John Madden
John Madden
McNair doing it without practice time
By John Madden

The Outback Steakhouse Madden Cruiser will be in Tennessee this week, as the Titans host the New England Patriots on Monday night (ABC, 9 p.m. ET). This is going to be a pretty good one from Nashville.

Defensively speaking:
New England has guys on defense who are very good and you just don't know if they're down linemen or linebackers. Is Willie McGinest a linebacker or is he a defensive end? Most teams will count him, no matter where he lines up, as a defensive end. He does so many things well at either spot and that's a tough deal for the other team.

Mike Vrabel is one of those guys, in that every game I see him in, he makes big plays on a pass rush, including last season's Super Bowl. He'll play linebacker and then in certain situations, he's a defensive lineman.

A big part of this defense is that anyone can drop back and anyone can rush. And when they drop, they play well. And when they rush, they play well. When you go around the league, everyone will talk about the toughest defenses -- and not always the most physical defenses -- and historically, the toughest ones are Bill Belichick defenses. Offensive coordinators and head coaches always talk about that. They say that when you play a Belichick defense, you never know what you're going to get and that Belichick presents more problems for an offense than maybe anyone else.

New England has lost five games, but it has to be the most confident 8-5 team in the league. Heck, the Patriots had that same record a year ago and they went on and won the Super Bowl. They know what they can do because they've done it before. I'm not saying they will win it again, but they've put themselves in position to make a run for the playoffs, and now they just have to make that run and keep playing better.

They beat Buffalo last Sunday, and they have to go to Tennessee in Week 15, and one thing about the Titans is that they play tough. They're a tough team and this will be a real physical game. The Patriots are going to have to be ready to get into a tough fight. Tennessee always plays hard and always competes hard, but New England does too. It will be interesting to see how this game turns out.

Titans' quarterback Steve McNair has played really well the last two weeks -- both wins -- without practicing because of injuries. Sometimes quarterbacks can do that even when they don't practice. It just depends on who the guy is. If he's a good player, and he has experience and all, then he still has a chance to play well, even if he doesn't practice. If the guy's not a good player or he's a journeyman and he's injured and misses practice then he's not going to play well.

When I coached the Oakland Raiders, I had George Blanda and he was one of those guys who could come into a game without any reps and play very well. Some quarterbacks need a lot of reps in practice to get into the flow and to get everything going. Other guys, however, can come in with no reps and still do a good job. Well, McNair's that kind of player.

Jeff Fisher
Jeff Fisher is the winningest coach in the NFL since 1999.
Both of the head coaches in this game -- the Patriots' Bill Belichick and Tennessee's Jeff Fisher -- are very good and they have outstanding coaching staffs. Fisher has been there for a long time and he's done well with his team. Sometimes he's kind of a forgotten guy down there and his team gets forgotten, too.

Because of where the Titans are, you sometimes forget that they're in the league. They aren't in the west and they aren't in the east and you aren't sure exactly what they are and where they are. Heck, just in the state alone, you always get your Nashvilles and your Knoxvilles mixed up. Nashville is where the NFL team plays and Knoxville is where the university (Univ. of Tennessee) is.

It's funny about Tennessee in that you forget about 'em and all, and -- BOOM! -- they jump up and play well, and you say Holy Moly the Titans are pretty darn good.
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