Monday Observations: Williams gives Titans' D life; Vikings' issues
The Titans defense shows new passion with Gregg Williams around, the Vikings look lost and three QBs look like they want to get their coaches fired.
Gregg Williams is a forgotten man of the NFL. Suspended from the NFL for his role in the alleged Saints "bounty" scandal, there was no huge celebration in his honor this weekend, as there was for returning New Orleans head coach Sean Payton.
There was no team waiting with open arms for Williams upon his reinstatement to the league this offseason, with longtime friend Jeff Fisher not retaining him as Rams defensive coordinator (Williams had been hired by St. Louis before his suspension handed down by commissioner Roger Goodell). Quietly, he was hired by the Tennessee Titans to do what he has done so often -- revive a moribund defense.
No fanfare. Only results.
Williams, one of the league's bolder personalities, has said precious little since returning to the Titans as a senior assistant. He has kept a decidedly low profile since getting back with the organization where he spent the bulk of his coaching career, doing whatever he can behind the scenes to help longtime assistant Jerry Gray, the Titans' embattled defensive coordinator who has played for and coached under Williams.
But Williams didn't need to say a word Sunday. The way the Titans played on defense -- swarming to the ball carrier, swallowing up Pittsburgh's offensive line and harassing Ben Roethlisberger, exuding a swagger not seen by that club in quite some time -- said it all for him. Williams' handprints on this defense were unmistakable. They played in his likeness, and he helped produce one of the shocking results of Week 1, with the Titans winning at Pittsburgh 16-9.
Remarkably, the Titans nearly threw a shutout. The Steelers scored immediately on a safety on a botched kickoff but were stuck on two points until garbage time, down 16-2. On a weekend when there was no shortage of upsets, and near upsets, this was about as stunning as it gets.
If you recall, the Titans were historically bad on defense last season. For instance, they ranked dead last in average margin of defeat, dead last in five-minute drives allowed, 31st in points allowed, 30th in first downs allowed, 30th in plays over 10 yards allowed, they allowed opposing passers to post a collective rating of 92.7 and they yielded 127 rushing yards per game. It was a dangerous combination of poor tackling, blown coverage and general misadventures on defense. While Sunday was but one game, and the Steelers suffered some injuries, the scope of the Titans' defensive dominance merits noting.
The Titans never let Roethlisberger get remotely comfortable, exploiting the loss of center Maurkice Pouncey to an ACL tear and pummeling the quarterback with five sacks and constant pressure. Pittsburgh mustered just 195 total yards, and a paltry 32 yards on 15 carries. Where once they hemorrhaged yards downfield and were killed by yards after the catch, the longest play Tennessee allowed Sunday was just 22 yards.
The Titans' defense owned third down -- Pittsburgh was just 4 of 13 -- and the game plan was executed perfectly. The coaches stressed the importance of taking away the deep ball and not letting Big Ben extend the play with his feet, and he never had time to accomplish either. The Titans defense exuded a spirit, tenacity, energy and mean streak sorely lacking in recent years -- all Williams hallmarks -- and watching them play it was hard to think the defensive culture isn't changing there the way it did in Washington when Williams arrived in 2004.
He won't be a popular figure due to his portrayal in the bounty scandal, and he has never been much into the spotlight anyway, a gruff football coach who cut his teeth with Buddy Ryan. Of course, the depiction of what went on in New Orleans varies depending on who you talk to and as the appeals process played out the NFL's version of events became even murkier and hard to follow.
Williams will remain mum, I'm sure, and while that won't be enough to please many critics, what cannot be debated is how quickly the Redskins' defense fell after he left, and how horrible the Saints defense was last year, after he left. Worse even than the 2012 Titans D, which Williams inherited.
Five members of the Titans coaching staff played under Williams, and he has long been heavily respected within that organization. And if this defense can come close to keeping this up more weeks than not, then Williams just might be back in a high-profile position, in another organization, come 2014.
What's up with Vikings?
I hate to go all talk-radio and freak out about any Week 1 performance, but I have to wonder if the Vikings are in for a plummet. All of the early season heroics that catapulted them to a feel-good story were gone, at least Sunday in Detroit. As much as the Lions were in self-destruct mode and seemed intent on handing the game to Minnesota, the Vikings were ill equipped to take it.
It was truly amazing what the Lions did early -- 78-yard TD run to Adrian Peterson on his first carry, Calvin Johnson muffing a touchdown by taking the ball to the ground and losing control, Matthew Stafford throwing a horrible interception right after Christian Ponder had done the same. Brandon Pettigrew gave the ball away on a weird fumble in the open field and two Reggie Bush touchdowns were overturned.
Despite all of that, the Lions rolled to 34 points, which could have easily been 55 or more.
Consider at one point Detroit had a 11-minute advantage in time of possession (13-2), 9-1 lead in first downs ... and trailed. Peterson, after that 78-yard surge, carried 17 times for 15 yards, hardly 2,000-yard form. The Vikings' offense still lacked creativity and verve -- the loss of Percy Harvin will hurt big time in the short term -- and Ponder remains very much in the potential coach-killer category, throwing three picks.
Detroit has plenty of offensive weapons, and they can pour on the yards, but the Vikings allowing 469 yards and registering just one sack is a recipe for disaster.
Sure, it's only one game, but this could have been a heck of a lot more lopsided than it was. With a trip to Chicago ahead in Week 2, and a Week 4 "home" game in London, the Vikings will need a quick regroup not to fall off the pace in the deep NFC.
QBs on the hot seat
Lists of coaches on the hot seat are nothing new, but what about quarterbacks? Who are the favorites to lose their jobs based on performance, and not injury?
Blaine Gabbert and Brandon Weeden are the early front-runners. Neither was drafted by the regime that is currently in place and both were brutal Sunday. While Gabbert made way for Chad Henne late due to another hand injury, his performance in the Jaguars' trouncing by the Chiefs was as bad as expected.
It's early, but at this rate I wouldn't be surprised to see both replaced sometime next month. Weeden, who didn't get a lot of help from the Browns' receivers, was erratic and held the ball for too long. Even on his first-half touchdown throw, the ball sailed high and tight end Jordan Cameron bailed him out. It wasn't pretty and with Jason Campbell and Brian Hoyer in the wings, Norv Turner capable of calling an excellent game and a defense that can make plays, Weeden's leash won't be long.
I'm not sure Gabbert would get a lot of love around the league even as a backup. It took garbage-time stuff for the Jags to even accumulate 178 total yards. Gabbert was 16 for 35 for 121 yards and two interceptions, including a pick-six. This coaching staff will tire of him quickly, I imagine, and he hasn't done much to endear himself to those in the past.
Along with Ponder and the Titans' Jake Locker, this group of over-drafted first-round picks will go a long way to deciding how many vacant coaching positions there are in the offseason, to say nothing of GM jobs as well in some cases (Gabbert, Weeden and Locker's teams all made front-office moves this past offseason already).
•It was impossible to watch how hard Terrelle Pryor fought and the way he led the Raiders and not be impressed. Yes, he fell just short of a road win against a 2012 playoff team and he made a few mistakes. But the huddle had life, the Raiders had hope and maybe, just maybe, they'll be better than some think (and count me among those who had them and the Jags fighting it out for the No. 1 overall pick). Along those lines, kudos to EJ Manuel for getting better as the game went on and nearly leading the Bills to a huge upset as well.
•The Falcons have been living dangerously for a while now with little pass rush, and judging by Sunday's game, it might be more acute than ever. Wonder how long before they give Richard Seymour another call?
•Carolina's offense may be as suspect as expected, but that front seven is clearly among the best in the NFL. They had the speed and strength to shut down pretty much most of what the Seahawks wanted to do on offense. They will be a tough out this season.
•Similarly, the Jets' young, dynamic defensive line is a great building block for them. That will keep them in some games, with the offense clearly a work in progress.
•Guess which three quarterbacks combined to complete just 57 percent of their passes in Week 1, with five touchdowns, four interceptions and a woeful 73.5 rating? That would be Roethlisberger, Tom Brady and Joe Flacco, the last three passers to win the AFC title.
•I still really like the Bengals overall this season, but lacking the killer instinct to put what a wounded Bears team away, up 11 on the road, is troubling. The game seemed to turn when Matt Forte got to the edge with relative ease to convert a fourth-and-short, leading Chicago's comeback. Cincy's game with the Steelers next week will take on even more significance with both clubs looking for their first win. Of course, in what was for me a surprise weekend, anyway, the AFC North going 0-4 ranks right up there in things I didn't see coming.
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