Titans preparing to contend with Seahawks' D, 12th Man

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Be it ever so loud, there is no place like home for the Seattle Seahawks.

Indeed, CenturyLink Field provides quite the advantage for the Seahawks, winners of 10 straight home games, including all eight home games last season and two this year.

Trying to break that streak Sunday will be the Tennessee Titans (3-2), who spent much of practice this week “amping” it up -- both literally and physically -- to play the Super Bowl contenders. So far, Titans coach Mike Munchak revealed that no neighbors of their Saint Thomas Sports Park facility have complained about the loud music blaring from speakers situated around the practice fields.

“Not yet,” Munchak said of receiving any complaints. “But we’ve been doing the same thing for all the games, so the players are used to it. It’s something that every stadium is different. But when we know we go on the road, it’s going to be quite a loud stadium, especially (CenturyLink Field), so it will be fun to play in.”

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll also understands that going on the road in the NFL is rarely easy, regardless of the home site. It’s just that fans of his teams tend to overmodulate.

“Well, they’ll find out,” Carroll said of how opposing teams react initially to the noise at CenturyLink Field. “It’s all normal stuff, but it’s just louder than you can hear sometimes. It’s constant. All the NFL guys have been around, and they can handle it.”

Lately, Seattle (4-1) has given the locals plenty to cheer. Before last week’s 34-28 loss at Indianapolis in which they were outscored 11 points in the fourth quarter to blow a late lead, the Seahawks had won nine regular season games in a row dating back to a Nov. 25 loss last year at Miami.

“It’s obviously what they’ve accomplished,” Munchak said of Seattle’s winning ways at home, “and … going undefeated last season, there is what all teams strive to do. You wish you could win every one of your home games, and for a while here (at Tennessee) we did that.”

But the Titans didn’t hold serve at home last Sunday at LP Field with a 26-17 loss to Kansas City when they, too, held a fourth-quarter lead before losing. Veteran quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick subbed for injured starter Jake Locker, who is expected to miss a month or so with a sprained hip and knee.

Facing a stout Chiefs defense, the Titans’ offense opened with five-straight possessions without a first down, came to life in the third quarter behind some improvisation by Fitzpatrick to take the lead, and then stumbled down the stretch as Fitzpatrick threw two costly late interception. For the game, the nine-year veteran completed 21-of-41 passes for 247 yards and a touchdown.

This week, the Titans will face every bit of a talented defense with the Seahawks, who rank sixth in the NFL in total defense (303.6 yards per game). They’re also third in passing defense (194.6) and seventh in scoring defense (16.2 points per game).

“People don’t realize what we are dealing with on that side of the ball every week,” Munchak said. “Again, to me, the last two (losses, including at Houston), if we win in the fourth quarter, we should’ve won both games. If we can go up to Seattle and be in the game in the fourth quarter, we have to find a way to win it.”

The Seahawks are led by one of the top secondaries in the NFL that features two big and aggressive cornerbacks, Richard Sherman and Brandon Brown, and free safety Earl Thomas, the team’s top tackler with 37 stops. Like Thomas and strong safety Kam Chancellor, Sherman has two interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown.

“The whole group is a very aggressive, physical group, and they’ve put it together,” Carroll said of his secondary. “They’ve played around each other for a couple years now, and they’re feeling very good about stuff.”

If the Seahawks are suspect defensively, then it could be defending the run. They are allowing 109 rushing yards per game to rank 19th in the league. Then again, the Titans have struggled to run the ball the past two games, especially lead back Chris Johnson. 

After gaining only 17 yards on 10 carries against the Chiefs and 21 yards on 15 carries in the previous game against the Jets, Johnson is averaging only 58.8 rushing yards per game with no rushing TDs. That comes after he gained 256 yards in the first three games to lead the AFC in rushing at the time.

Conversely, the Titans also feature a top-10 NFL defense that ranks ninth in total defense (321 yards per game), ninth against the pass (218) and 10th in scoring defense (19 points per game). Cornerback Alterraun Verner is tied for the league lead with four interceptions, while top tacklers have been strong safety Bernard Pollard (36), middle linebacker Moise Fokou (32) and outside linebacker Zach Brown (29).

But the Titans will be tested by an offense led by second-year quarterback Russell Wilson, who burst onto the scene last year to tie Peyton Manning’s single-season touchdown passes record for a rookie with 26. He also set a franchise record with a 100 passer rating for the season and helped lead the team to an 11-5 record in the regular season and a playoff win over Washington in the wild-card round before falling to Atlanta in the divisional round.

Wilson, the third-round draft pick that flew under the radar initially in a draft class led by quarterbacks Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III, the top two picks, has taken up this season where he left off last year. In the read option offense, he has completed 74-of-127 passes for 997 yards with eight touchdowns, four interceptions and a 91.2 rating. He has also rushed for 233 yards on 40 carries.

“They’re very aggressive; they’ve got a ton of athletes,” Wilson said of the Titans’ defense. “They just make a lot of plays, and they’re doing a lot of great things from their DBs to their linebackers to the defensive line. 

“It’s going to be a very active and physical game, and we’ll make sure we’ll be up for that. It’ll be a battle for sure.”

Wilson has the luxury of handing the ball to one of the league’s best backs in Marshawn Lynch, who is fourth in the NFL with 410 rushing yards. Nashville-area native Golden Tate leads the team in receiving with 18 catches for 236 yards and one score.

“You have a quarterback that can run the offense,” Munchak said of the Seahawks’ offense. “But I think when you get past that, it’s all about the running back. The running back, definitely going back to the last few years, has been the difference maker for them on offense. 

“Once Wilson got it going last year, making the plays he made with his feet and throwing the ball as well as he had … that’s what you need to have. They have it going on, and they have a lot of confidence in their run game. They should.”

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