|Titans' vastly improved defense upset at not getting rare shutout|
|Written by Admin|
|Tuesday, 06 November 2007 01:42|
``We wanted the goose egg,'' cornerback Nick Harper said.
Defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth added: ``We haven't got a shutout this year, and we were hoping this game would be one.''
So what if the Titans can hit the quarterback over and over again? What they really want is a shutout, about the only thing missing this season for a defense that has gone from the NFL's worst in yards allowed to one of the league's best in less than a season.
It's definitely an attitude coach Jeff Fisher likes.
``Whether your defense is ranked 32nd or ranked second and you have a chance for a shutout, that is an accomplishment. It's hard to do at this level. Yes, they were a little disappointed, but you go for it again the next week,'' Fisher said Monday.
The Titans gave up a touchdown pass in the fourth quarter before pulling out a 20-7 victory over the Carolina Panthers on Sunday. Tennessee hasn't shut out an opponent since Dec. 25, 2000, when it beat Dallas 31-0.
They already have the NFL's stingiest unit against the run, allowing just 66 yards a game, and 12 of their 22 sacks have come in the past two games even as offenses throw quickly off three-step drops trying to avoid the rush.
The Titans held Carolina to a season-low 191 yards, improving Tennessee to second in yards allowed with 270.8 yards per game - an average of 0.1 fewer than Baltimore, which lost 38-7 at Pittsburgh on Monday night. The Steelers lead the way at 237.8.
And only Detroit (14) has more than Tennessee's 13 interceptions.
Motivation for all this aggression stems from last season when they gave up a league-worst 369.7 yards per game and felt embarrassed as the weak link in a team that missed the playoffs by one game.
``So we took it upon our shoulders to be a better defense, and now we're just getting after everybody,'' Haynesworth said. ``I wouldn't trade this defensive line for anybody.''
Tennessee has new starters in cornerbacks Nick Harper and Cortland Finnegan, who held Steve Smith to three catches. Ryan Fowler is the new middle linebacker, and rookie Michael Griffin has started the past two games at free safety.
But the line sets the tone.
``A good pass rush is a defense's best coverage,'' cornerback Vincent Fuller said. ``Even without blitzing, our four-man rush is getting to the quarterback.''
The 6-foot-6, 320-pound Haynesworth is the key. He has been double-teamed all season to no avail. He had a career-high three sacks against Carolina, and the six-year veteran in the last year on his contract is tied with Travis LaBoy and Kyle Vanden Bosch for the team lead with five sacks.
Vanden Bosch said he personally hasn't seen a defensive tackle play like Haynesworth.
``He's dominating both against the run and the pass. Teams are going to do some things to account for him. The rest of us on the defensive line are taking advantage of schemes they're trying to take Albert out of the game, and that frees some of us up,'' Vanden Bosch said.
A strong run game helps.
The defense has been on the field more than 30 minutes only twice this season, which allows coordinator Jim Schwartz to keep offenses guessing with different schemes. Defensive line assistant Jim Washburn also is able to rotate his linemen and keep them fresh.
``We're playing like we're on fire right now,'' tackle Tony Brown said. ``The fresher that you are, the more you can bring it out there.''
Harper loves playing behind a line that never stops. He thinks these Titans are better than the line he won a Super Bowl ring with last season in Indianapolis.
``Sometimes they didn't help us in the run. These guys here, not only do they help you in the pass rush but they also help you against the run. I tip my hat off to them because they do a tremendous job of both. They run guys down. They're always hustling to the ball,'' Harper said.
This defense is a big reason why the Titans trail only New England (9-0) and Indianapolis (7-1) for the AFC's best record. They trail the Colts by one game in the AFC South.
``It is only half way into the season,'' Vanden Bosch said. ``We need to win, and they need to lose. We just need to take care of our business.''