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Titans Keep Focus on Protecting Football

Posted Oct 31, 2012

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — It’s somewhat contradictory, but the two most important attributes for the Titans this week may be the ability to let go and the tenacity to hang on.

The Titans (3-5) must put behind them last week’s overtime loss against the Colts and not carry the disappointment into this week’s game against a Bears team that has a knack for creating turnovers and turning those mistakes into points. 

Matt Hasselbeck will be making his fifth straight start in place of injured second-year quarterback Jake Locker. The Titans have gone 2-2 with Hasselbeck at the helm and had multiple opportunities against Indianapolis that taunted them until Monday.

“Sunday night was tough. That was one of the roughest Sunday nights I’ve had, just in terms of searching for answers, trying to figure out how we let that one get away,” Hasselbeck said after Wednesday’s practice. “You have to get by it though. You have to put it behind you and usually that comes when you watch the film, get graded on the film, turn the page and get graded on the next opponent. From the time the game was over, until after we moved on to Chicago on Monday afternoon, it was a horrible feeling.”

Chicago’s defense leads the NFL with 24 takeaways, including 16 interceptions (tied for first in the league). The Bears are plus-12 in turnover margin, which ranks third in the league, and their defense has scored six touchdowns on interception returns.

“Our first goal defensively is to score, just like it is with offense and special teams,” Bears coach Lovie Smith said during a conference call.

Hasselbeck, who threw his 200th career touchdown pass against the Colts, has six career starts against Chicago. He is 3-3 against the Bears (including two playoff losses), with eight TDs, four interceptions and a passer rating of 82.9. He said Chicago’s continuity on defense has allowed it to establish a defensive philosophy that’s tried to force opponents into third-and-long situations for several years.

“You study a team like this, you learn how they practice and what they do, you’re not surprised that they play so fast that they create turnovers,” Hasselbeck said. “They’re really good at getting the ball out, they’re really good at getting tips and overthrows. A lot of times those end up as incompletions, and for these guys they seem to end up as interceptions, and their interceptions seem to end up as interceptions taken to the house, so we’ve got to be sharp.”

Hasselbeck has been solid on third downs this season with a passer rating of 102.8, which ranks sixth in the NFL. He has completed 43 of 58 passes (74.1 percent) for 482 yards with two TDs and one interception on those downs when defenses “bring their exotic stuff.”

Tennessee has gone the past two weeks without committing a turnover and obviously wants to continue that trend. The Titans must protect the ball when running or throwing it and after catching it.

Kenny Britt said Titans receivers must “attack” the ball when it is in flight, and said “tuck and two” has been a mantra this week, meaning the receiver must secure the ball before getting both feet down.

Britt expects a considerable amount of coverage by Charles Tillman, who recently held Calvin Johnson to three catches for 34 yards.

“Tillman is one of those guys that’s more physical,” Britt said. “He likes to play the bigger receivers, so I’m excited about being matched up with him. (Tim) Jennings, he’s a lot smaller guy, a speedster guy. He has six interceptions right now.

“Hopefully we can do some things that mess them up,” Britt added. “The number one thing we want to do is attack them early and hopefully get them out of their game.”

Rookie Kendall Wright, who leads the Titans with 40 receptions this season and the NFL with 19 catches on third down, said the Titans must avoid giving up anything easy.

“We’re going out there with the mindset — we haven’t had turnovers in the last two games, so we don’t plan on just going out there and giving it up — if they’re going to take it, they’ve got to earn it,” Wright said.

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