Going old school with a fiery coach and a dominating offensive line
Mike Singletary sends an early message to the 49ers
The Titans unheralded offensive line is the best in football
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IRVING, Texas -- Did you see Mike Singletary looking like Mike Ditka?
Did you see Wade Phillips unleash the hounds?
Did you see the Giants out-Steel Curtain the Steelers?
I don't mean to tease you, but I'm not writing at length about any of those this morning. I'm going to write about the most valuable position group of the first half of 2008, which is also the most underrated position group of 2008. I'm going to introduce you to the Tennessee offensive line you'll see tonight, when the Titans try to end Indianapolis' five-year run of division championships in Nashville.
Michael Roos, Jake Scott, Kevin Mawae, Eugene Amano and David Stewart are paving the way for a running game averaging 4.5 yards a carry, fourth-best in the NFL, and they've allowed just two sacks all season. You can tell me other lines -- the Giants or Bucs, most notably -- are excellent and might be the best in football, but don't tell me any line is better than Tennessee's. The facts just don't bear it out.
But first, I'd be remiss if I didn't address Singletary's debut as coach and postgame master of ceremonies. He benched J.T. O'Turnover for Shaun Hill in the second quarter. That's interesting, but not surprising given O'Sullivan's 11 interceptions, which is 11 more than Jason Campbell has thrown, and his 32 sacks taken, which is 31 more than Kerry Collins has taken.
But it was Singletary's banishment of tight end Vernon Davis for a silly unnecessary-roughness penalty, and the coach's postgame tirade, that will make him a YouTube legend. Singletary first sent Davis to the bench for slapping Seattle linebacker LeRoy Hill upside the chin. He then re-thought his position and told him to hit the showers ... with a full quarter to go.
"We are not a charity!'' Singletary boomed soon after stepping to the postgame mike following San Francisco's 34-13 loss to undermanned Seattle. (Seattle beats UC-Davis 34-13, maybe, but not another NFL team.) "We cannot give them the game!''
And a question about Davis brought this: "Vernon just ... It was something that I told everybody at the very beginning of the week: I will not tolerate players that think it's about them when it's about the team. And we cannot make ... we cannot make decisions that cost the team and then come off [to] the sideline and it's nonchalant. No.
"You know what? This is how I believe. I'm from the old school. I believe this: I would rather play with 10 people and just get penalized all the way until we got to do something else, rather than play with 11 when I know that right now that person is not sold-out to be a part of this team. It is more about them than it is about the team. Cannot play with them. Cannot win with them. Cannot coach with them. Can't do it. I want winners. I want people that want to win."
"Did you kick him off the field?'' Singletary was asked.
"I told him that he would do a better job for us right now taking a shower and coming back and watching the game than going out on the field. Simple as that."
Other than the fact Singletary might want to brush up on the rules -- you don't get penalized for playing with 10 men -- I like him drawing the line in the sand and saying, I'm mad as hell and I'm not gonna take it anymore. Good for him. Reminds me of something Ditka or Bill Parcells or Jimmy Johnson would have done, or would do if they were still coaching. The one thing coaches have is the ability to make players afraid for their jobs, and it's about the only hammer they have with wealthy players. You can bet the 49ers understand now that when Singletary passes along a message about selfishness (or a message about anything, for that matter), attention will be paid.
As for the protectionist credo that you don't call out one of your guys in the press, it struck me watching Singletary that he felt the same way about Davis that GM Phil Savage felt last week about Kellen Winslow when he ripped into Winslow on his radio show. There must be a lot of history there. There must be a string of selfish Davis acts and penalties, because Singletary wouldn't whack a guy like that for a first offense, the same way Savage, obviously, was influenced by the history of Winslow around the team.
The 49ers won't be very good the rest of the way, but they'll be entertaining. And the Singletary soundbites should become a weekly go-to clip.
Meanwhile, the Titans are fine with being invisible. They'll take the little things and revel in them. Mawae told me the other day the team's excited about Hank Williams Jr., singing pre-game tonight.
"And Challenger's coming,'' Mawae said. "That'll be cool.''
If you watch sports on TV, you've seen Challenger the Bald Eagle. He free-flies into stadiums, mostly during the National Anthem, and fires up the crowd. It's probably not a stretch to say that other than veteran center and NFLPA president Mawae, Challenger's more famous than anyone else on the Tennessee offensive line.
But when you rush for 4.5 yards a clip, and you've gone 4.5 games without allowing a sack, fame should come.
Three reasons for the success of the line. One: competence and stability of coaching, with Hall of Famer Mike Munchak being on the Oilers/Titans coaching staff since he retired as a player in 1993. He became the offensive-line coach in 1997, and he'll be there as long as Jeff Fisher is the boss.
Two: Kerry Collins and the skill players help. Collins knows when to get rid of the ball instead of taking a sack; he has excellent feel in the pocket. "You never see Kerry take a cheap sack,'' said Mawae. The backs are trained to be good chippers and blockers in pass-protection. Rookie Chris Johnson will get offensive-rookie-of-the-year votes this season, justifiably, but Munchak says an unknown part of Johnson's game to the public is his unselfish pass-blocking.
Three: They're talented players who work well together. This is the third straight year the tackles, Roos and Stewart, and Mawae have started together. One guard, Scott, came from Indianapolis in free-agency this year and is a smart veteran who adjusted to a more mashing style quickly. The other guard, Amano, a seventh-round pick in 2004, has been an extra guy until winning the job this season with the loss of guard Jacob Bell to St. Louis in free-agency.
The Titans recognize the importance of the building blocks. Roos and Stewart are 26. Tennessee, contrary to what it would seem now, actually had a pretty good draft when it took Pacman Jones with the sixth overall pick in 2005. That pick was a waste, but at 41, GM Floyd Reese took long-armed, 6-foot-7 Eastern Washington tackle Michael Roos. And in the fourth round, with pick 113, he took Mississippi State tackle David Stewart, also 6-7 but more of a mauler than Roos. "Stewart's kind of like Jon Runyan,'' said Munchak. "Roos is one of the smartest linemen I've ever been around. He'll be the anchor of this line for a long, long time.''
Last offseason, rather than allowing Roos and Stewart to enter their walk years, Titans GM Mike Reinfeldt signed both players to new six-year deals, Roos for $41 million and Stewart for $38 million. What other team, other than maybe Washington with Chris Samuels and Jon Jansen, commits to its book end tackles for a decade? The Titans were smart, and Roos and Stewart weren't get-every-last-buck guys. Roos said he didn't think much about trying to go to the open market, and he likely wouldn't have gotten there anyway; Tennessee probably would have franchise-tagged him.
"I like stability and security, and I like this team,'' Roos said the other day. "I'd like to finish my career here. They were talking to David around the same time as they were talking to me, and both of us thought it'd be great to play together here for a long time, especially with this group and this coaching staff. If you're happy somewhere, why would you want to leave?''
Tonight, the Tennessee gameplan likely will be to run, run, run against the light and inexperienced Colt tackle rotation. If things go well for the Titans, I wouldn't be surprised to see a 65-percent run night. When Collins drops to pass, it'll be Roos' job to neutralize Dwight Freeney. "Freeney's the best rusher we face in the league,'' said Munchak. "He changed the game. You don't understand his speed until you play him. What we do is go heavy on speed during practice before we play him, and then hope we can get ahead of them and just pound the ball.''
The last four games in this series have been split. The scores: 14-13, 20-17, 22-20, 16-10. "It's about the biggest Monday night game I've played in,'' said Mawae. It's his 15th year. "I was in the 30-point-fourth-quarter game against Miami when I was with the Jets. But this one feels bigger. A win puts us up four in the division.''
Tennessee's been fairly impenetrable through six games. For the Colts to win, they'll have to find a way to break through the best offensive line playing.