Broncos-Titans Preview

The Tennessee Titans are starting to look pretty prescient for

that big contract they handed out this summer. Just not the one

they gave to Chris Johnson.

Matt Hasselbeck looks to duplicate a breakout performance with

his new team – hopefully with a little more help from his running

game – as the Titans host the injury-ravaged Denver Broncos on

Sunday.

Throughout August, a contract extension for the holdout Johnson

dominated storylines coming out of Titans camp, overshadowing a

move that perhaps was even more critical for Tennessee’s short-term

success: a new quarterback.

Having let Vince Young and Kerry Collins walk away following a

season in which it ranked 25th in passing yardage, the club signed

Hasselbeck to a three-year, $21 million deal immediately after the

lockout. The longtime Seattle signal-caller has quickly responded

by adding some punch to the Titans’ usually run-first attack.

He ranks sixth in the league with 621 passing yards after

throwing for 358 in last Sunday’s 26-13 win over Baltimore.

“We knew that he could come in and be a leader, and if anyone

could get caught up on what we are doing in a short amount of time,

it would be a guy like him,” said coach Mike Munchak, who notched

his first NFL victory. “Now two games in, (we’re) just excited to

see where he’s at. The guy finds windows to deliver balls.”

Success has not come as easy on the ground, even if Munchak’s

club is armed with a $56 million running back. Johnson got only

nine carries in a Week 1 loss to Jacksonville as he worked his way

back into game shape, but got a steady dose of action last week –

24 carries – and was held to 53 yards.

Despite his struggles, the Titans (1-1) still dominated a rugged

foe, and Johnson was more than happy to let the game serve as a

statement to future opponents.

“A lot of teams come in thinking they can just load the box and

if they stop me, they can win. … It just showed we have other

playmakers,” he said. “We have other ways to beat you. Hopefully,

they help out and let other teams around the NFL know you just

can’t stack the box and try to stop me and win.”

The Broncos (1-1) likely need the injuries to stop if they’re

going to keep winning.

Missing key starters Brandon Lloyd, Champ Bailey, Knowshon

Moreno, D.J. Williams and Elvis Dumervil, Denver clawed its way to

a 24-22 win over Cincinnati last Sunday. Things look more promising

for Lloyd, Moreno and Williams as they all returned to practice

Wednesday, but Dumervil has been ruled out.

Bailey’s status is still up in the air due to a balky hamstring.

The All-Pro cornerback’s absence could be particularly critical as

the Denver secondary is forced to deal with Kenny Britt, who, along

with Pittsburgh’s Mike Wallace, has the longest active streak in

the league (five games) of 85 or more receiving yards.

For that reason, the Broncos would do well to continue following

the mantra of linebacker Joe Mays.

“The next man up is the best man up,” Mays said, “and whenever

your number is called you have to go out there and execute whatever

the coach asks you to do. Every single player on the team deserves

to be here and you never know when your number is called.”

The Broncos got standout performances from second-stringers

Willis McGahee (101 rushing yards) and Eric Decker (113 receiving)

– one of just two wideouts left standing by game’s end – but the

team is eager to welcome back its leading receiver, rusher, tackler

and sack threat.

“I hope we don’t have to repeat yesterday’s depth chart,” Fox

said Monday, one day after the former Carolina coach got his 74th

regular-season win and first with Denver.

He’s looking forward to his matchup against the new Titans

coach.

“I know Mike pretty well, I know a lot of guys on their staff,”

Fox said. “It’s a small fraternity of people and you kind of know

their M.O. and they know yours. It’s what makes the games fun.”

As Denver takes to the road for the first time this season, it

will be looking for the 400th win in franchise history.

One of them came in Nashville last Oct. 3, when Williams and

company limited Johnson to 53 yards on 19 carries en route to a

26-20 win. Conversely, Broncos running backs were held to eight

yards as Kyle Orton was forced to air it out for 341 – 115 of them

to Lloyd on a career-high 11 receptions.

But those were two different teams under two different coaches.

On Sunday, a new era continues for both as each coach tries to

build off his first win with his current team.

“Hopefully, it helps build confidence in our players in a lot of

different areas,” Munchak said after his inaugural win against the

Ravens. “… And kind of carries over into next week and the rest

of the season.”