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Hasselbeck paying big dividends for Titans

The Sports Xchange
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Matt Hasselbeck keeps making believers out of people.

Hasselbeck has picked the Titans up and put them on his shoulders during the early going of the 2011 season, so much so that the Titans now appear to be a much better throwing team than they are at running the football.

The Titans are averaging 280.5 yards per game through the air, which would put them on pace for nearly 4,500 yards passing for the season. Comparing that to last season when Vince Young and Kerry Collins combined to average 194.2 yards passing per game, the numbers are astounding.

Tennessee has not average even 200 yards passing per game since the 2005 season, and you have to skip the Jeff Fisher era completely and go back to the heyday of Warren Moon and the run and shoot offense to better the pace that Hasselback has the Titans on through the air. The then Houston Oilers averaged 288 yards a game through the air during the 1991 season.

"I'm not really surprised, we brought him here thinking that he was going to be a difference-maker. That was our thinking behind it from the beginning and hoping that he would be," Titans coach Mike Munchak said. "Watching the film I watched last year of him play, I thought 'Man, this guy is playing well,' and he won some big games, and he is doing the things for us that we hoped he would.

"You never know how fast things are going to come together when you bring all different guys together that have never worked together and new coaches, but having a guy like him has made the process a lot easier for us."

Hasselbeck has kept his promise to spread the ball around, especially after losing Kenny Britt to a season-ending knee injury in week three. On Sunday against the Browns, Hasselbeck was just 10 of 20 but threw for 220 yards and three scores. In the process, he hit six different receivers and each of the three touchdowns went to a different receiver.

"As for offense I think we have done a good job all year," Hasselbeck said. "There are things that we do well and things we need to work on, but big plays and explosive gains are something that we have done well."

--Last year the Tennessee Titans defense was simply a mess.

A strong 5-2 start helped to mask some of the eventual problems early, as the Titans forced some turnovers and created a bit of a mirage.

But by the end of the season, everything was in disarray and it meant that many changes needed to be made, including the replacement of Chuck Cecil.

But even with that, the lockout made things even more difficult in terms of whether or not the defense could be fixed quickly enough for the Titans to even be respectable.

Now after just one quarter of the season, the Titans defense has turned into one of the strong suits of the team -- allowing just 56 points through the first four games of this season under the tutelage of new defensive coordinator Jerry Gray.

Gray remade the coaching staff, keeping only secondary coach Marcus Robertson in his current position among the group. Not only did new coaches come in, but new players were added to the mix.

And Gray has quickly molded the holdovers from last year, a handful of rookies, plus a few veteran newcomers sprinkled in and somehow gotten the group to jell quickly into a cohesive unit that entered this past week ranked No. 1 overall in team defense.

"You look at the defensive side of the ball and at Jerry and his group are doing a lot of good stuff," Titans coach Mike Munchak said. "It's week in and week out different guys making plays."

A number of big plays have come from cornerback Cortland Finnegan, and the play of defensive ends Jason Jones, Dave Ball and Derrick Morgan, has created a steady pass rush, while rookies like linebacker Akeem Ayers and defensive tackles Karl Klug and Jurrell Casey have contributed right out of the gate.

Then, there are the free agents who have made a nice contribution as well. Jordan Babineaux is technically not a starter, but with Chris Hope now down for the second time with an injury, Babineaux reassumes the strong safety spot. He came up with a 97-yard interception return for a touchdown against Cleveland on Sunday, and it was indicative of the solid play the defense has turned in during the Titans' three-game winning streak.

One of the defense's calling cards has been making fourth-down stops. For the second straight week, the Titans stopped a fourth-and-short play and seized momentum with that play.

"It's a confidence thing, I think you start believing that you can do that and guys just rise up and have made plays and it's been different guys each time," Munchak said, pointing to Michael Griffin's stop of Josh Cribbs that stopped a Browns drive on Sunday. "You would rather it would be a third and 10 every time, but if get stuck in third-and-one or the situations we have, at least we were seeing that that's what good defenses do."

Copyright (C) 2011 The Sports Xchange. All Rights Reserved.

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