The Collins question: Can he do it again?

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- A year after finding a dynamic running back as fast as any in the league, the Titans set out to upgrade their passing offense.

Out went Justin McCareins and Brandon Jones and in came free agent Nate Washington and first-round pick Kenny Britt. The Titans' receiving corps, always a subject of discontent among their faithful, stands to be more explosive.

Can the veteran quarterback who led last year's 13-3 campaign be more productive with those additional targets?

It's June, optimism rules in all 32 NFL cities, so the Titans certainly believe so.

Those looking to punch holes in Kerry Collins as he prepares for 2009 point to this: He's never led a team to the playoffs in back-to-back seasons.

In Collins' follow-ups to three playoff appearances, he has a 17-25 record. Coincidence or trend?

"I really don't know what to say to that," Collins said. "I'm not going to sit here and act like I know the reasons for it. I don't. Trying to think back, I'll just try to avoid it this year. I don't know what the causes were or if there were any causes. It just kind of happened."

The 1997 Panthers were led by Collins, who at the time was entering a troubled personal phase in his life. Collins remembered a lot of injuries to the 2001 Giants and said he thought the 2003 Giants suffered a letdown after the Super Bowl year. His passer rating declined in each of those follow-up seasons.

With the 2008 Titans he's got a chance to prove himself again.

Now, he looks to join 10 starters across the league who've taken their team to the playoffs two years in a row or more. Twenty-three others who are in line to start or who are competing for the job have not. In terms of doing it over two or more seasons, is Collins going to wind up categorized with the likes of Tony Romo (2006-07) and Philip Rivers (2006-08), or will he be on the same list as Jake Delhomme (who can make it two in a row this season) and Carson Palmer?

After taking over for Vince Young during the season opener in 2008, Collins was cast as a game manager. Toss out the finale where he played only a little, and in 14 starts he attempted 23 or fewer passes five times. A lot of his critics focus a lot more on that than on the three games with more than one touchdown pass or the four games with a passer rating over 100.

When Chicago shut down the Titans' run game in Week 10, Collins produced his best game completing 30 of 41 passes for 289 yards and three touchdowns.

Now, the expectation is for more like that and more over the course of the season -- more than 12 touchdowns, more than 2,676 yards, more than an 80.2 passer rating, more than one and done in the playoffs.

"I think offensively our expectations in the passing game should be higher from what we did last year," Collins said. "We were productive when we needed to be, but if you look at the breadth of work during the season, it's not like we lit it up or anything. We were effective. We didn't need to throw it all of the time -- we ran the ball so well and we got up in games.

"I'm sure we're going to be committed to running the ball again this year, but I think we can get more out of the passing game this year with the people we brought in and the experience we've all had in [Mike] Heimerdinger's offense."

Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. expects the Titans to slide this season, largely because he doesn't have great faith in Collins.

"Overall, I have a hard time completely buying into the fact that he is a totally changed guy all of a sudden," Williamson said. "His TD/INT ratio and overall decision making has been a real problem in the past. He certainly can throw the rock, but he can't get out of the way of the rush or create when things break down. The Titans' OL is excellent, but his movement skills really worry me overall. I would say that his accuracy is just average at best as well."

And this from back in May: "Remember, this is a quarterback with a lifetime passer rating of 73.8 and who has only thrown seven more touchdowns than interceptions over his long career."

Valid points in the con column for Collins.

But those are stat trends the Titans can handle if they are healthy, run well and play good defense like they did last year and like they are built to do. Jeff Fisher wants a quarterback who can lead, fight through adversity, take advantage of the solid run game, protection and defense, and Collins fits.

I took details of Collins' poor follow-up years to center Kevin Mawae and receiver Justin Gage to get their takes.


"You don't ever judge a guy on what he did last year. Every year it's about what can you do for us now. Whatever the history is that he had a great season and then didn't have a great season, I don't know, but it's a tough sport for anybody to have big years back to back. It happens. But it's few and far between...."

"For our situation the receiving corps was a question mark and we bring in Nate and we go draft Britt and we hope that they make a mark for us. If they do, it makes Kerry's job easier, it makes the offensive line's job easier and in return hopefully we have more success than we did last year."


"I definitely think Kerry is going to be able to get us the ball. He has the playmakers that he's been looking for. Nate's an
experienced receiver, it's not like he's coming into something blind. Kenny is a young guy but he learns fast and he works hard. I definitely feel like this might definitely be one of Kerry's best seasons since he's been in the league.

"If everybody else knows [about the back-to-back stuff], I'm sure Kerry knows it and it's something Kerry is looking forward to and will take advantage of this year. He's a competitor, and his competitive nature rubs off on the rest of us."

"So here's comes. You've never had two good years back to back? Then you're looking forward to this year. This is the year when I usually set it back, but I am going forward this time."