Opponent Preview: Tennessee Titans
When: Sunday, 1 p.m.
Where: M&T Bank Stadium
Radio: 98 Rock
ABOUT THE TITANS (4-0)
Quarterback Vince Young (18-11 as a starter) played in just one game before injuring a knee. That's when 14-year veteran Kerry Collins took over. Coach Steve Fisher has indicated that Collins will hold on to the job as long as the team keeps winning. Collins has completed 56.6 percent of his passes for two touchdowns, one interception and a passer rating of just over 81.
Rookie running back Chris Johnson, a speedy first-round draft pick from East Carolina, has racked up 337 rushing yards with a pair of touchdowns. Johnson also has caught 10 passes out of the backfield. USC standout LenDale White has averaged only 2.7 yards per attempt, but has found the end zone five times.
Tight end Bo Scaife leads the team with 13 catches at 11 yards per reception with one score, but former Chicago Bears wide receiver Justin Gage is right behind him with 12 receptions and a nearly 15-yard average. Wideout Justin McCareins, in his second stint with the Titans, has eight catches this season. Tight end Alge Crumpler was a high-profile free-agent pickup from Atlanta, but has only five receptions.
The offensive line has been almost impenetrable over the season's first quarter, allowing only two sacks. Left guard Eugene Amano already had 63 games' worth of backup experience and took over the job when Jacob Bell left for St. Louis as a free agent. Right guard Jake Scott came over from Indianapolis after Benji Olson retired. Veteran center Kevin Mawae anchors the line and tackles Michael Roos and David Stewart have recently signed contract extensions.
The Titans' defense is allowing a paltry 11.5 points per game. Tennessee has only fielded a top-10 defense twice since 1998, but one of those units was the 2000 defense that was tops in the league, allowing fewer total yards over the regular season than the Ravens, who won the Super Bowl that season.
The Titans have 15 sacks spread out over five different players. Defensive tackles Tony Brown (four) and Albert Haynesworth (five) lead an aggressive pass rush up the middle, while defensive ends Kyle VandenBosch (four) and Jevon Kearse (two) have also contributed. Kearse had 14.5 sacks during the Titans' 1999 AFC Championship season, but his production fell off due to injuries and changing schemes. His 71.5 career sacks rank him in the top 10 among active sackers.
At linebacker, 2007 restricted free agent pickup Ryan Fowler came over from Dallas and has taken over the middle from Keith Bulluck, who now plays on the outside opposite David Thornton. Bulluck was one of five players in the NFL last year who had three interceptions in a game.
Cornerback Cortland Finnegan, a seventh-round draft pick in 2006, has four of the team's eight interceptions and has run one of them back 99 yards for a touchdown. He is also tied for second on the team with 22 tackles. Finnegan is partnered on the other side by former Indianapolis Colts corner Nick Harper, who has a team-high 20 solo tackles, a fumble recovery and an interception. Former Woodlawn High School safety Vince Fuller is tied with fellow safety Chris Hope with 24 total tackles; Fuller had a team-high eight stops against the Vikings last week.
Thanks to kicker Rob Bironas' 35 field goals in 39 attempts, the Titans' special teams units ranked 12th in the league last year and have not placed lower than that since 2004. Bironas, a former Best Buy security guard, has hit all six of his kicks in 2008 and opponents are just 4-for-7 on field goal tries against the Titans. Longtime punter Craig Hentrich is averaging nearly 45 yards per punt; he has put eight of 25 inside the coffin corner with just three touchbacks. His longest punt this year traveled 70 yards.
Former Oakland Raider unrestricted free agent Chris Carr has been a valuable addition, averaging nearly 11 yards per punt return and 27.1 on kick runbacks. The coverage teams, however, have allowed a 13-yard average on punts and 28 on kickoffs.
The franchise is 11-12 against the Ravens, including 8-9 in the Titans' era. The Titans and Ravens have split six games in Baltimore. When the two teams were part of the old AFC Central Division, the Titans swept the Ravens twice (1996, 1998) and Baltimore returned the favor twice (1997, 2001). When the teams met in Nashville two years ago, the Ravens registered their biggest-ever comeback, rallying from 19 points down to win, 27-26.
The Titans' plus-6 turnover ratio is the AFC's best. Last week, they forced four Minnesota turnovers and scored 21 points off them in a 30-17 win. Tennessee's four wins have come by an average margin of 14 points. The closest game was a seven-point win over Jacksonville in Week 1.
Just like old times: a low-scoring, blue-collar affair that will leave bodies and feelings bruised.
Issue 3.40: October 2, 2008