Titans have strength in numbers
Got a little three-part quiz for you on this Thursday of Week 4: Now that the Patriots have had their NFL record 21-game regular-season winning streak snapped, which team has the longest active regular-season winning streak, at six games?
Part II: Which team's defense is the best in the NFL, limiting its last seven opponents to 17 points or fewer and leading the league this season with just 9.7 points allowed per game?
And part III: Which team is 3-0 overall, 2-0 in its division, and holds a two-game advantage over its nearest division rivals despite playing its backup quarterback for the majority of its snaps this season?
If you answered the Tennessee Titans to all of those, give yourself three flaming thumbtacks, which is what the Titans' confusing logo has been comically dubbed. Due in large part to the headline-stealing Vince Young drama early this season, we haven't heard near enough about Tennessee's on-field accomplishments. But if the undefeated Titans can keep things rolling a couple more weeks, that should change in the near future.
This is a team, and particularly a defense, that's too good to go unnoticed for long. And in an AFC that has been anything but predictable this season, the Titans are emerging as one of the most consistent and reliable of clubs. You know what you're going to get from Tennessee these days, and if you're one of its opponents, that's mostly bad news.
And here's maybe the most impressive thing about the Titans' underrated defense, which is the strength of Jeff Fisher's first-place team: It's not a collection of stars in Tennessee, as much as it's a top-to-bottom, rock-solid lineup. If I had to choose the biggest name on the Titans' defense, it'd be All-Pro tackle Albert Haynesworth. But what about linebacker Keith Bulluck, defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch or emerging secondary stalwarts like cornerback Cortland Finnegan and safety Michael Griffin, who rank one-two in the NFL in interceptions with four and three, respectively?
"You know what we are? We are the quintessential whole that is greater than the sum of its parts,'' Titans defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz told me Thursday morning, amid preparations for Sunday's home game against Minnesota and its Pro Bowl running back, Adrian Peterson. "We have some really good football players. But what we don't have are weaknesses. We don't have guys we're trying to cover up for.
"I think you've got to credit [Titans general manager] Mike Reinfeldt. Look at the way we're built. We're not built on just a Haynesworth or a Vanden Bosch or a Bulluck. We're built with a lot of good solid players. We've got experienced players in a lot of positions, we're good tacklers, and we've got a little bit of depth in some areas. It's hard to look at us and say what we're really good at, because we're good at a lot of things.''
With a win against the Vikings, the Titans can go to 4-0 for the first time in Houston/Tennessee franchise history, besting the 3-0 start in 1999, the season of their only Super Bowl appearance. But in reality, this year's success is merely continuation of where the Titans were headed as 2007 drew to a close. Tennessee won its final three games last season to finish 10-6 and earn its first playoff berth since 2003.
Even a 17-6 first-round playoff loss at San Diego could not obscure the strong finish that Tennessee's defense turned in last season, when it held its final four opponents to 17 points or fewer, winning all but the postseason game against the Chargers.