The Tennessee Titans’ decision to deactivate return man Alvin Pearman in Monday night’s 20-17 victory over the Houston Texans was a calculated gamble that paid off, according to Coach Jeff Fisher.
Pearman, the Titans primary return man on punts and kickoffs, was scratched from the game as Tennessee used Kevin Kaesviharn on punts and Michael Griffin on kickoffs.
The most unusual part of that was that Kaesviharn fair caught four punts, including one at the 6-yard line on the eventual winning drive. He did not return a single punt on the evening.
Fisher said that was the risk the Titans were willing to take against Texans punter Matt Turk, who has a knack for good hang time.
“We wanted to keep eight defensive linemen up. The roster was such that I wanted to keep the extra DB up just for special teams,” Fisher said. “Knowing that we were gonna have very little chance if any to return punts, the way Turk is punting the ball and the hang time – I think he’s had six [actually 16, but nine since the first two weeks] returned all year – we felt like we were just needed someone to fair catch it, and Kevin can do it. He did a good job of it.”
Kaesviharn was apparently instructed to take no unnecessary chances and followed orders.
“We had Kevin go out there and make decisions. Return it if you can, but most likely it’s just going to end up a fair catch. Just make good decisions, and that’s what he did,” Fisher said.
As for the decision to use eight defensive linemen to keep the rotation fresh, the strategy worked, as the Titans sacked Matt Schaub four times and had nine quarterback pressures in the game.
Catch or no catch
Both Fisher and Alge Crumpler thought the tight end’s play that would have resulted in a first down was a catch, despite a replay being upheld in the final two minutes.
“It was a catch. In my opinion, it was a catch. But my understanding of what a catch is, that’s a catch,” Fisher said. “He didn’t have possession of it the first time, but he got possession before the ball hit the ground. He secured it. The ball did touch the ground, but he had the ball secured. He had possession before that ball touched the ground.”
Crumpler thought he had the catch as well, but replay did not overturn the call.
“I thought I did. I did a fist-pump because I thought I had the first down,” he said. “There was nothing we could do about it, so I told the guys not to worry about it, just move on to the next play.”
Fake punt call
A delay of game penalty thwarted the Titans’ chances for converting a risky fake punt from their own 30-yard line. Fisher said that Donnie Nickey, as the upback who took the direct snap, having to wait on the right alignment from the Texans was what called the delay.
Fisher said he had no problem calling the fake in that situation with the right look. After the penalty, Brett Kern wound up punting the ball away.
“You do those things when they least expect it, and you think you can execute it. I knew we’d execute it,” Fisher said. “I just put Donnie in a bad position with the way, without getting too specific, we had to wait for the right look.”
Fisher said Houston’s Antonio Smith should have been ejected for the personal found against Kevin Mawae for hitting the Titans center in the midsection.
“He should have been ejected in my opinion. I can’t speak for why they didn’t. In general terms, that offense is a personal foul that would require that. It seemed a lot more egregious than Jason Jones’ [ejection] in the first game,” Fisher said.
The rivalry between the two teams has been getting more chippy this season. A fight in that first game erupted with Jones being booted for the Titans.
And this week, Keith Bulluck issued warnings that the Titans would destroy the Texans’ playoff hopes on Monday night with a victory in Houston.
Crumpler said he noticed the Texans being a more physical than in the past.
“This might turn into a good rivalry. I played them last year and didn’t think they were a very physical team. I thought they were physical both times we played them this year,” Crumpler said.
The remarkable turnaround for Vince Young continued Monday night in front of his hometown fans in Houston.
Young’s 73 yards rushing helped move the chains and keep drives alive for Tennessee throughout the game, especially in the second half.
“He converted three last night on third down. It’s difficult [to defend him],” Fisher said of Young’s dual threat. “He’s converting them with his arm and with his legs. It puts you in a position where you have to rush intelligently. You can’t give him escape lanes, and with that being said, if he’s got time, someone is going to get open. It’s a difficult thing to defend defensively.”