During the Tennessee Titans’ 0-6 start, the defense was struggling to hold up its end of the bargain.
In five of those first six games, opposing quarterbacks threw for more than 300 yards, and by the time the streak had reached the point of despair against Indianapolis and rock bottom at New England in a 59-0 embarrassment, all hope looked lost.
But while Chris Johnson, Vince Young and the offense have taken center stage in the Titans’ five-game resurgence, the play of the Tennessee defense should not go unnoticed.
In three consecutive games, the Titans have held their opponent to 17 points – no small accomplishment when you consider their victories of late over high-powered offenses like Houston and Arizona.
Tennessee still ranks 31st against the pass and 25th overall, numbers that aren’t likely to improve much in the rankings because the start was so poor. But in the bottom line, the Titans have been considerably improved. In their current five-game run, the Titans have allowed 91 points. That just one more point than they allowed in the final two losses of their losing streak, yielding 31 to Indianapolis and 59 to New England.
Plus, with a little help from Kurt Warner’s concussion Sunday, the Titans successfully held both Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald in check. Bolding had five receptions for 53 yards, while Fitzgerald was limited to just 34 yards on four catches.
The previous week, they cut Andre Johnson’s production (four catches, 78 yards, one TD) nearly in half from the torching he gave them in week two (10 catches, 149 yards, two TDs).
“We’re picking up momentum, playing better and better every week,” defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch said. “We’ve played two high-powered offenses the last two weeks, and got the job done. It’s something we can definitely build upon and like I said, this locker room just feels special right now.
“I think one thing about this defense is that we always play hard. We always brought the intensity. It’s difficult when you get down early in games to keep that intensity, but I think we started strong [Sunday] and made some big plays and kept things rolling.”
Improved play on the defensive line has been one key, as has getting players like Cortland Finnegan, Vincent Fuller and Nick Harper back from injuries, along with the midseason addition of Rod Hood.
Finnegan was pleased with how the Titans played against the Cardinals talented tandem Sunday.
“It was a great scheme, getting your hands on them and disrupting routes,” he said. “Our film study came out, and it was just a real healthy thing to disrupt those guys and get them off the spot.”
With the Titans at 5-6, the excitement has returned around the team, but the task of keeping such momentum going will be a tall order this Sunday, as they have a rematch with Peyton Manning and the unbeaten Colts.
Manning shredded the Titans in the first meeting, completing 36 of 44 for 309 yards and three TDs. Tennessee played without Finnegan and Fuller in that game, and lost Harper to a broken arm.
Still, even with their starters back and a veteran group steadying the ship, it won’t be easy, says Coach Jeff Fisher. After all, the Colts have won 20 straight regular-season games and have already locked up the AFC South.
“This is a game where you absolutely have to be in the right spot and then you still have potential to give up a play. It’s the Colts, we know what to expect,” Fisher said. “We have to have a great preparation week. We have to tweak the game plan ever so slightly as we do each time we play them.”