Titans ‘Kearse’ to Persist?

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December 17, 2003
Titans ‘Kearse’ to Persist?
by Keith Weiland

Try as they might, the Houston Texans won’t be able to spark a true rivalry with the Tennessee Titans until they actually win a game against them first. After coming up empty in their three previous attempts, the Texans will make attempt number four at Reliant Stadium on Sunday.

Attempt number three was one the Texans would rather forget. Titans quarterback Steve McNair aired it out early and often in the last meeting, as Tennessee quickly built a commanding 21-0 lead in the first quarter. This time around, McNair is a little more banged up, as his idiom typically dictates this late in the season, so his status for the game is uncertain.

With backup quarterback Billy Volek lost for the season with a lacerated spleen, the Texans expect McNair to find a way to mend his ailing left ankle and strained right calf in time for Sunday’s kickoff.

That likely spells trouble for the Texans. For a defense that ranks near the bottom in most important defensive statistics, trying to once again slow down McNair’s air show without Pro Bowl cornerback Aaron Glenn will make for quite a daunting task.

As much as Texan fans in attendance at Sunday’s game will want their home team to win, they may be rooting nearly as hard for the Titans to lose and weaken their playoff positioning. Few are eager to see former Houston Oilers owner Bud Adams back in town for Super Bowl XXXVIII, and a loss against the Texans could mean an extra road game for the Titans in the playoffs.

What to Expect When the Texans have the ball…
QB David Carr is expected to return to lineup after battling the effects of a shoulder injury first suffered a month ago in Buffalo, then re-injured two weeks ago in Jacksonville. The offense has sputtered in his absence, and Carr hopes to repeat the success he had through the air against the Titans in Week Six when he posted a career high in passing yards. Carr will need to involve WRs Jabar Gaffney and Corey Bradford if he wants to put points on the board and have his team in a position to win this week. The Titans boast the league’s top rushing defense, allowing less than 80 yards per game, so expect RB Domanick Davis’ push for a 1,000-yard season to continue into next week. Watch for RLB Keith Bullock to set the tone for the Tennessee defense, as he leads the Titans with 155 tackles this season. The Titans will be weak in the middle though. MLB Rocky Calmus has been lost for the year due to a broken fibula. Brad Kassell has taken his place, but the Titans will go to a nickel D more than they should to compensate for that loss as well as to assist a below average pass defense.

When the Titans have the ball…
QB Steve McNair leads the NFL with a 102.4 passer rating. His TD-to-INT ratio is MVP-good at 22-6, and even though he’s hurt, he’s still tough to sack. Watch for McNair to lock into WR Derrick Mason on third downs. Mason’s 33 receptions on third down is tops in the AFC. While Mason is largely regarded as the Titans’ best receiver, WR Justin McCareins is perhaps their most dangerous endzone threat. Tenneesee’s running attack isn’t quite what it used to be, but the Titans still eek out enough of RB Eddie George to consistently win the battle for time of possession, as they are third in the NFL, averaging five minutes more than their opponents. George has improved considerably since these two teams last met, raising his rushing yards per game by more than twenty yards during that span.

Match-Ups to Watch Marcus Coleman vs. Derrick Mason
Mason was up to the challenge in Week Six to take on the AFC’s September Defensive Player of the Month in Coleman. Mason repeatedly got the better of Coleman in their last meeting, notably beating him deep on a 46-yard touchdown reception. Mason scored three times in that game, half of his total this season. Coleman should expect Mason to be licking his chops for another shot against the Texans secondary on Sunday.

Chester Pitts vs. Jevon Kearse
RDE Jevon Kearse has 9.5 sacks so far this season, including one the last time he faced the Texans. Pitts has avoided a sophomore slump this season, but he has had problems in the past adjusting to some of the league’s fastest pass rushers, like Kearse. Pitts will have added pressure this week if he has to protect a wounded Carr at quarterback. Kearse and the Titans will be itching to extend their streak of 24 consecutive game with a sack.

Andre Johnson vs Samari Rolle
RCB Samari Rolle missed out on his first opportunity to cover Johnson, thanks to an injured elbow. When Rolle return from that injury, he collected three interceptions in three straight games. Johnson gives nearly all cornerbacks in the league some matchup problems, but Rolle may not be one of them. Considered to be among the NFL’s best corners, Rolle has enough size, leaping ability, and cover skills to blanket Johnson all afternoon.

Three Keys to Victory 1. Get an early lead
The Titans are adept at claiming an early advantage, thanks in large part to their defense. They have held opponents without a touchdown in the first quarter in 19 of the last 23 games. If the Titans continue this trend against the Texans, it will fit right into Head Coach Jeff Fisher’s gameplan. Of course, if the Texans are able to accomplish this, then that leads next to Houston’s need to…

2. Play Some Pass Defense The Falcons and Bills in recent weeks accomplished that first key only to let the Titans back into the game thanks to a porous secondary and a weak pass rush, something the Texans also unfortunately employ. A big difference, however, from the Texans’ debacle in Week Six against the Titans’ passing game is the addition of FS Marlon McCree. That last loss to the Titans was Matt Stevens’ swan song as a starter, as McCree took over the following week. McCree has been steadily improving every week since.

3. Deflate Air McNair
With backup QB Billy Volek shelved, the Titans were left scrambling to find Neil O’Donnell’s phone number on Tuesday to see if he could dust off his jersey since being released after training camp. McNair’s only other backup will be rookie Jason Gesser, and he has yet to attempt a pass in an NFL game. McNair is always a gamer and tough to bring down, but delivering a (clean) knockout blow would significantly enhance the Texans’ chances for a first-ever win over the Titans.

Views on the Game Saints   Bob says: This may boil down to which team has the healthier quarterback and which team can protect him better. Titans 20, Texans 13 Saints   Dave says: This game is winnable with a healthy defense. Unfortunately… Titans 24, Texans 17 Saints   Keith says: Yes, Houston, there is a Santa Claus. Texans 24, Titans 23 Saints   Ric says: Titans need it; Texans don’t. Titans 17, Texans 10 Saints   Warren says: The Titans’ superior lines give them the edge. Titans 17, Texans 13 2003 Regular Season Records
Bob 11-3; Dave 8-6; Keith 8-6;
Ric 7-7; Warren 9-5

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Week 15 Preview Tennessee Titans
2003 Record: (10-4)
12.21.03 | 12pm
Houston, TX Texan Leaders David Carr
137/238, 1,666 yds, 8/10 Domanick Davis
204/881, 4.3 YPC, 5 TD Andre Johnson
56/817, 14.6 YPC, 4 TD Titan Leaders Steve McNair
233/364, 2,947 yds, 22/6 Eddie George
267/865, 3.2 YPC, 5 TD

Derrick Mason
85/1,169, 13.8 YPC, 6 TD

2003 Schedule Date Opponent Result 08.09 Denver 12-20 08.15 at Dallas 6-34 08.23 San Diego 17-19 08.28 at Tampa Bay 3-34 Regular Season 09.07 at Miami 21-20 09.14 at New Orleans 10-31 09.21 Kansas City 14-42 09.28 Jacksonville 24-20 10.05 Bye 10.12 at Tennessee 17-38 10.19 New York Jets 14-19 10.26 at Indianapolis 21-30 11.02 Carolina 14-10 11.09 at Cincinnati 27-34 11.16 at Buffalo 12-10 11.23 New England 20-23 11.30 Atlanta 17-13 12.07 at Jacksonville 0-27 12.14 at Tampa Bay 3-16 12.21 Tennessee 24-27 12.28 Indianapolis 17-20   Overall Record 5-11