Jeff Fisher has said it so often in recent weeks that it’s beginning to sound like a mantra. Only it’s not something positive or which his team actually hopes to repeat.
The Tennessee Titans’ coach repeatedly has pointed out that his defensive line – comprised primarily of undersized, speedy aggressive players – is not built to defend the run 50-plus times per game.
That much was obvious to anyone who saw the Titans’ 17-6 loss to Jacksonville on Dec. 5. The Jaguars ran it 53 times that day at an average of 4.9 yards attempt and held the ball for nearly two-thirds of the contest.
This Sunday at Kansas City (noon, CBS) Tennessee faces an opponent that is capable of a similar performance.
“[The Jacksonville game] left a bad taste, not only in my mouth but in my team’s mouth,” linebacker Stephen Tulloch said. “We know that we have to go out there and stop the run. What we plan on doing is getting after [the Chiefs] early, stacking the box up and force them to pass the ball.
“They’re a well-rounded team, but they run the ball extremely well and you have to give respect to that running game and shut that down first.”
The Chiefs lead the NFL in rushing with 2,360 yards, an average of 168.8 per game. Their 487 rushes are 33 more than any other team in the league, and their 4.8 yards per carry average is third overall.
Just as important is the fact that they are the only team in the NFL with two of the top 20 rushers. Jamaal Charles is third overall with 1,303 yards, and Thomas Jones is 18th with 828 yards. They also on occasion will hand the ball to rookie receiver Dexter McCluster, who was a running back at Ole Miss.
“They’ve got a great 1-2 punch if you look at it, and then they have the reverse game with McCluster,” Tennessee coach Jeff Fisher said. “Their [offensive linemen] are very talented. They’ve got good size and they’re athletic. They can execute all the different run concepts.”
Overall, the Titans have been effective against the run.
Only four of their last nine opponents managed 100 rushing yards as a team, and they are one of only nine teams in the league that currently hold foes to fewer than four yards per carry.
Yet there was the Jacksonville game. Given the fact that it was just three weeks ago, that one is fresh in everyone’s mind.
“I know they’re going to look at the Jacksonville tape and say, ‘You know what? Jacksonville had this success against them. Let’s do the same thing,’” Tulloch said. “We’re geared up for it.”
Jacksonville’s 258 yards against the Titans were the seventh-highest single game total of this season. Kansas City has put up two of the top five – 274 against Buffalo (Oct. 31) and 270 against Seattle (Nov. 28).
“They probably might take a few things from that [Jacksonville] game,” defensive tackle Jason Jones said. “It’s all going to come down to what we do.
“I feel we just need to go out there and win the game. So stopping the run is the first goal toward winning the game on defense for us.”
Last Sunday, the Titans limited the league’s top rusher, Arian Foster, to 15 yards and the Houston Texans to 30 yards overall last Sunday. That was due in large part to the fact that they got a big lead early (21 points) and forced the Texans to throw more often.
The same might not be possible against the Chiefs.
“They’ve been behind and just kept handing it off, handing it off so we’re going to have to load it up and put a lot of pressure on the secondary,” Fisher said. “…You have great quickness in Charles and then you’ve got the explosiveness in [Jones]. They could quite likely be the best tandem going right now.”