Titans Look to Sink Bucs
The Tennessee Titans have used one of the best rushing defenses in the NFL to get off to their best start since their last playoff season. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, meanwhile, are still at the top of their division despite the loss of their top two running backs.
The Titans go for their fourth win in five games while the Buccaneers look to overcome their injury woes and remain on top of the NFC South when the teams meet in Tampa, Fla. on Sunday.
Oddsmakers from Bodog.com have made Tampa Bay -3 point spread favorites (View NFL Football odds) for Sunday's game, the over/under has been set at 37.5 total points (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 70% of bets for this game have been placed on Tennessee +3 (View NFL Football bet percentages).
Last year, Tennessee allowed more yards per game (369.7) than any team in the NFL while posting an 8-8 record. This year, however, the Titans (3-1) have held opponents to 275.8 yards per game, including just 72.3 on the ground - third-fewest in the NFL.
They're also the only team not to allow a point in the fourth quarter through four games - a first for the franchise.
"As a defense, we were embarrassed about the numbers we put up last year," defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch said.
"I mean we had enough talent. We didn't change a lot of things. ... We kind of looked at ourselves in the mirror. To be a good defense, there's no reason why we can't be. We kind of took it on ourselves to change that."
Tennessee held Atlanta to 198 total yards - 99 rushing - in a 20-13 win last Sunday, and has still not given up more than 100 yards on the ground in a game this season. The Falcons had 1st-and-goal at the Tennessee 1 with two minutes left, but the Titans forced a turnover on downs to seal the victory.
"Last year, it felt like everybody was saying we won despite our defense. This year, people are saying we're winning because of our defense," said Vanden Bosch, who sacked Atlanta quarterback Byron Leftwich on fourth down on the Falcons' final drive. "That's a good feeling. It's fun to be a part of a really good defense and a part of a fast, aggressive defensive line."
That defensive stop gave the Titans their first 3-1 start since 2003, when they finished 12-4 and advanced to a divisional playoff game before being eliminated by eventual champion New England.
"You can't afford to let up in this area," said Titans coach Jeff Fisher of his team's defense. "It's a point of focus, and they take pride in it."
The Titans have a good chance at continuing their success against the Buccaneers (3-2), whose rushing game has been decimated by injuries over the last two weeks. Carnell "Cadillac" Williams, the 2005 NFL offensive rookie of the year, was lost for the season after tearing the patellar tendon in his right knee during a victory over Carolina on Sept. 30. Michael Pittman replaced Williams as the starter last Sunday, but sprained his ankle in the second quarter and could be sidelined up to two months.
After totaling only 17 yards on 12 carries last week, the Bucs signed 13-year veteran Zach Crockett on Wednesday. He and Earnest Graham, who has never started an NFL game, will get most of the opportunities in Tampa Bay's new-look backfield.
"You have to adjust. ... It's a hard situation at this point," Bucs coach Jon Gruden said.
It will be especially challenging against the Tennessee defense - a fact that has not escaped Gruden.
"I think they've really settled in and started playing well as a unit," he said.
The Buccaneers have also been impressive defensively, but they struggled to contain one of the league's most potent offenses when they visited defending Super Bowl champion Indianapolis last Sunday. Tampa Bay gave up season highs in rushing yards (147), passing yards (253) and points in the 33-14 defeat.
"I think we're a pretty good team. I realize the scoreboard and the statistics said a lot differently, but we think we're pretty good," said Gruden, whose team fell into a first-place tie with Carolina in the NFC South. "We're not the first team to go into that dome and be beaten. I just want to remind people of that."
Tampa Bay has won its first two home games by a combined 55-17, but Tennessee has won five straight road games since Nov. 19 of last season. Overall, the Titans have won nine of 11 games since that date.
The Tennessee franchise has also dominated the series against Tampa Bay, winning seven of the teams' eight all-time meetings. The Buccaneers have lost five straight in the series since beating the Houston Oilers 33-24 on Nov. 27, 1983. These teams haven't met since 2003.
By: Staff Writers - Email Us
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