Misdirection plays set table for Titans
|AP Photo/Paul Sancya|
|Chris Johnson (28) and LenDale White both rushed for more than 100 yards on Thursday in the win over the Lions.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
DETROIT -- Give the members of the Lions' defense credit for this: They run hard to the ball.
Rather, the Lions run hard to where they think the ball is heading.
As Titans coaches, working a short week, broke down Detroit, they saw opportunities for misdirections, bootlegs, play-action and anything that got the Lions started in one direction when the Titans actually planned to go somewhere else.
It started with a play-action fake and an end-around to Brandon Jones that went for 28 yards and it kept going from there, all the way to a 47-10 win. They've been playing football in Detroit on Thanksgiving since 1934, and they've never given up so many points or lost by so much.
"They flow real hard so the plan was to start out with every misdirection play we had to get them to slow down a little bit maybe," offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger said. "They all worked. They changed their defense. We hit them with a couple later, but we kind of took the air out of the ball and just ran some straight-up stuff."
"They bit a lot on the misdirection plays," running back LenDale White said. "And we figured as long as we kept running them we could get a lot of yards off them."
Yes, it was against the woeful 0-12 Lions.
But it still made me wonder if last week's loss to the Jets didn't amount to some sort of misdirection play, too.
Fullback Ahmard Hall said he heard a lot of overreaction to the poor game against New York, when the Titans (now 11-1) got outplayed and outclassed in the lone dud of their season. Hall felt like the effort against the Lions should help adjust a lot of that thinking.
"For them to jump off the bandwagon so quick, we lose one game and it was 'Maybe these guys aren't for real' or 'I told you so' or 'They have a lot of issues and when you win they get hidden and when they lose it's getting exposed,'" Hall said.
"I heard a lot of things and they really made me mad and it really helped get me focused on proving them wrong. We still are the Tennessee Titans. We're 11-1 right now, we've got one of the best records in the league. We had a bad game last week. That doesn't mean we're all the sudden a different team."
In their three games before this one, the Titans didn't run as well as they are accustomed -- they had only 29 rushing yards in Chicago, a 3.5-yard average in Jacksonville and 11 attempts against the Jets.
Chris Johnson said Heimerdinger told him this week to hit the hole a little quicker than he has during that stretch. He responded by turning 16 carries into 125 yards, including touchdowns of 6 and 58 yards during which he was virtually untouched.
White griped about getting just three plays against the Jets then backed away from comments that made him sound selfish. He got 23 touches for 106 yards and two short touchdown runs where he entered the end zone standing up.
Even slow-footed Kerry Collins got into the act, taking a bootleg 12 yards to complete a third-and-1. He made it to the 2-yard line, but resisted any temptation to dive for the pylon, going out of bounds as he got hit by defensive back Dwight Smith. He might have tried for the score, he said, in a closer game.
Tennessee won't run for 292 yards in the playoffs. But chances are the Titans won't be held to 45 like they were against the Jets either.
Something in the middle should suffice if they are playing the sort of defense they are capable of and avoiding mistakes like Collins' fumble on a sack that put the Lions on the doorstep for their one touchdown.
In the coming weeks, Smash and Dash should continue to build against Cleveland and at Houston.
Then against two of the teams they'll likely have to get past in January if they're going to earn a trip to Tampa, we'll see just how they can make things work against the Steelers and Colts.
Odds are those foes won't over-pursue like the Lions did.
Odds are the Titans will be more straightforward attacking them.
Other things I saw, heard, asked about or learned during and after this game...
-- I wondered if during slow moments, as they waited for a TV timeout to end, if anyone on the Titans looked at the Lions or the spotty crowd or the scoreboard and felt even a quick pang of sympathy.
The answer was a resounding no.
I suspect White's response is sure to be splashed all over the Detroit Free Press and the Detroit News in the morning.
"I'm not sympathetic to nothing," White said. "They've got a front office, they've got a coaching staff, they've got people that are trying to make them better. They've got great talent over there, it's just somebody needs to find a way to put it all together.
"I don't think anybody was sympathetic when the Titans were 3-13 and 4-12 or whatever, nobody wanted to pat us on the back. You've got to deal with it. If you want to change, you come out every week during practice and try to make it better. It's unfortunate, but you've got to live with it."
Later he added a poke at the fans, who hardly filled Ford Field: "I've never seen so many fair-weather fans before in my life, but I guess they have a lot here."
Said Jones: "Keith Bulluck said it best in the pregame. He was like, 'They deserve where they are at, we deserve where we are at, let's go out there and play like we deserve. You ain't sympathetic. They can be better, we can be better. That's just how the ball rolls."
-- Vince Masi of ESPN Research reports that Johnson (125) and White (106) become the third set of teammates to rush for 100-plus yards on Thanksgiving in NFL history.
And according to Elias Sports Bureau, they are the fourth set of teammates to record two rushing touchdowns each in the first half of a game in NFL history.
They were the first pair of running back to do it since Chuck Muncie and James Brooks of the 1982 San Diego Chargers in a 30-13 win at Cleveland. The most recent occurrence involved a quarterback.
-- Daunte Culpepper never should have let the ball go, but when he tried to dump-off a short pass over the middle for Kevin Smith from his own 21-yard line, Titans defensive end Dave Ball easily stepped in front of it, caught it, side stepped the only Lion between him and the end zone and scored a 15-yard touchdown.
"When he threw it, that ball was like slow motion into my hands," Ball said. "The rest was pure instinct, my man. I haven't scored a touchdown since I was a junior in high school. I'm not a frequent visitor to the end zone, but it's very nice. It's warm and cozy, you know?"
Ball, who looked like the team's fifth defensive end coming out of the preseason, has turned into a consistent contributor and the kind of low-cost, blue-collar producer that the Titans love. He also had a forced fumble and a sack.
-- Culpepper went down twice but bulled his way out of several other sacks. He's listed at 260 pounds, but during the CBS broadcast I could swear they said he admitted to being 277. That's a load to take down.
"He did a great job evading," Titans defensive tackle Tony Brown said. "He's kind of like David Garrard. Garrard is a pretty strong quarterback and he's bigger than Garrard. It's tough, you've got to make sure you get everybody to him."
-- Vince Young saw his first action since the opener, entering the game with just under nine minutes left to mop up for Collins. He completed one short pass on a rollout to his right, and Hall zoomed 54 yards with it. Young took a knee twice at the end which gave him minus-2 rushing yards.
"He came in the huddle and said, 'Hey, I haven't seen you guys in a while,'" White reported.
I didn't make it over to Young's locker when he decided he'd only talk to one radio reporter and attempted to stonewall everyone else. From my vantage point, the guy is about as disconnected from teammates, coaches, team brass and the press as he can be.
It doesn't seem like a great plan for positioning himself as the quarterback of the future, which is what his buddy White maintains he is.
"A lot is said, but he's going to be the guy here for a long time," White said.
Johnson said the dessert was even better than he expected.
Mawae admitted his award may not have been on the level.
"I've gotten it before in the past and I think it was on my own merit," he said. "I think this one came after five years of campaigning Phil for it. I told Phil last week when he was doing our game, 'Look, I just want to get some blackberry pie from your mom.' I think it was the sympathy vote."
Chris Simms, the Titans third QB, had a huge supply of cookies from his grandmother in the locker room after the game and was generously distributing them.
-- This was my first visit to Ford Field, which I'd categorize as a cross between Houston's Reliant Stadium and Indianapolis' Lucas Oil Stadium.
The lower bowl is massive and it doesn't look like there is a bad seat in the house.
And the press box, unlike those other two places, isn't hermetically sealed; it's open to the rest of the stadium. One side benefit of no retractable roof, I suppose.
It's a shame there is nothing worth seeing here until the Michigan State-North Carolina basketball game Dec. 3 that's been dubbed the Basketbowl. The next great attraction here will be the 2009 Final Four.