September 19, 2010
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- For the Tennessee Titans, it's a good start defensively.
A unit that was one of the NFL's worst statistically in 2009 opened this season by limiting Oakland to 106 yards offense and zero first-down conversions on seven straight third downs. Tennessee also came up with four sacks by four different players and a turnover in the first half alone.
Coach Jeff Fisher said Thursday he thought his Titans played well in the 38-13 win over Oakland but can be a lot better. Time will tell how much better, starting Sunday with a much stiffer offensive test from Pittsburgh (1-0). Fisher wants to see the same intensity.
"As long as we continue to utilize the fundamentals, which are running hard, tackling, pressuring the passer and stopping the run, then we can say after a few weeks that we may have improved over last year. After just one game, it's certainly not enough to rush to judgment," Fisher said.
Tennessee finished 2009 ranked 28th in yards allowed per game and 31st defending the pass. That included the 59-0 rout in the snow at New England last October.
The Titans start off this season having allowed only 286 yards total -- good for eighth after one week. They also held Oakland to 151 yards passing, and the numbers were much stingier at halftime. Tennessee held the Raiders to 31 yards rushing on 13 attempts and 38 yards passing once all the sack yardage was stripped off.
That's the performance that caught the eye of Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin.
"Quite frankly, they jumped all over Oakland, and Oakland fought back a little bit and sometimes those things happen when people jump up on people," Tomlin said. "It was a complete and decisive football game played by the Tennessee Titans last week."
Tennessee made some changes on defense this offseason. The Titans let end Kyle Vanden Bosch sign as a free agent in Detroit with linebacker Keith Bulluck signing with the Giants in July. Cornerback Nick Harper also was allowed to leave at the end of his contract along with end Jevon Kearse.
They signed end Jason Babin and linebacker Will Witherspoon. They used their top draft pick on end Derrick Morgan, and all three of the new additions had a sack apiece against Oakland.
The Titans led Oakland 24-6 at halftime, a lead that reached 38-6 before the Raiders finally scored something other than a field goal. Not that anyone here is worried about padding, or in this case limiting, yards to pad stats.
"The only stat we worry about is Ws and Ls," defensive back Vincent Fuller said. "As long as we walk away with the W, we'll worry about the stats later. If you had the No. 22 defense but finish 12-4, you feel pretty good about your season. Some of those yards came at inopportune times."
Statistics are very misleading. The Titans tied for 11th in the NFL defending the run last season because most opponents chose to throw. They gave up 95 yards on 18 attempts to Darren McFadden last week, and now they must defend Rashard Mendenhall, the 23rd pick overall in 2008 and the guy drafted just before Tennessee's own Chris Johnson.
"Mendenhall isn't a slouch himself," Titans defensive tackle Tony Brown said. "They've got a quick, fast, athletic offensive line. ... We just have to stay in our gaps."
The Titans got to face rookie center Jared Veldheer in the opener, and they face another rookie center for a second straight week in the Steelers' Maurkice Pouncey, their first-round draft pick out of Florida. Fisher called that mere coincidence.
"Pouncey is going to be a very, very good player," Fisher said.
Titans safety Chris Hope, who had an interception, said he's been on teams that gave up nothing early only to hang on at the end for the win. After last year's 0-6 start, they got a painful reminder of what matters most.
"At the end of the day, most important is the win," Hope said.
Notes: DE William Hayes (right knee) returned to practice Thursday, while Brown did not practice for a second straight day. Fisher said that was a coach's decision. ... The Steelers will be in their black jerseys Sunday with the temperature forecast to hit 90.