|Early deficits have provided Titans DE Derrick Morgan and his teammates with few opportunities to rush opposing quarterbacks in 2012. (AP)|
When the Tennessee Titans have corralled opposing quarterbacks early this season, it has been in impressive form.
In Week 1, DE Kamerion Wimbley used his patented dip move to get under Patriots LT Nate Solder and force a sack of Tom Brady. Wimbley's leg inadvertently connected with Brady's face, leaving the two-time Super Bowl MVP with a bloodied nose. In Week 3, LB Akeem Ayers flashed his speed off the edge on a critical fourth-quarter sack of Lions QB Matthew Stafford. A week earlier, rookie DT Mike Martin shed a double-team in the second quarter and sacked Chargers QB Philip Rivers.
The sacks, though, have been few and far between. Despite the addition of defensive assistant/pass rush specialist Keith Millard in the offseason, the Titans have only six sacks through four games. Tennessee ranks 30th in the NFL in sacks per pass attempt (4.11 percent), according to NFLGSIS.com. Defensive coordinator Jerry Gray indicates that he has been hamstrung in his play-calling by a spate of early deficits. The Titans have fallen behind 14-0 in both road contests this season and have trailed in the first quarter in all four of their games.
“We can't give up touchdowns as soon as we get off the bus,” Gray said. “You can't give up touchdowns in the first quarter and expect to get sacks. Offenses change, if I have a lead I don't have to throw the ball. You can't rush the passer if you're playing from behind. It's not going to happen.”
In last week's 38-14 loss to the Texans, Gray employed a conventional four-man rush on more than 75 percent of Matt Schaub's pass attempts. When facing a four-man rush, the Texans' Pro Bowl quarterback went 17 of 22 for 186 yards and two touchdowns. Schaub went 3 of 6 for 16 yards when facing a blitz.
When the Titans travel to Minnesota this weekend, they will face one of the league's premier rushers in Vikings DE Jared Allen. The four-time Pro Bowl defensive lineman prefers a four-man rush to the blitz. Sending an extra man can provide a change-up, Allen said, but the defense leaves its back end susceptible to a big play.
“It's always beneficial whenever you can rush just four, cause then you can cover,” Ayers said. “It's like the best of both worlds when you don't have to bring extra people. If we're able to do that up front it makes your defense that much better.”
Of the Titans' four sacks against the Chargers in Week 2, two came on blitzes from linebackers Will Witherspoon and Zach Brown when Gray rushed at least five defenders. On a second quarter sack by DE Derrick Morgan, the Titans showed a six-man front before two defenders dropped into coverage. Martin sacked Rivers on a stunt with Morgan when the Titans rushed four.
Wimbley hasn't lost confidence in his teammates' ability to get to the quarterback despite the low sack total.
“We're rushing where you're beating a guy and sometimes that doesn't show up because the quarterback is releasing the ball fast,” Wimbley said. “As long as we keep coming off at 100 miles per hour, the sacks will come.”
Johnson and Peterson to square off: Sunday's game will feature the top two runners in the NFL in terms of total rushing yards gained since 2008. During that span, Chris Johnson leads the league with 5,831 yards. Vikings RB Adrian Peterson is close behind with 5,743.
“I look up to his game,” Johnson said. “We're two different backs. He's kind of a power back but he still has speed. We can both go in and outside the tackles and we can both break the long run.”
Johnson is coming off a season-high 141-yard-rushing performance last week at Houston.
“Basically, the offensive line got a push, got up on their guys and gave me some lanes,” Johnson said. “The good thing about it was we stayed with the run.”
Reynaud awarded for special teams success: RB Darius Reynaud was named AFC Special Teams Player of the Month for September on Thursday. Reynaud scored on a 105-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in Week 3 vs. the Lions.
The fourth-year running back also completed a lateral to DB Tommie Campbell on a 65-yard punt return for a touchdown against Detroit. Reynaud is the first Titans' player to win the award since S Michael Griffin in October 2010.
McCarthy and Britt miss practice: One day after appearing in team drills for the first time since suffering an opening week ankle injury, LB Colin McCarthy missed practice Thursday. McCarthy is still expected to play Sunday, coach Mike Munchak said.
“We knew yesterday he was going to do a lot and today we were going to cut back on him,” Munchak said. “He's a little sore but hopefully not to where he'd be out tomorrow.”
WR Kenny Britt (ankle) missed practice for a second straight day this week. Britt hasn't practiced since suffering the ankle injury in Week 3. TE Jared Cook participated on a limited basis with a shoulder injury. DE Scott Solomon (hamstring), OG Steve Hutchinson (rest) and LB Patrick Bailey (hand) did not practice.
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