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Notebook: Revamped Titans Defense Executes Plan

Posted Sep 8, 2013

The rebuilt Tennessee Titans defense opened the 2013 season with five sacks, two turnovers, six quarterback hits and six pass breakups.

The defense also showed strength in counteracting an unusual play on special teams that gave Tennessee a two-point deficit three seconds into the season and bought the offense time to find enough of a grove and win 16-9 at Pittsburgh.

Tennessee was able to keep Ben Roethlisberger confined to the pocket for most of the game and recorded five sacks and six quarterback hits. Click here for the slideshow from Sunday's game.

The victory snapped a two-game losing streak by the Titans in season openers and a 10-game win streak by the Steelers in home openers.

The size of free agent additions Ropati Pitoitua and Sammie Hill boosted the effort of the defensive line in when it came to shutting down the run (the Steelers finished with 32 rushing yards on 15 carries), Moise Fokou recovered a fumble in the end zone for a touchback, and new safety Bernard Pollard added six tackles.

The Titans wanted to keep Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger contained to the pocket to prevent him from scrambling and finding a receiver for a deep pass, then collapse the pocket.

“He’s made a career out of extending plays, and for us we just had to make sure he stayed in the pocket and made him a pocket passer and eventually, one of our big boys was going to get to him,” said linebacker Zach Brown, who had two sacks.

Defensive tackle Jurrell Casey also recorded two sacks, and Derrick Morgan added another.

“They tried to double team me (to prevent one sack) and couldn’t do it,” Casey said. “I’ve got goals and I can’t let anyone get in my way of reaching those.”

Pressure also influenced a throw by Roethlisberger that cornerback Alterraun Verner intercepted near midfield in the middle of the second quarter.

“We had the coverage that allowed me to be aggressive,” Verner said. “I tried to play him. I looked back for the ball and saw it was within arm’s length, so I just went for it. I was happy I was able to get it and help the team.”

POWER FOOTBALL: With the advantageous field position, Tennessee’s offense turned to power football by running 11 times during a 12-play touchdown drive capped by Jackie Battle’s 3-yard touchdown. The drive covered 49 yards, consumed 6:48, included Battle’s conversion on fourth-and-1 and had a residual effect of wearing down the Steelers’ defense.

It’s an identity that the Titans wouldn’t mind an association with on drives throughout 2013, and follows the addition of guards Andy Levitre (through free agency) and Chance Warmack (through the draft), center Rob Turner and tight end Delanie Walker in free agency.

The Titans averaged 2.7 yards per carry but stayed committed to running the ball. Ten of the 17 first downs gained by Tennessee were gained on rushes.

“We’ll have some that will go for no gain and then we’ll pop a couple of seven yarders, so I think we did a good job later in the game of effectively moving the ball,” Levitre said. “That’s something we’ve talked about since we got here in the spring, being able to run the ball and then throw it when we feel like throwing.”

Chris Johnson had a game-high 25 carries and 70 yards, Shonn Greene had four carries for 18 yards before leaving with a knee injury and Battle filled in by carrying the ball eight times for 21 tough yards.  

“We know we’ve got three good backs in the backfield and they’re going to give us their all every single snap,” Levitre added.

Warmack was excited to make his pro debut for a team that wants to “keep pounding and keep running” the football.

“We’re trying to be known as a physical team, a dominant team in the run game, a dominant team all around and we showed a little bit of that today,” said Warmack, who became the first rookie offensive lineman to start in Week 1 since tackle Michael Roos in 2005.

HAPPY HOMECOMING: Rookies Blidi Wreh-Wilson and Daimion Stafford also made their regular season debuts in roles on special teams. It was particularly special for Wreh-Wilson, who grew up in Edinboro, Pa., which is less than two hours from Pittsburgh.

Wreh-Wilson said his father texted him inspirational quotes on Saturday and tried to ease any nervousness.

“My family told me to not get too wild. When they introduced Troy Polamalu and the place erupted, it was pretty wild Even though I grew up close to Pittsburgh, I was never at a Steeler game, so to be here and see that was a very humbling experience for me,” said Wreh-Wilson, who added that the win made the experience better.

ONSIDE RECOVERY: Safety George Wilson, who also joined the Titans in free agency, sealed the win when he secured an onside kick attempt by Shaun Suisham. The recovery allowed Tennessee to run out the clock, and Wilson said preparation helped execution.  

“Special teams coaches gave me a good idea of what type of kick to expect, where the ball was going to be located, and once I saw the second hop, I knew I had to go hop on it and brace myself for any type of hit I might take but there was no way I was going to allow that ball to hit the ground or get through my hands,” Wilson said. “Our guys had worked too hard to get us in that position.”

FOUR WIDE: The Titans opted to have four of the six receivers on their 53-man roster active for Sunday’s game, delaying the NFL regular season debut of rookie Justin Hunter. Receiver Michael Preston was also inactive, as well as linebacker Zaviar Gooden, center Brian Schwenke, tackle Byron Stingily and defensive ends Keyunta Dawson and Lavar Edwards.

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