NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Titans defensive coordinator Ray Horton has been gambling, calling all sorts of blitzes and stunts trying to pressure the quarterback.
Well, that approach has its risks, and the Titans are paying the price.
The Titans have dropped to the bottom of the NFL in run defense, giving up 145.4 yards per game. Now Tennessee (2-9) is preparing to head to Houston where the Texans are expecting Arian Foster back on Sunday after missing the past two games.
Horton is overseeing Tennessee's transition from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4 front this season, and his approach is trying to hit the quarterback as much as possible.
The Titans shuffled up their defense trying to improve this week. They cut veteran linebacker Shaun Phillips and signed linebacker Kaelin Burnett while promoting Dontay Moch off the practice squad. Horton said Thursday the NFL is a players' league, and the newest Titans will be playing early.
"It should help everything," Horton said. "It'll help the run defense because they'll supposedly be quicker, faster, stronger. And it'll help the pressure."
The Titans have been very good getting to the quarterback, ranking tied for fourth with 31 sacks.
Stopping the ball has been an issue all season.
The Titans have given up more than 200 yards three times. They also have allowed six different running backs to run for more than 100 yards, while Le'Veon Bell had the biggest game by a running back this season Nov. 17 for Pittsburgh when he ran for 204 yards. LeSean McCoy followed up running for 130 yards in Philadelpia's 43-24 win last week.
Not fitting gaps properly has been the Titans' biggest issue this season. Against the Eagles, Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt noted Philadelphia's offense spreads out a defense creating one-on-one situations where the tackle has to be made. The Titans missed 19 tackles in that game.
Cornerback Jason McCourty said they haven't been playing well defensively with the issue changing from game to game.
"Versus Pittsburgh we did a really bad job of staying in our gaps, and versus Philly we were in our gaps we just didn't tackle well," he said. "So we have to have a combination of both of those guys trusting one another, staying in their gaps, and when we get our tackles whether one on one in space or in the hole we have to make sure we're wrapping guys up and bringing them down."
The Titans know how well Foster can run. Foster, on the injury report this week with a groin injury, ran for 151 yards and two touchdowns against them on Oct. 26 in Nashville.
It hasn't helped that the Titans have had three games where the defense played at least 39 minutes or more. That doesn't ease their frustration over how they've stopped the run. Defensive lineman Jurrell Casey said they know the challenge they face in Foster.
"It's going to be huge, especially with a back like Foster that can cut on a dime, it's going to be real big for us to stay sound in our gaps and stay as patient as possible as we can," Casey said. "So when he declares and makes his final move, we've got to be prepared to make that tackle. The last game we played against them, we had him a lot of times stuffed in the backfield, but we missed too many tackles. With a guy cutting the way he does, you've got to make those tackles."
Notes: S Michael Griffin (left shoulder), LT Taylor Lewan (left ankle), RT Michael Oher (left toe) and DE Kam Wimbley (hamstring) did not practice for a second straight day. DE Marqueston Huff (hamstring), RB Dexter McCluster (concussion), CB Blidi Wreh-Wilson (back) and RB Leon Washington (hamstring) were limited.
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