Titans, Chiefs winning through lots of turnovers

Safety Michael Griffin has a theory on why teammate Alterraun

Verner has been a one-man turnover machine.

Maybe, just maybe the Titans ticked Verner off when they opened

up his cornerback job for competition this offseason.

It’s Verner’s job for sure now, and he’s leading the NFL with

six takeaways all by himself. He’s a big reason why the Titans

(3-1) and undefeated Chiefs are tied for the best turnover margin

in the league at plus-9 going into Sunday’s game.

”He just has a knack of being around the ball, and he’s always

been a playmaker since a rookie,” Griffin said. ”He’s just been

playing great football. He’s carrying the load right now, and the

rest of us … the entire secondary we got to start picking things

up.”

Turnover margin is one of the NFL’s more important stats because

a positive differential usually is a key to winning. A negative

margin can be disastrous; Pittsburgh (0-4) is last in the NFL with

a minus-11 turnover margin.

”You sure don’t want to turn the ball over, and you want to

accumulate as many as you can,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said.

The Titans have gone the first four games this season without a

turnover, though they’ve come close to losing the ball more than

once. They have tied the 1995 St. Louis Rams as the only team in

the Super Bowl era without a turnover through four games. They have

not had a winning record in a season when their turnover margin was

below zero dating back to at least 1999.

Protecting the ball has become even more of a focus since a

34-12 loss to Chicago last November. The Bears forced five

turnovers that game; the Titans were lucky that they held onto two

of six fumbles.

”That kind of woke us up last year when that happened to us,”

Titans coach Mike Munchak. ”We didn’t think that could happen to

us to fumble as many times as we did in one game. From that point

on, it’s been a mindset. On defense, it’s been the opposite. You’re

working on it all the time.”

The Titans certainly have, trying to make a habit of running to

the ball and clawing to strip it out. Linebacker Akeem Ayers said

it’s becoming something that they do naturally as a defense.

”You look at the statistics of a defense, usually teams with

the most turnovers at the end of the year are usually the team in

the playoffs … We’re doing good at that right now. We want to get

better.”

Verner rotated with Tommie Campbell this preseason before

finally being named the starter in his fourth season. The

5-foot-10, 186-pound cornerback came in with six career

interceptions. Now he’s tied for the league-lead with four

interceptions after picking off two passes last week in a 38-13

rout of the Jets along with recovering a fumble.

”That’s what competition does,” Verner said. ”It brings out

the best in you because you have to be on top of your game.”

Tennessee finished that win over the Jets with a season’s best

four turnovers, and Karl Klug recovered a fumble for a touchdown.

Safety Bernard Pollard is the only other player with an

interception, but the Titans have been very effective at sending a

message on defense, according to Chiefs receiver Dexter

McCluster.

”They’re going to hit you ever single play, so all we can do is

go out there and bring it at them,” McCluster said.

The Chiefs are tied for third in the league with 12 takeaways.

But they had their first three turnovers last week in beating the

New York Giants 31-7, and Alex Smith said ball security is going to

be a big emphasis against the Titans.

”They play physical, a physical defense you can see it shows up

on tape,” Smith said. ”They challenge you outside, they challenge

you up front. They play fast. They’re a good unit. Not necessarily

a household name on the unit, but they’re playing really

well.”

Notes: RB Shonn Greene (right knee) and DT Sammie Hill (right

ankle) missed practice again, and Munchak said it will be hard for

either to play Sunday. … DE Ropati Pitoitua (shoulder) and RT

David Stewart (right leg) missed a second practice each but are

expected to be on the field Friday. DB Blidi Wreh-Wilson

(hamstring) also missed practice. WR Kenny Britt (neck/ribs)

practiced fully for a second straight day along with LB Patrick

Bailey (hamstring).

AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org