Sunday, September 18, 2011
With precise QB, Britt stars for Titans
By Paul Kuharsky
Kenny Britt had 135 yards and a score as Tennessee put up 358 passing yards against Baltimore.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The search for ways to open things up for Chris Johnson is ongoing.
The Tennessee Titans are a team that is usually about the running back and the run blocking. They are a team that brought in Randy Moss a season ago, not so much because he might make big plays, but because he might move a safety out of the box. They are a team now coached by a Hall of Fame offensive lineman who’s spoken of being driven by the run.
They are a team that was something else entirely on Sunday.
In a surprising 26-13 win over the Baltimore Ravens Sunday at LP Field, the Titans were a precise, big-play passing team -- a description that qualifies as sweet music to fans who have long craved the dynamic in Music City.
As Johnson managed 2.2 yards a carry and got booed, Matt Hasselbeck showed great accuracy against one of the league’s toughest defenses. He said during the week there were plays to be made in the secondary. His line gave him the time to make them. He didn’t get sacked and he passed for 358 yards (30-for-42, 71 percent).
Seven times he hit on pass plays longer than 15 yards, with Kenny Britt as the centerpiece. Britt pulled in receptions of 37, 28 and 16 yards en route to a 135-yard game with a touchdown.
After a troubled offseason, Britt missed the bulk of training camp and the preseason with a hamstring issue. So he and Hasselbeck are still learning each other.
The receiver said the two were 75-80 percent in sync after the Baltimore game and projected it could jump to 95 percent this week. He said Hasselbeck told him during the course of the game, “Once I know what you’re doing all the time, we’ll be great at it.”
A week after he killed the Titans' chances at a late win with an awful interception, Hasselbeck’s accuracy keyed the team's first win of the season.
“I think they had really good coverage most of the day,” Hasselbeck said. “I played with a guy that always used to say there is no coverage for the perfect throw. It’s funny, but it’s true. When you’re playing a great defense, you’ve got to have great accuracy.
“And they weren’t easy catches. [Jared Cook's] catch was a diving catch, Kenny’s catch down the middle took a lot of courage, Nate Washington had some courageous catches, Lavelle Hawkins stepped up with some courageous catches. It was as much them as anything.”
So Hasselbeck wasn’t afraid of that tight coverage getting to his throws?
“Oh, I was afraid,” he said, laughing. “But what are you going to do? I had to throw it.”
On Britt's longest reception, he slowed and turned to face the pass as he caught it, then navigated the left sideline as he completed his spin. Cook also turned back to get a 33-yard catch, falling to the ground as he pulled it in. In each situation, if the Titans hadn't caught it, the ball would have fallen harmlessly incomplete.
“Matt was actually trying to put it in a perfect place where I could go get it,” Britt said, before talking specifically about turning to go get balls. “It’s by design. We’ve been working on that for at least two to three weeks now since I’ve been back from my hamstring injury.”
Britt was called to Roger Goodell’s office to discuss a trouble-filled offseason but avoided any suspension for transgressions during the lockout. The Titans want him to be a central figure in what they do -- one of three dynamic playmakers along with Johnson and Cook.
But it can be difficult to count on him because over the course of his first two seasons he often got dinged and could lose focus.
Now he’s got a new veteran quarterback, a new rookie quarterback (Jake Locker), a new head coach (Mike Munchak), a new offensive coordinator (Chris Palmer) and a new position coach (Dave Ragone).
All of them are relying on his continued emergence.
Britt’s wife and daughter are now in Nashville and he’s indicated he won’t be spending a lot of time in New Jersey, where most of his troubles arose. If healthy and consistent, with an accurate quarterback throwing to him, Britt may well jump to elite receiver status soon.
The Ravens praised Hasselbeck’s precision.
His 358 passing yards were the most the Titans have ever had in 20 matchups against the Ravens and the fourth most Baltimore has yielded over the past five seasons.
“Kenny’s covered and he makes a great throw,” Titans quarterback coach Dowell Loggains said. “Matt was deadly accurate today.”
Baltimore isn’t going to give up a lot of running yards. Other teams that are able to slow Johnson should pay for it if Hasselbeck can find Britt, Washington and Cook the way he did Sunday.
“We feel like we have enough weapons with No. 8 on offense that we can do some things that we haven’t been able to do in the past,” Loggains said. “This is what we should be able to do.”