Mike Munchak’s Titans Contending for Improbable Playoff Berth: “Anything is still possible. That’s all you can ask for in our first year.”

December 9, 2011 – 6:40 am by Steven Cuce

The New Orleans Saints have been red hot offensively over the last two games scoring a total of 80 points against the New York Giants and Detroit Lions at home. Drew Brees has been unconscious over this stretch as the Saints offense is spreading the ball around to every weapon including his new favorite target tight end Jimmy Graham. Brees knows the Saints will need their best effort on the road to take down a Titans teams that has been much better than anticipated in what was expected to be a rebuilding and transition year in Mike Munchak’s first season replacing Jeff Fisher as head coach.

Munchak has done some job with the Titans in 2011, guiding the Titans to a 7-5 record and right into the thick of things in the AFC playoff picture. Catching the Houston Texans in the AFC South might be too much to ask at this point, but a wild card berth is there for the taking if they somehow manage to win out or three of their last four games. That’s a tall order for Munchak’s squad considering they begin the final quarter of the season with a home date against the Saints. Munchak knows how impossible it is to shut out the Saints offense, but he sounds like he has a plan to at least ensure his players make New Orleans pay the price physically for any and all success they have offensively.

Mike Munchak joined 104.5 The Zone in Nashville with The Wake Up Zone to discuss the challenge of stopping the New Orleans Saints explosive offense, putting pressure on Drew Brees throughout the game, what has made Chris Johnson more effective in the second half of the season, the progression of Jake Locker and the Titans fighting for a playoff spot while being in a rebuilding year.

It’s a big challenge when you look at the Saints offense this week especially at the tight end position with Jimmy Graham:

“Yeah I haven’t seen a guy like him since Frank Wycheck. He takes over the games the way he had. Like you said he already has 1,000 yards receiving I think and has caught a lot of footballs. They are just consistent with what they do. They did a great job spreading the ball around. They are still running the ball very well. They are not one dimensional by any means, so there’s a lot of things to stop. Jerry Gray and his staff have a lot of work ahead of them, so it’ll be exciting.”

How do you get some pressure on Drew Brees in this game?

“You gotta win your one-on-one battles. You see teams when the Rams beat them they were able to win up front and got some hits on him. He’s gonna be smart with pressure. You mix pressure and I don’t think you ever back off from seeing a quarterback who can handle pressure. Let’s go back to the Super Bowl when the Giants beat the Patriots. I mean what won that Super Bowl was pressure on the quarterback verse the quarterback you thought you couldn’t do that to. I think you still mix that stuff in. Make it uncomfortable. Make it unpredictable with what we are doing. Change it up and know they are going to make some plays, but punish them when they make their play. They are going to catch a ball make sure they know they got hit and maybe you knock the ball out. It’s all the little things when you play a very good offense that you have to do tipping balls, knocking balls loose, pressuring every so often, winning one-on-one, all of those things have to come in play if we are going to slow this team down.”

Can you pinpoint what is going right with the run game and Chris Johnson over the past few weeks?

“Not really. I think we are all just doing our jobs a little bit better. Like I said I think we all shared in why it wasn’t working and I think all of us are doing a little better meaning up front – the tight ends – the backs – the play calling. I think everything is just and again like we will say every time we can give a back the ball 20 or 20 plus times in a game it makes a difference, but the difference has been though in the game last week I thought the huge part of the game was when they scored on that play that got overturned and then we came back and Chris hits a 50-yard run for a touchdown. He gave us the lead back. That’s something we were not doing in the first half and we weren’t getting those types of plays when we really needed them and that game would have went side ways on us in the first part of the season where as we pop a run off with a weapon that we hadn’t seen happen, so it’s just the guys are blocking better. I don’t know it’s just a combination of things I guess. You wish it happened sooner in the season, but it didn’t and in the second half of the season hopefully we can finish strong with the run game being a huge part of our success.”

How do you gauge where Jake Locker is in his progression so far this season?

“Well everything else is what we thought. That’s why we drafted him. He’s here every day. He’s here every day of the week. He’s here on Tuesdays doing all the extra work. He is a great kid. He’s in the meetings. I sit in those meetings with the quarterbacks during the week and he’s in it like he is starting. He’s asking question. He’s handled it like a pro like we thought he would be. I think the exciting thing is that when he did get an opportunity to play he didn’t disappoint anybody. He jumped in that Atlanta game in the heat of the battle and did what we hoped he would do, which was give us a chance to win the football game. I think he’s done all he can do at this point. It’s just a matter of him getting the opportunity to beat the guy at some point and we keep telling him like every player he wants to play no doubt, but his time will come and when it does he will have a long career.”

How exciting is it to you that you are achieving short term goals in that you are fighting for a playoff spot, but at the same time you are getting your draft picks in the lineup and playing with the team getting younger and setting the table for the long term?

“It is exiting for everybody that we are building we hope in the right direction for the future of the team. I hope the fans see that Nashville that we are trying to do the right thing. We’ve had some good drafts here. We’ll do a good job when the season is over making the roster even better next year, but like I said when I got the job or get involved with…I felt this team was a team that could be competitive and win this year. We still have some work to prove that these next four weeks, but I think we are excited about the opportunity. We know it is right in front of us. This is a huge game. We know that. We know hard this game is going to be to win. We’re happy it’s here believe me. We are playing the game here in Nashville and can use our fans to help us slow that offense that down. We are excited about that. I’m glad and excited for this city to have a team like this coming in a game that means so much to us and to them at this point of the season and knowing that we are finishing with three division games. Anything is still possible. That’s all you can ask for in our first year all together, and we put ourselves in this position for the last four games to hopefully do something and not just be happy where we are, but hopefully where we will end up.”

Listen to Mike Munchak on 104.5 The Zone in Nashville here

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