that ball out of the air, came down hard and held on. He was not perfect in the game – running the wrong route a few times down the stretch, and he ran out of gas at the end, but overall, it was a very solid first game for the rookie. It is even more impressive when you consider he didn’t even play a single snap during the preseason. This kid is going to be special.
  • Negative: Running game/Offensive Line. This has to be fixed. Period. If it is not, this will be a very disappointing season. The O-Line was fine in pass protection, but they struggled to consistently open up lanes for the running backs. If the Titans are going to go where they want to go, they will get there behind this offensive line. We need to see some nastiness from this unit on Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
  • Positive: Adoree’ Jackson’s hurdle. He struggled early in the pass game but quickly made adjustments. He is a physical phenom the likes we haven’t seen in Tennessee in a long time. His late kick-off return where he hurdled a fewRaiders and somehow ended up 25 feet down the field in one jump is staggering in its athleticism. This kid is going to be special as well. (Do yourself a favor and click that link to watch the video. It’s impressive.)
  • Negative: Missed opportunities. The Titans had chances to win this game. The Raiders are a very good team who I fully expect to be in the conversation for the Super Bowl all season. But the Titans could have beaten them if they had made a handful of plays. The onside kick is a perfect example. I don’t love the call, but if Tye Smith gets his head turned around and moves a little, he makes that recovery. It was little things like that all game long. Eric Decker slipped on his cut late in the game for a 3rd down conversion, which meant the pass sailed a little outside. The poor tackling at times on defense cost valuable yards and time. Fix those little things and this team is right there with a chance to win at the end.

That’s it for today. What did you guys think about Week One? Which teams stood out? Who do you think is fool’s gold? Who is the real deal? Let us know in the comments section below.




Five Sports Movies Our Staff Love

The best movies tell unforgettable stories and introduce us to legendary characters and performances. So it is no surprise that in a culture obsessed with sports, some of the best films of all time are about them. Sports prove that truth is indeed better than fiction quite often–you will notice below and on any list of sports movies how many are based on or inspired by true stories. Movies, for their part, make us interested in sports we as Americans often are not obsessed with, like boxing, karate and hockey. The two together have given us exceptional entertainment.

Today our staff discusses five sports films that we love. This is not a Top Five list; just five selections that impacted us deeply…as sports fans (most of us), moviegoers and human beings that love to be inspired.

 

Chariots of Fire by Ben Plunkett

I can’t remember exactly when or where I first saw The Chariots of Fire. All I know for sure is that it was in the first half of the 80s. My best friend at the time later said he stopped watching immediately when the first shot was of a bunch of guys running down the beach in their underwear. But I went against the norm of kids in my age bracket and watched the whole thing. It remains one of the most inspirational movies I have ever seen. (Not the best, in my opinion, although it is excellent). I remember in the months afterward I would pretend to be Eric Liddel, running in one of the first races we see him in. He’s doing really well, but then another racer pushes him down to the side of the track. He falls with a crash and his race seems over. But then he gets up, runs like a chariot of fire, passes all the runners who are all way ahead of him, and runs like a beast to against all odds win the race. I’d put on our Chariots of Fire record and run in slow motion around the living room, dramatically falling and rising in strategic places. That particular Liddel story isn’t the only great and inspirational moment in the film, though, not by a long shot. All the details surrounding the 1924 Olympics are legendary. The movie inspired me to be a runner. Yeah, that didn’t really pan out.

Most inspirational of all to me as a Christian was Liddel’s Christian strength eximplified perfectly throughout the whole movie, especially at the Olympics. It is also inspirational to know that after the events of the movie he left his successful running career to be a missionary in China.

 

The Sandlot by Allen Pointer

My favorite film, not just favorite sports film, is Chariots of Fire. Eric Liddell is one of my heroes.
My sleeper sports film? Victory. I saw it when it was released during my high school years and it was epic.

Someone beat me to both of these films.

So that leaves me to write about another film that I have grown to love that I had never seen until last year.

The Sandlot.

Nostalgic. Great retro Los Angeles Angels cap, and a KC Monarchs Negro League cap as well. Playing ball all day long. All of the names for Babe Ruth. James Earl Jones. What is not to love?

But my favorite part by far is when Benny brings Smalls into the group. A shy, awkward young man is saved by the kindness of the star of the team. While everyone else is making fun, Benny allows a young man entrance into the most important team in the world, located at the local sandlot. Consumed by a love of baseball, he looks beyond that to do the decent thing, and through an extra ball glove and cap includes someone starving for belonging in the group that matters the most.

I am glad that I finally watched The Sandlot.

 

Field of Dreams by Phill Lytle

What do you get when you combine two of my favorite things – sports and fantasy? You get one of my favorite films – Field of Dreams. I love everything about this film. I love the premise – the out-of-his-depth farmer hearing voices in his corn field telling him to build a baseball field in their place. I love the performances – Kevin Costner, James Earl Jones, Ray Liotta, Amy Madigan, and Burt Lancaster all create believable and interesting characters. The music is appropriately winsome when needed and epic when called for. While some baseball purists huff and puff about the accuracy of the players and if they are batting and throwing with the correct hand, those things are minor details in the grand picture. The film is about heart, inspiration, and grand gestures. It’s never meant to be a realistic portrayal of baseball or family dynamics. It’s a fantasy story built around a baseball diamond in a corn field. Where ghosts of great players come to play. And sons are reunited and reconciled with their long deceased fathers. It’s beautiful and life-affirming stuff and I enjoy it more every time I watch it.



Rudy by Gowdy Cannon

I played basketball in high school, but being 5’10 and 135 lbs, I realized by my 10th-grade year I had to abandon the dream of playing in the ACC. So you can see how a real life story-turned-movie like that of Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger would captivate me.

Let there be no doubt that some of the supporting roles are memorable: a baby-faced Vince Vaughn, an endearing and relateable Jon Favreau and a heart-wrenching performance by Charles S. Dutton as Fortune. When he slow claps at the end before walking off, I want to stand up and clap for him. Every time.

But not many movies this good relied quite so heavily on the lead as Rudy. Sean Astin has had roles as glorious as Samwise Gamgee in The Lord of the Rings movies and as ridiculous as Bill the Speedo-wearing swim instructor in Adam Sandler’s Click. In Rudy, he gives a masterpiece that will be what I associate with his name the rest of his life.

There are the obvious emotional moments near the end of the movie that make it great–when the Notre Dame players one by one give up their jerseys in the coach’s office (which didn’t really happen but was an excellent touch of dramatic license), and when they start the famous “RU-DY!” chant near the end of the final game. But there are two moments that I cherish deep in my heart that are less famous but equally as meaningful: when he gets rejected by Notre Dame to be a student for the third time and he balls the letter up and bangs his head against the wall, and when he finally makes it onto Notre Dame’s practice squad and is getting his brains beat out and keeps getting up and challenging the offensive linemen: “I’m a defensive lineman from Purdue!” Those are what make Rudy special: perseverance despite failure, pain and every reason in the world to quit.

Rudy does not culminate in a magical moment of winning like in Miracle or an epic individual center stage performance as in Rocky. All Rudy did was make a meaningless sack after finally getting on the field. Yet it was way bigger than that. It was about real world inspiration from a man whose heart was too big to ever give up. That is why they carried him off the field in real life. And that is why this movie is on our list today.

 

Victory by Nathan Patton

Most of the people to whom I’ve mentioned the movie Victory (or Escape to Victory as it’s known across the pond) have never heard of it. Those who have didn’t like it. It’s a favorite in my house though.

It’s a war movie that I can actually show my kids. Of course it’s not completely realistic, but I’m also not having to send them to a therapist after it’s over.

The great Sir Michael Caine and Sylvester “Sly” Stallone aren’t really believable as world class soccer players, but they’re loveable and fun to watch, and the movie is full of some of the greatest soccer players of all time, including Pele and Bobby Moore.

The basic plot is that a German officer arranges for allied prisoners to play a friendly soccer match with some of the guards at a POW camp in France, just for fun. It gets caught up in the Nazi propaganda machine and becomes a match between the best of the Allied POW players from all over Nazi occupied territory (mostly famous soccer players before the war) and the German national team in Paris, intending to show that the Nazis are superior. Intermingled throughout are escape plots and attempts. It is loosely based on an actual match played between a Ukrainian team and the German team during World War II.

Yes, it does share some similarities to The Longest Yard, except, of course, that it’s about a sport that actually matters…

What is your favorite? Share with us below!

 




The NFL on REO: Game Time!

It’s game time baby!

The NFL season kicks off tomorrow with the defending Super Bowl champions, the New England Patriots, facing off against the Kansas City Chiefs. I am so excited, even if this first game includes my most hated team in the history of all sports – the Patriots. It’s real NFL football for the first time in over half a year! What is better than that?

To commemorate this momentous occasion, here is my interest level for each game this week. We’ll start at the bottom.

The “Zzzzzzz….” group:

Jets vs Bills
Jaguars vs Texans
Colts vs Rams

The less said about these three games the better.

The “I’ll watch if there isn’t a better game on” group:

Panthers vs 49ers – I want to see Christian McCaffrey. That’s it. I don’t care about anything else in this game.
Ravens vs Bengals – This one just made it out of the first group. There is very little interesting about this game.
Cardinals vs Lions – Matt Stafford is on my fantasy team. So there’s that.
Falcons vs Bears – Matt Ryan and Julio Jones usually bring something interesting to the table.
Saints vs Vikins – AP against his old team deserves a little attention.

The “I’m intrigued” group:

Buccaneers vs Dolphins – I want to see what Winston looks like in his third year with a full compliment of weapons on offense.[1. If this game actually takes place. The hurricane might not let that happen.]
Eagles vs Redskins – Does Wentz take the next step? Does Cousins improve or has he hit his ceiling?
Chargers vs Broncos – I think the Chargers are going to be a lot of fun this year if they stay healthy. Rivers is always worth a look.
Steelers vs Browns – ‘Burger, Bell, and Brown are an awesome trio to watch. I am also curious about DeShone Kizer.

The “Must See TV” group:

Giants vs Cowboys – Two heavy-hitters from the NFC East (Otherwise known as the only division in football to most of the sports media.) This one could have huge ramifications at the end of the season.
Chiefs vs Patriots – Defending champs. Solid Chiefs team. First game of the season. Of course I am watching.
Seahawks vs Packers – Rogers is always must-see TV and these two teams have played in some great ones in the recent past. I’m sold.
Raiders vs Titans – This is not just my Titans’ bias coming out. Two up-and-coming teams. Two young QB’s on the rise. This one should be a lot of fun for the early Sunday schedule.


Staff Predictions for the Tennessee Titans

Gowdy Cannon
Anything less than a better record than last year’s 9-7 would be at least a little disappointing to me as a Titans fan-in-law (being a Bears fan first but well connected to Nashville through REO and my college friends). And I think the team is ready for a leap.

I voted for 12-4 last week. NFL Nation has them as one of several teams with 11 wins predicted[2. Projected records] and I think they are team that is easy to overlook and underrate since Nashville is not a major market. On that note, I think Mariota will be approaching a Top 5 quarterback by season’s end, barring injury, and that will be worth a win or two by itself. Going on what Paul Kuharsky wrote last week, I think he is primed to pass Stafford and Rivers at least on his list.

If Indianapolis were in the shape we assumed they’d be in during Luck’s early career arc, I would be less optimistic. But they are not. Tennesee looks to be in prime position to win the division and get a high seed. I’m excited for them.

Mike Lytle
The Tennessee Titans had a solid season last year winning nine games and barely missing out on the playoffs. They lost a couple games they probably should have won and ended up stealing a couple games they should have lost so all in all they were what their record says they were – a slightly above average team with many strengths, but a few glaring weaknesses.

In the off season they added some solid pieces in free agency and had a definite plan in the draft. They drafted for positions of need and did not simply pick the best players available even if when some projected high picks fell to them. I have no problem with that strategy. As long as the scouts did their job in projecting future performance then this year’s draft should help the team right away.

For these reasons I am predicting an 11-5 record. My head tells me 10-6, but I am going with my heart on this one.

David Lytle
This is my pessimistic take.

8-8

While the Titans have been going in the right direction under Coach Mike Mularkey and GM John Robinson, they may see a slump this year. As a whole, the team lacks depth and will struggle to compensate for injuries that come their way. Even though they added personnel to their defensive backfield and wide receiver core, they will continue to struggle to cover the pass or pass the ball very effectively.

Phill Lytle
I’ve been high on the Titans since last year. I believe they have made numerous improvements on both sides of the ball this offseason and I think that will translate to a few more wins. I am predicting the team will go 11-5 in 2017. This preseason has dampened expectations in Nashville, but we’ll look back on our worries with a laugh by season’s end.


Enjoy the opening week, football fans. It only happens once a year. We’ll be back next week with a recap of Week 1 and a few other items of interest.

 

 




It’s Past Time to Pay College Athletes

No intro today. Let’s get right to this. Here are five reasons why it is ludicrous that we are not paying college athletes in 2017.

 

1. Three Words: Fair Market Value

This idea was presented to me by friend and professional financial advisor, Chris Wright, when I used to argue against college athletes being paid. The concept is simple: Fair market value says a seller and a buyer come to an agreement on price based on what is reasonable in an open market. There is a reason that the NBA will always bring in tons of more money than soccer or the WNBA in the US: People are willing to pay more to watch it.

The NCAA has a $10 billion TV contract for the basketball tournament and $500 million for the football playoffs. Many athletic departments in the NCAA bring in nine digits a year. People are getting rich off of this. Very rich. But not the players. In 2013, when my dad bought tickets to take my three brothers and me to Florida for the Outback Bowl, we paid a lot of money to watch Jadeaveon Clowney knock a guy’s heltmet off and Steve Spurrier go for the TD bomb with 30 seconds left. Yet one man got a big check for that game while the other got no compensation from our expenses.

 

2. Scholarships are not the same thing as salary

The obvious retort is that they get scholarships: an average of $100,000 over four years at a D1 school, I have read. Yet this rejoinder is faulty for at least two reasons. First, because fair market value says some players in the big money sports deserve much more than that. At least one source says that the projected fair market value of the average college football player was $178,000 per year from 2011 to 2015, while the average college basketball player for the same time was $375,000. That is the average. A quarterback like Johnny Manziel would have been worth much more, with Texas A&M being a huge revenue school.

Secondly, the scholarships cover things like tuition, books and fees. They are not truly paid to play. And at times, the scholarships aren’t enough to live reasonably. At the end of the 2014 NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship game, UConn’s Shabazz Napier took advantage of being in front of a microphone on CBS to tell the world, “We go to bed hungry at night.” I was so unaware of what he really meant that at first I thought he was speaking figuratively, as in, “We go to bed hungry for a championship every night.” No, he was being literal. How fair is it that a player who brings in far more money for his school than an average student on academic scholarship, should ever have too little money to eat because of NCAA rules?

Like it or not, capitalism rules the US. It’s time to pay these athletes what they are worth.

 

3. The NCAA is a complete and utter dumpster fire

You may remember a few years ago when six Ohio St. football players were caught selling athletic equipment, rings and similar things for cash and tattoos (which was illegal but were things they owned…think about that for a second), and the NCAA banned them for five games the next year. But they let them play in the bowl game vs. Arkansas. The reason they were allowed to play the bowl was because they didn’t fully understand what they were doing was wrong. What?

Then you have the incredible story of Charleston Southern having to suspend 32 players for a game vs. Florida State in 2016 because they used extra money from their book allowance to buy school supplies.

Or how about the story of how Lane Kiffen at Tennessee allegedly sent attractive hostesses to high school games in South Carolina to get recruits to come? Marcus Lattimore, one of the finest young men of Christian integrity to ever play football in the state of SC said, “I haven’t seen (any) other schools do that. It’s crazy.” And did the NCAA ever find anything of substance to pin on UT? Nope.

Welcome to the NCAA, the worst run, most corrupt and hypocritical sports organization in America.

The NCAA once made Todd Gurley do community service for selling his autograph in addition to suspending him, as though he were some kind of criminal in need of rehabilitation. The NCAA suspended Enes Kanter for life for money he made as a professional overseas that he never touched and was willing to give back. The NCAA sometimes suspends people 5 games for selling things and sometimes 0.5. There is no rhyme, reason or consistency to most of it.

There really is a simple way to stop the madness. Pay the players. Let the people give them however much money they want to.

 

4. Even if the NCAA were virtuous, they could never fairly monitor recruiting.

Did you hear former Texas Longhorns QB Chris Simms mention recently that he used to get “$100 handshakes” from boosters? Who out there doesn’t think this happens all the time? Who out there doesn’t think every major program is cheating in ways that will always be ahead of the NCAA?

If you pay the players there is no need for any tables to hand money under.

 

5. It’s time to abandon the pretense of the ideal student-athlete 

Some sports will never have a minor leagues and that is essentially what college becomes. That could be a good thing. Pay them to play and if they want to get an education because they cannot go to the next level, they still can. The “one and done” culture of college basketball is a travesty and an overreach by the NBA. Many freshmen know they don’t have to go to class in the spring if they are leaving. Paying them gives them purpose and could even convince some athletes to stay in school longer and make college sports even better.

I don’t buy that it is a bad idea to give new adults money because they cannot handle it. We do it in so many sports anyway: Tennis, minor league baseball, one and done basketball, etc. Money could mess up some 18 and 19-year olds, but it stands to do far more good than harm.

 

I don’t have a great plan for how to make paying athletes work as far as specifics, but some people do. I do not think it will ever happen because the NCAA is so powerful. But it should happen. Otherwise the NCAA will continue to deal with injustice and corruption on a massive scale. As long as they hold the power and wealth, I do not think they care. And that is a shame. The players and the fans deserve better.

 

 

 

 

 

 




The NFL on REO: Tennessee Titans Edition

The Tennessee Titans – High Hopes and Legitimate Concerns

This week, we are going to take a little break from our usual league-wide coverage, and focus only on the Tennessee Titans. For those that think that seems unfair, too bad. It’s my column and I can do whatever I want. Last season, the Titans finished second in the AFC South with a 9-7 record. They missed the playoffs in a tie-breaker to the Houston Texans. The Titans have made what look to be smart moves this offseason to improve the roster and hopes are high in Tennessee.

Or, they were high until the preseason started. The Titans were uninspired and seemingly bored the entire first preseason game against the New York Jets. Their offense was anemic and their first team defense gave up a quick score to an awful Jets’ offense. The Titans rebounded and looked good the following week against the Carolina Panthers. Both sides of the ball made plays and they calmed the doubts and fears that had been festering in the hearts of the Tennessee fan base after the first game.

And then Sunday happened. The Chicago Bears, one of the worst teams in the NFL last season, came to Nashville and proceeded to make the Titans’ first teams look out of sync and ill-prepared. Mike Glennon, veteran back-up QB, led the Bears on a 96-yard touchdown drive in the first quarter. The first team offense for the Titans didn’t really fare any better. If you spent any time on social media during or after the game, you probably read more than one fan call for the firing of Mike Mularkey, the benching of Marcus Mariota, or the complete dismantling of the team.[1. I know I mentioned writing about attending the game with my boys and even including a few pictures, but the game was awful. I had a great time with my kids, but as far as football is concerned, there just isn’t much to report.]

I am here to tell you that those lunatics need to be ignored. That is not to say there are not legitimate concerns with this team. There are, and I will address them below, but the concerns are getting blown out of proportion while any good in the first three games is getting completely overlooked. So, let’s tackle the concerns about this team based on the first three preseason games.

  1. The offensive line is not getting any push. This same O-line took the league completely by surprise last season. They do not have that luxury this season. Everyone knows they are coming and are going to give them their best shot. It does not appear, through three preseason games, that the O-line has adjusted. If this unit does not step up in 2017, this team will not meet expectations.
  2. The secondary is not in synch yet and it will take some time for that to happen. Buckle up. I said this on July 9th – “I expect the secondary to struggle the first half of the season as they gel and learn to play together. This is a group that will have as many as three new starters from last season. That is a lot of turnover. Let’s hope the rest of the team can hold on and do enough to win games during that transition.” I stand by that today. Most of the time, an entire unit doesn’t get a makeover of this magnitude and come out as crisp and as good as they will eventually be. Titans’ fans need to give it time.

That’s it. Those are my only real concerns at this point. I know some people are complaining about Mariota, and while he has not looked at the top of his game, his stat line proves he is playing at a high level, even in the preseason. For a guy who is eight months away from breaking his leg, I am more than happy with what he has done in these games. (For what it’s worth, his passing numbers for the preseason are 20/32 or 62.5% completion percentage, 2 TD, 0 INT, 8.4 yards per attempts, 110.0 passer rating, and 27 yards on the ground.)

If you are worried about the receivers, I think you need to give that entire group an “incomplete.” They have missed starters in every game. First round pick, Corey Davis, has yet to play. Free agent acquisition, Eric Decker, has barely played. Tajae Sharpe, played in his first preseason game on Sunday. This unit, if healthy, will look substantially different in the regular season than they have looked in the preseason. Plus, the injuries have allowed us to see more of Taywan Taylor and he has done nothing but impress.

Let’s all take some advice from Aaron Rogers and R.E.L.A.X.

 


Five Questions with Paul Kuharsky.

Even though we are a small operation here at REO, we felt it was worth the effort to at least try to get some interaction going with those who have covered sports in the Nashville market for a long time. So, I reached out to Paul Kuharsky. “Paul Kuharsky is an award-winning writer who has covered the NFL for over 20 years in California, Texas, and Tennessee. He spent the last nine years helping build ESPN.com’s NFL Nation covering the AFC South and then the Tennessee Titans and he’s a popular radio personality in Nashville, where he’s co-hosted The Midday 180 on 104.5 The Zone since 2012.”[2. Bio on his new website.]  He responded almost immediately that he would be happy to answer a few questions. We wanted to keep the format really simple, to take the least amount of his time as possible, so we kept it to five questions. No back and forth. No follow up questions. We hope that maybe down the road, we can make this a more comprehensive conversation, but this was a good way to get things started.

 

Q: In your time covering the NFL, which rookie has jumped out the most at training camp to you? Where you said – this guy is going to be special?

A: Jevon Kearse was unreal. As I recall the story, he was waiting in line for some testing related to vertical jump and asked a coach, “If I can touch the ceiling in here can I be done.” And the coach said yes given that it was an awfully high ceiling and he didn’t think it was possible. And Kearse jumped and got it and walked out. I think he may have even displaced a ceiling tile in the process. At one training camp drill where four linemen hit a sled and then turned and raced to gather one of three cones, the guy who didn’t get a cone was the big loser. Except that Kearse once raced ahead and scooped up not two but all three cones, leaving everyone else empty handed.

 

Q: Is Marcus Mariota, baring injury, a top 5 QB by the end of the season. Why or why not?

A: I don’t know. Brady, Rodgers, Roethlisberger, Ryan, Rivers, Stafford and Luck. I’d say those guys start ahead of him for sure. Can he get ahead of two of them? What defines top 5? Rating? QBR? TD-to-pick ratio? I think he will be very good. I think people should be happy if by most measures he’s top eight or 10 in Year 3.

 

Q: Going into this season, what are the Titans’ biggest weaknesses?

A: Perimeter play. That’s ball skills at corner and and ability to get open and go get it at receiver. They addressed both in a big way through the offseason. Now we need to see the additions succeed at improving the team in those areas.

 

Q: Based on what we have seen so far with the new ownership structure, Jon Robinson as GM, and Mularkey as HC, do you believe this leadership team can bring the Lombardi trophy to Nashville?

A: Yes, this group is capable of winning a Super Bowl IF it continues on the current track. It’ll help somewhere in the next five years if the Patriots stop being the Patriots for a year or two.

 

Q: Who was your favorite Titan to cover all time?

A: It’s hard to pick just one guy. There are a lot of them over such a long stretch. Frank Wycheck was great to me in the locker room, and I’d get in trouble with him now if I didn’t mention him. Samari Rolle was a really great guy who understood my job and we shared a very nice mutual respect.

 

We want to thank Paul for taking the time out of his incredibly busy schedule to answer our Five questions. We hope you enjoyed them. We are hoping to do more of this sort of thing in the future. Paul has now ventured out on his own and has his own website where he covers all things Titans. You can visit Paul’s new website by clicking the logo below. If you are a Titans’ fan, it’s worth checking out for sure.

Paul Kuharsky

 


Reader Response

This is your time to get involved. Next week, the REO staff will once again post our predictions for the season. For what its worth, we did very well last season – with most of us within a game or two from the actual record. But first, we want to see what you are thinking about this year’s team. Vote below and tell us about it in the comment section at the bottom of the article.

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The NFL on REO: Are We There Yet?

My Final Preseason Thoughts

I wrote about preseason football last week – you can find those remarks right here. I feel I should add a few more thoughts about it before we move on to more important matters.

Let’s deal with the problems first:

Problem: Preseason football is not very fun to watch. Outside of the diehard fans, not many people can sit through an entire preseason game. The starters play one or two series and then the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th string guys get on the field and attempt to make their case for getting on the team. By their very nature, the preseason games are going to be less interesting because they do not count for anything. There is no real drama. Plus, the guys at the bottom of the roster aren’t as good, which is why they are at the bottom, and the quality of football suffers.

Problem:  There are some that believe that less preseason games will mean worse football. I disagree. Preseason football is not necessary. I concede, this might lean towards opinion, but if college and high school teams can get by without preseason games, then I am confident the NFL could as well.

Problem: Preseason football is in place to help the players get back into football shape. This one is dumb and we need to take it out of the conversation. Back in the 20’s and 30’s, the players had other jobs during the offseason. They did not train year-round. A lengthy preseason schedule helped them get acclimated to the rigors of the professional football schedule. This is no longer the case.

Problem: Preseason football is a rip-off for the fans. Season ticket holders are required to pay full price for two home games in the preseason. That is reprehensible and borderline highway robbery. The owners should be ashamed of forcing their loyal fans to pay full ticket price for something that is less-than real football. This is absolutely a problem and needs to be fixed.

Preseason football is not going away. At least, not completely. I do think, given enough time and pressure, the NFL will cave and reduce the number of games on the schedule. That is the optimist in me talking though. Even so, they will never give up that easy revenue completely.

Solution: I believe most of these problems can be corrected easily and the solutions all work hand-in-hand. Since we all know that the preseason will never go away completely, how do we fix it? Well, my solution to all the problems listed above is pretty simple:

  • Cut the preseason down to two games – one home and one away.
  • The owners could continue to charge full price for the preseason games.
  • Each team would be required to schedule a week of practice with two other NFL teams – one at home and one away.
  • These practices would include an end of the week scrimmage that would be played at the venue of their choice. The home team could play the scrimmage in their home stadium, or perhaps choose an alternate venue such as a high school stadium.
  • At least half of the joint practices would be open to the public – free of charge.
  • The scrimmage would not be free – but the entrance fee would be substantially less than a regular season game.

I attended a practice at Nissan Stadium, home of the Tennessee Titans, with my boys a few weeks ago. It was free. There was an extended autograph season before the practice time where the players lined the field and fans were able to go down to the rails and interact with them. It was a very fun environment and one that can be recreated with the above suggestions. But the bonus would be the fans getting the chance to see one visiting team every offseason. Put the fans as close to the players and the game as you can and you will connect a fan base to its team.  My suggestions would still allow teams ample time to prepare for the season. It would still provide additional revenue to the owners – but they would have to take a small loss initially. And it would add excitement to an otherwise stale preseason system.


The absurdity of the Colin Kaepernick conversation

Every time I hear or read a new opinion on the Colin Kaepernick debate, I look a lot like this:

We have now scraped the bottom of the barrel with the Atlanta chapter of the NAACP calling for a boycott of the NFL unless a team signs Colin. And the NAACP is not alone in this insanity. I have seen at least one prominent sports’ writer call on the NFL to intervene and force someone to sign him, and I’ve heard national sports radio shows do the same.

Have we all lost our minds?

In no universe should any team ever be forced to sign a player. Before you get angry and try to present the alternate perspective, let me save you some time.

“The NFL owners are racist and will not sign Kaepernick because he’s black!”

That is essentially what the NAACP is saying. Their entire reason to exist is to fight for equality for people of color. They wouldn’t be in this fight if they believed that Kaepernick’s race had nothing to do with his lack of a job. This is an assertion so dumb, so ignorant, and so devoid of logic that I was hesitant to even address it. NFL owners have ZERO problem signing black players. Over 70% of the NFL is black. The NFL owners, the coaches, and front office people that run each team want what is best for their team. They will choose talent over just about any other metric, including off the field issues, but they will not choose talent if they believe it will damage goodwill from the fans. It is obvious that most NFL owners believe Kaepernick is too big of a distraction to warrant a spot on the team, no matter how talented he is.

Colin Kaepernick will be on an NFL roster in 2017. Injuries happen. A team will need him. He will be willing to sign for non-starter money, something that has been reported has been a sticking point with more than one team. This whole “controversy” will simply be one more example of the media’s penchant for blowing a story so out of proportion that it causes everyone to lose brain cells in trying to make sense of it.


Titans Talk

Hey Titans’ fans, you guys okay? Have you stepped away from the ledge after the awful first preseason game against the Jets? Good. I don’t want to make too big of a deal out of it, but I followed the reaction to that game in real time on Twitter and you would have thought the Titans had just lost their 16th straight game. Fans overreact. Now, after the second preseason game, fans are back on board and buying tickets to Minneapolis for the Super Bowl. Slow your roll kids! No preseason game will tell us that much about a team. We don’t know what the team even wants to see in the preseason game. Without knowing what the goals are, we can’t really judge the results we see. So coming to any hard-and-fast conclusions based on what are essentially practice games is impossible. Stop doing it.

With that said, it was nice to see the Titans look like they actually cared about the game. Mariota looked great – and his leg looks 100% healthy, which to me, is the most important thing going into the season. They were missing multiple weapons on offense – Matthews, Davis, Sharpe, and Decker – and they still moved the ball effectively.


Next Week

I’m taking my boys to see the game this Sunday against the Bears. Next week I will post some in-depth commentary about the preseason game typically considered the dress rehearsal for the season. I hope to see improvement and no injuries. Hopefully, I can take some pictures as well. (Shout out to one of the coolest guys in the world and one of the biggest Titans’ fans I know, Marvin Briggs, for the tickets!)

Also, we will have a special Q&A with someone that has been covering the Titans for years. We will post more about that as the week progresses.