For the third consecutive week, the 49ers will be playing an opponent from the AFC South.
And for the third time in a row, the 49ers will be looking to pick up their first win against that division this Sunday against the visiting Tennessee Titans.
The Titans (1-6) picked up their first win of the season last week, beating the Jacksonville Jaguars 30-13 at home, and will now be looking for their first road win of ‘09.
It’s been quite a dramatic turnaround from last season’s 13-3, AFC South-winning team, which lost in the divisional round of the AFC playoffs to the Baltimore Ravens.
After watching starting quarterback Kerry Collins struggle in the team’s first six losses (108-of-197, completing 54.8 percent of his passes with five touchdowns and eight interceptions), head coach Jeff Fisher went with backup Vince Young against the Jaguars, and it worked.
Young managed the game, completing 15-of-18 passes for 125 yards and threw a 6-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Nate Washington in the victory. Young also did not the turn the ball over, which was something that had been problematic at the quarterback position for Tennessee. And, Young’s mobility helped him avoid being sacked, which will only help the pass protection efforts of the Titans offensive linemen in the coming weeks.
Really, Young didn’t have to do a whole lot in his first start since Sept., of ’08. With running back Chris Johnson setting a franchise record with 228 rushing yards against Jacksonville, Young’s day was made much easier. Johnson’s two instant-highlight touchdown runs came from 52- and 89-yards out, and each displayed Johnson’s top-flight speed and ability to make defenders miss him in the open field.
In fact, Johnson has been one of the lone bright spots on a Titans offense that has the NFL’s 19th ranked offensive attack. He leads the NFL with 824 yards and has picked those yards up on just 119 carries, an average of 6.9 yards per touch. Johnson is active in the passing game too, his 18 receptions is tied for second-most on the Titans.
He’s complimented in Tennessee’s backfield by teammate LenDale White, who has rushed 52 times for 195 yards and has scored one touchdown. White presents more of a physical running style to contrast Johnson’s perimeter rushing talents.
In the passing game, the Titans main passing targets have been wide receivers, Justin Gage (18 catches, 205 yards and one touchdown), Washington (20 catches, 172 yards and a team-leading 4 touchdowns) and rookie Kenny Britt (20 catches, 296 yards). Tight ends Bo Scaife (16 catches for 145 yards) and Alge Crumpler (18 catches for 141 yards) are also active in catching passes.
Tennessee’s playoff run last season was led by the play of their running attack and the dominating play of their defensive unit. But this year, the Titans’ defense has fallen to the 31st ranking in the entire league. They also rank dead-least in pass defense giving up 394.9 yards per game.
A major reason for the drop-off in production was the loss of defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth, who signed with the Washington Redskins in the beginning of free agency this past offseason.
Replacing Haynesworth has been difficult for Tennessee, but veterans like Tony Brown and Jovan Haye have anchored the Titans defensive line from the interior positions. Brown has 15 tackles and 2.0 sacks, while Haye has totaled 14 tackles.
Tennessee’s defensive line has been led by their defensive ends, Kyle Vanden Bosch and William Hayes. Veteran end, Jevon Kearse has been inactive the last three games with and has only 1.0 sack for the season. Vanden Bosch has 1.0 sack, while Hayes has 1.5. Second-year defensive tackle Jason Jones leads the team with 4.0 sacks.
Behind the line is the strength of the Titans defense, in linebackers Keith Bulluck and Stephen Tulloch. Bulluck, a 10-year pro, leads the team with 60 tackles with Tulloch two stops behind him.
On the back end, the Titans have struggled giving up more yards than any other secondary in the NFL.
Starting strong safety Chris Hope leads Tennessee’s secondary with 43 tackles and three passes defended. Cornerback Cortland Finnegan leads the team with three interceptions and also has 20 tackles. The other starting safety, free safety Michael Griffin has added 33 tackles as well.
One key to the game will be limiting first downs through the air. Through seven games, the Titans have allowed 101 first downs through the air, which is the most in the NFL.
For the Titans to continue their win-streak, solving the team’s ailments in pass defense will be crucial in a matchup against the 49ers steadily improving passing attack.