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Notebook: Titans Rushers to use Disciplined Approach Against Mobile Chiefs QB

Posted Oct 4, 2013

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee’s offensive players said Kansas City’s defense reminds them of the New York Jets, but the other side of the ball reminds Titans defensive coordinator Jerry Gray of the other coast.

Gray said Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith is exhibiting running characteristics like Steve Young and Joe Montana did with the 49ers and Donovan McNabb and Michael Vick did in Philadelphia, where Chiefs coach Andy Reid spent the previous 13 seasons.

The Titans are likely to use an approach in rushing Chiefs QB Alex Smith that is similar to the one they deployed against the Steelers in the season opener.

Smith has 30 rushes for 151 yards, which are both second on the team, and is 88-for-146 with a multitude of short attempts for 957 yards (6.6 per attempt) with seven touchdowns.

“I think the program that those guys have over there right now reminds me a lot of the West Coast (offense),” Gray said. “Those guys they get their read, they go to their progression and if there was a hole in it, once you get through your progression, take off. He’s got great wheels, he’s making great decisions. He’s keeping the chains moving, that’s really what he’s doing when he runs.”

Gray said Tennessee is likely to deploy a similar strategy of rushing the passer that it used in its season-opening win at Pittsburgh. The Titans wanted to set the edge, keep Ben Roethlisberger in the pocket and prevent him from extending plays. Tennessee was able to do so for most of the game and finished with five sacks.

“You’ve got to be more attentive to detail because everything is on rhythm with them and then if you see anything breaking down you know his next move is going to be to take off so you can’t rush past the quarterback you’ve got to be smarter than that,” Gray said. “We’ve got to understand what our rush lanes are as you’re pass rushing. So you’ve got to pass rush a little bit smarter. It’s almost like we did against Ben. You’ve got to be smarter. You can’t just run past him and Ben is so allusive and can extend the play, he’s going to run to extend the play really.”

Defensive tackle Jurrell Casey had two sacks of Roethlisberger in the opener and agreed that a similar plan will be deployed.

“It’s going to be important for us up front to make sure we keep a balanced rush and make sure he stays in the pocket,” Casey said. “As long as we keep them in the pocket, it’s hard for them to step up and make certain throws or get out and extend plays. That’s going to be the biggest thing in this game, keeping Alex contained.”

ROSTER MOVE LOOMING: As stated earlier in the week, the Titans plan to elevate Rusty Smith from the practice squad to back up Ryan Fitzpatrick at quarterback as Fitzpatrick makes his first start as a Titan in place of injured QB Jake Locker (hip, knee sprains).

Because the Titans believe Locker could be ready sooner than the eight-week period that he would be shelved if they chose the injured reserve/designated for return option, Tennessee will be making another reduction along the roster to make room for Smith’s elevation.

“We wanted to get through the week by making sure there was nothing else happening out of the ordinary that could affect the decision. There was no hurry to do it, so we thought we’d let the week go like normal and then make a decision on Saturday,” Titans coach Mike Munchak said.

The coach said removing one player, likely one they would like to bring back at a later point if no other team claims the player, is difficult strategically and emotionally.

“You have guys now you’re letting go that have been here, and it gets harder during the season when you have to make these kinds of moves,” Munchak said. “That’s the hard part of the business as a coach and player; you don’t like it at all because it’s a tough decision. You have no choice, but it’s still very hard to have to do it.”

WETTER WEATHER?: The Titans and Jets experienced light rains in last week’s game, and the forecast for this week’s forecast is predicting that a heavier dose of dousing could occur.

“We kept thinking last Sunday was going to be a mess, but it turned out to be just a little light rain,” Munchak said. “The guys have played in it, practiced in it, so it’s not a big deal that way. They know what shoes to wear, what gloves to wear, whatever the deal is, everyone’s different. Some guys love it, some guys are more getting used to it. We’ll see how it is. It might be like last week, maybe a little worse, but I don’t think it should really matter.”

An extra measure the Titans implemented during practice Friday, however, involved dipping footballs in a water bucket before reps so players could get better accustomed to wet footballs.

We thought we were going to get some rain this week — I thought we were going to get it naturally, but we didn’t,” Munchak said. “Guys catching it is just a little different. They’ll get it in pregame, too, which is good. I think you don’t go overboard with anything, you just expose them to everything.”

SPECIAL COVERAGE: The Titans’ kick and punt coverage teams have fared well through four games. Tennessee’s opponents are averaging 20.8 yards on 12 kickoff returns and 2.7 yards on nine punt returns, giving the Titans the 11th best mark in the NFL in the first category and fourth best mark in the second.

That will be challenged this week with Chiefs return specialists. Kick returner Quinton Demps has averaged 35 yards on four kickoff returns, and Dexter McCluster has averaged 15.4 yards on 16 punt returns, which was boosted last week by his 89-yard punt return for a touchdown against the New York Giants.

Munchak said he’s interested to see how Tennessee’s coverage units respond to the challenge and how its return teams continue to improve.

“It’s exciting, it’s a challenge for them. You can see the focus a little more when you’ve got someone special that can return kicks the way they can,” Munchak said. “It’s a great challenge for the defense, the punter, to put the ball in the right spots so that we can cover. We want to get one. We thought last week we had one. D-Rey (Darius Reynaud) had a 35-yarder (return) and we feel like we’ve got a weapon, too, that’s getting closer. Now we think we’ll get a shot at some kickoff returns. That should be good especially if the weather’s a little wetter; we’ll probably get more opportunities to bring the ball up.”

BRITT PROBABLE: Munchak said Kenny Britt (neck/ribs) “had a real good week” of practice and is probable for Sunday’s game.

“I thought he looked good, confident, practiced hard, caught a lot of good balls, so I think it was a good week for him. Now it’s just a matter of carrying that into the game,” Munchak said.

NOTES: David Stewart (calf), Ropati Pitoitua (shoulder) and Patrick Bailey (hamstring) fully practiced and are officially questionable. Blidi Wreh-Wilson (hamstring) did not practice and is questionable. Shonn Greene (knee), Sammie Hill (ankle) and Locker are out. 

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