Tennessee Titans coach Jeff Fisher must feel like a guy driving a ’74 Plymouth.
He replaces the radiator and the transmission goes out. He rebuilds the transmission and the jalopy develops an oil leak.
The fix-it problems spring up repeatedly despite all efforts to remedy them. And so it is with the 1-4 Titans, who are trying to keep all the parts in working order long enough to detour back to victory lane sooner rather than later.
In Sunday’s 31-14 loss to the Washington Redskins, there were plenty of pieces malfunctioning again for the Titans, whose mistakes both offensively and defensively led to a second-half collapse and 21 unanswered Redskin points.
The running game never got out of neutral, despite attempts to use the pass to set up the run. The offense as a whole spat and sputtered after halftime, managing just five first downs and 85 yards in the final two quarters.
The defense didn’t pick things up either, allowing rookie quarterback Patrick Ramsey to guide the Redskins to four touchdown drives, including his first three TD passes as a pro.
As a team, the Titans stalled out again Sunday, and it allowed the Redskins to pass them by as the Titans limped home to a fourth consecutive loss.
The Titans say the problems are not necessarily rooted in one continual or concentrated area, but that breakdowns are occurring sporadically throughout.
“You get one thing corrected, and something else happens,” said quarterback Steve McNair, who was 24 of 39 for 230 yards Sunday, but had three passes picked off in the second half.
A case in point, Fisher pointed to the improved play of the punt return unit that had surrendered a pair of touchdowns to the Oakland Raiders last week as an area that was addressed and improved. But as if on cue, breakdowns both offensively and defensively are forcing the Titans to look under the hood again this week.
“We addressed it, we emphasized it and we worked at it, and we got a great deal of help from Darrell Hill, who’s been our best forcer when he’s been available. We identified an area and we got it corrected,” Fisher said of the punt cover unit that gave up just four yards Sunday.
However, penalties and problems elsewhere cropped up again on the offensive line and with the receivers, not to mention the ongoing struggle in the secondary.
“If there’s a false start, and occasionally there’s a false start by the same player, some of the time, it’s the quarterback, some of it’s the center, and some of it’s the same player,” Fisher said. “We had some difficulties matching up in some areas last week or yesterday, and two weeks ago, we didn’t have any difficulties with that particular player or with this particular opponent.”
Fisher did say accountability and improvement were musts, and even singled out a couple of players whose Sunday performances did not measure up.
“I can assure you this: There is a sense of urgency and there is an expectation regarding accountability,” Fisher said. “I told Aric Morris this. If Aric Morris gets another unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on special teams, he’s going to be looking for work on the streets. That’s where we are right now. He knows it and I’m not keeping any secrets.”
He also pointed to three dropped passes by receiver Kevin Dyson as a concern from Sunday.
“Whether he’s pressing or not, he’s getting paid to catch the ball,” Fisher said. “And if it’s a pressing issue, then he’s got to deal with it.”
For his part, a dejected Dyson sat and stared into his locker while giving interviews after Sunday’s game.
“I had three drops. Two were probably first downs and one was a touchdown,” Dyson said. “It seems sometimes when things don’t go right, they go worse, and sometimes when things go good, they go better.”
It is that second part that has eluded the Titans for much of the 2002 season. And Fisher says he is determined to restore the team’s shaken swagger that, quite frankly, has been missing since the 2000 playoff loss at home to the Baltimore Ravens.
“Take for example, if you’ve got a 4-1 football team and they go on the field [relaxed and focused] with nothing else to do. They just go play,” Fisher said. “We’ve been there before. Unfortunately, it’s been a while. When you’re like that and you go out there and play like that, things just happen. Where I have to get this team is back to playing like that, despite the record, because that’s when we play our best.”
And to do so will require some more maintenance, some of the physical variety and some of the mental.
“Washington played well, but to me, after looking at the tape, this was us,” Fisher said. “This was not Washington. They had a good plan and so on and so forth, but they didn’t do anything really that we didn’t expect them to do. We just didn’t do the things we needed to do properly.
“When you jump offsides on the second play of the game, then you have a holding penalty on the third and you blow a basic protection on the fourth play of the game, your opponent and the rest of the league didn’t have anything to do with that. That’s our problem.”
Part of the solution, says Fisher, could come in the form of lineup changes, though he didn’t point to any specific positions or players.
“I have no problem changing people if I feel there is someone better on the roster that’s more capable of playing, regardless of who that is,” Fisher said. “My job is to win games at all costs, regardless of who plays and when they play. My job is to try to identify strengths and weaknesses and create matchups to put us in a position to win.”