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Buffalo Bills vs. Tennessee Titans Gameday Preview

TITANS OVERVIEW (2009 RANKINGS)

Stat of the week, courtesy of Paul Kuharsky’s AFC South blog on ESPN.com: “Before these Titans, no team in history had ever followed up a season where it started 10-0 with an 0-6 start in the next one.” Tennessee has rebounded to win their last two games, but they’re still a longshot to make it all the way back to .500 ... and even if they do, it may not be enough to save head coach Jeff Fisher’s job.

OFFENSE (#20 total yardage, #2 rushing, #26 passing, #t23 scoring):

Kerry Collins was one of last season’s surprises, supplanting an injured Vince Young behind center and leading the Titans to the best record in the AFC. The team rewarded him with a two-year, $15 million contract during the offseason, amid rumors that Young might not even make it through the final training-camp cutdown to the opening-day roster.

And then, the season began. Collins has looked every bit of his 36 years, throwing eight interceptions, one more than all of last year. Following a hideous 2-for-12, -7-yard performance in the Titans’ 59-0 beatdown at the hands of New England – yes, that’s minus-seven yards, good for a 4.9 passer rating – owner Bud Adams made his displeasure known, and Young was back in the lineup for the next game. He’s been steady instead of spectacular, but has managed the offense well, not turning the ball over in either of his two starts.

To be fair, the receiving corps didn’t do Collins many favors. Plagued by a case of the dropsies earlier in the season, Justin Gage and Nate Washington have combined for just 45 catches, 504 yards, and five touchdowns, similar to the Evans/Owens duo’s numbers (46-612-4 TDs) which have Bills fans in such an uproar. And now, Gage is out with broken bones in his back, thanks to a crash-landing following a leaping catch against San Francisco. That puts rookie Kenny Britt into a starting role, and likely means that tight ends Bo Scaife and Alge Crumpler will see more passes thrown their way.

Of course, with NFL rushing leader Chris Johnson (144 carries-959 yards, six touchdowns) going up against a historically bad Bills run defense, coordinator Mike Heimerdinger may decide not to bother throwing the ball. Johnson has the speed and the moves to break any play for the distance, which doesn’t bode well for a Buffalo squad which has already given up a league-worst 10 runs of over 20 yards on their way to a brutal 173.6-yards-per-game average.

DEFENSE (#31 total yardage, #18 rushing, #32 passing, #32 scoring):

The defense, second in the league in points allowed last year, has plummeted to the bottom of the rankings under new coordinator Chuck Cecil. Already missing All-Pro tackle Albert Haynesworth following his departure to Washington as a free agent, the Titans have been beset by injuries in the secondary. Forced to face New England with all three top cornerbacks in street clothes, the results were predictable: a 59-0 drubbing that set several franchise records for futility.

Starting corner Cortland Finnegan and nickel Vincent Fuller are back in the lineup, but Nick Harper is still recuperating from a broken forearm, so the team added free agent Rod Hood to the roster. The former Cardinal already has two interceptions, and will likely start his third consecutive game on the left side. Chris Hope and Michael Griffin remain the safeties.

The projected starters at defensive end, Kyle Vanden Bosch and Jevon Kearse, have combined for just two of the team’s 19 sacks. Kearse has been inactive for each of the last four games, with William Hayes taking over at left end. Despite missing back-to-back games early in the season, tackle Jason Jones leads the team with 4 takedowns.

As usual, Keith Bulluck and Stephen Tulloch lead the team in tackles. David Thornton may be out again this week, though, with fourth-round pick Gerald McRath likely to get another start in his stead.

SPECIAL TEAMS:

Kicker Rob Bironas has been his steady self, converting on 12 of 14 field goal attempts, but Craig Hentrich’s calf injury forced the Titans to look for a new punter. Reggie Hodges was their first choice, but a sub-40-yard gross average led them to boot him in favor of Brett Kern. The former Bronco has been a definite improvement, landing five of nine punts inside the 20 with just one touchback.

The return teams are among the worst in the league; no Tennessee kickoff returner has managed a runback of longer than 27 yards, and they’re averaging just 5.2 on punts.

OUTLOOK:

Trent Edwards returns to the lineup, but whether or not that will improve a Buffalo attack which ranks no higher than 19th in any significant offensive statistic remains to be seen. Two weeks ago, before the Houston game, I wrote, “As for the offense ... well, showing up would be a good start.”

I’m still waiting.

LINKS

Titans depth chart | 2009 regular-season stats
Bills depth chart | 2009 regular-season stats

Welcome to the Blogosphere:
ESPN AFC East (Tim Graham) | AFC South (Paul Kuharsky)
Titans Insider (Jim Wyatt/Gary Estwick, Tennessean)

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