In 2001, Jeff Fisher’s Tennessee Titans finished their season with a disappointing 7-9 record, missing the playoffs for the first time since their 1999 "Music City Miracle" Super Bowl run. At the time, this relatively dismal record stood out sharply against a dominant 26-6 combined record of the previous two seasons. Clearly, with toe and ankle injuries stifling Eddie George’s production, and a dramatic reshuffling of the team’s formerly domineering secondary, this team was not the same. Prior to 2001, the Titans were unbeatable at home, winning 16 of their first 17 games played at the newly constructed Adelphia Coliseum. In 2001, their commanding home field advantage withered away to only 3 home wins. The season was so heart breaking that Football Outsiders has ranked the 2001 Titans as the 6th most disappointing team of the last 25 years. All-pro corner Samari Rolle described the season as "something we want to forget."
Then came 2002. In the off-season the Titans retooled their defense drafting powerful DT Albert Haynesworth in the first round, and solidifying their secondary with the second round selection of safety Tank Williams. Eddie George spent the off-season nursing his injuries back to health, and QB Steve McNair refined the skills that provided a very productive 2001 season despite the team’s overall sub-par performance. Things were certainly looking up after the season’s first game when they beat a very good Philadelphia Eagles team in front of 68,000 revitalized Titans fans. The rebound, however, was short-lived. The 2002 Titans went on to lose their next 4 games including a demoralizing 52-24 Week 4 drubbing at the hands of the Raiders. This team had seemingly regressed.
Does this tale sound familiar? I’ll cut to the chase. After limping into a Week 7 bye with a pitiful 2-4 record, Jeff Fisher’s Titans rallied to win 9 out of their next 10 games and finished the 2002 season 1st in the AFC South with an 11-5 record. The point is, Jeff Fisher has been in the exact situation we’re experiencing right now. While past performance is not an indication of future results, it’s a relief to know that Fisher has been at the helm of a ship lost at sea before, and has managed to find his way. But how?
Jeff Fisher’s formula is well known. Some think it’s too conservative and too old school becauseFisher’s philosophy is simple. Win the time of possession battle by running the football down the throat of your opponent. In 12 of the 15 years between 1995 and 2010, the Titans/Oilers finished with an average time of possession per season of 31 minutes. In seven of those seasons they finished with a top 10 rushing offense. By winning the time of possession, Fisher kept the opponent’s offense on the bench, and kept his defense fresh. The defenses built by Fisher in Tennessee were fearsome and consistently ranked in the top 10 in key defensive categories. In 2003 for example, his defense was #1 against the run.
But what does this mean for our slow starting, disappointing Rams of 2013? After doing a bit of research on Fisher’s history, I think it means we need to be a little more patient. As we all know, this team has to find a way to establish the run and win the time of possession, which will open the door for a more aggressive defense. Aside from the obvious indication of more wins, we will know things are improving when Richardson, Cunningham, Stacy or Pead find a way to gain yardage with any sort of consistency. The question is, how will they do that? Will it be better blocking up front? Will opening games with a no-huddle spread style attack force opposing defenses to back off, allowing a running attack to emerge? We’ll have to wait and see. Thursday night will be a great opportunity for our runners seeing as the Colts slashed the reeling 49ers for 179 yards rushing and two rushing TDs.
I will leave you with some quick highlights of Jeff Fisher’s historical statistics to set the record straight on what he is capable of. His overall winning percentage of .534 includes 155 wins. This record features six playoff appearances, three division titles, one AFC Championship with one SB appearance. Out of 17 full seasons of coaching he has won 10 games or more 6 times, including several very dominate years where his teams finished with three 13-3 records, one 12-4 record, one 11-5 record, and one 10-6 record. The rest of the seasons were a hodgepodge of .500ish teams. While that may not sound impressive, his record stacks up well against most other head coaches that coached during his historic tenure.
As Bernie Miklasz says, thanks for reading.