Published September 21, 2012
| Sports Network
The winless Tennessee Titans are a class organization, but would like to treat an old friend rudely when Jim Schwartz and the Detroit Lions invade LP Field Sunday afternoon.
Schwartz was the Titans' defensive coordinator from 2001-2008 and helped the team to four playoff appearances and two AFC South titles in that time. Now he is at the controls of a Detroit team featuring a high-powered offense as a head coach.
Titans head coach Mike Munchak will try to spoil Schwartz's return to the Volunteer State and enable Tennessee to avoid the first 0-3 start since opening the 2009 season with six straight losses.
Munchak touched on a few former coaches who are now with the Lions in his weekly press conference.
"Gunther Cunningham helped run the defense, the coordinator, so we're familiar with him," he said. "We've played against Gunther's defenses quite a bit, so yeah, it helps on that side of the ball, just like they feel familiar with what we do. That adds to it, I think us knowing each other, and obviously Jim had a great coaching career here with us, with the Titans, and we know he's doing a great job as a head coach."
Some may be raising the issue that Munchak is doing the exact opposite with the Titans, and in particular with his decision to start quarterback Jake Locker. The youngster won the job over veteran Matt Hasselbeck, but has been subpar in each of his two starts this season. He passed for 229 yards with a touchdown and an interception in a 34-13 loss to New England in Week 1, then completed just 15-of-30 passes for 174 yards with a touchdown and an interception in last Sunday's 38-10 loss at San Diego.
A poor running game by the Titans could have had an effect on Locker, too. He leads the team in rushing with just 32 yards, as talented running back Chris Johnson has just 21 yards on 19 carries in two games.
"Well, the running game especially, you want to be a complete offense," Munchak said. "You want to be well-balanced, and we haven't been well- balanced. It puts more pressure on (Locker), we feel he can handle that. We'd rather not make him have to deal with that. If we're going to start having success, we're going to have to fix that. Right now, it's been a struggle."
Johnson also struggled last year following a lengthy holdout, but had a full offseason and training camp this time around after getting a new deal. The Titans haven't shown the ability to succeed when one-dimensional, and Locker can't do it all.
Detroit is still waiting for that breakout performance it displayed so often a season ago. After barely getting by St. Louis in a 27-23 victory in Week 1, the Lions dropped a 27-19 decision to San Francisco last Sunday night.
Much like the Titans, the Lions had a rough day running the football against one of the best defenses in the NFL. However, they can get by with proven quarterback Matthew Stafford and a high-octane pass attack.
Stafford threw for 230 yards against the 49ers and dropped back 32 times, completing 19 of those passes.
"You know it's one thing if we come out here and play our best football and get blown out of the water," Stafford said after last week's loss. "We played poorly, had a lot of penalties and didn't capitalize on any opportunities. It was a one-touchdown game at the end of the game, so you have to take the good with the bad. You have to learn from wins, learn from losses. It's just the way the NFL is."
Schwartz focused on how important running the football is, especially after the 49ers took away deep threats and big plays. All-Pro wide receiver Calvin Johnson caught eight balls for 94 yards in the game, but is still without a touchdown after two weeks. If the Titans lock down on him and the rest of the Lions' receiving corps, it will be up to Kevin Smith and just-activated Mikel Leshoure to hurt them underneath in the ground game.
Tennessee allowed 162 rushing yards to New England and 148 rushing yards against San Diego.
"I think that efficiency in our run game, which is something we had the week before (against St. Louis) with the same players, and the scheme that was designed to try to take the big play away...is something that we're looking to do," Schwartz said. "There are a lot of things we can do better."
Titans lead 7-3
Streak: Titans have won last three meetings Last Meeting: Titans 47, Lions 10 (Nov. 27, 2008 at Detroit) Last Meeting at Site: Titans 24, Lions 19 (Jan. 2, 2005)
Lions HC Jim Schwartz vs. Titans: 0-0 Titans HC Mike Munchak vs. Lions: 0-0 Schwartz vs. Munchak Head-to-Head: First Meeting
Notes: Prior to becoming the Lions' head coach, Schwartz spent 10 seasons as an assistant with the Titans under Jeff Fisher from 1999-2008 and was Tennessee's defensive coordinator for the final eight years of that term. He and Munchak were both on the Titans' staff for that entire 10-year period as well. The Tennessee franchise has won five of the last six bouts in the series, with Detroit's lone victory during that stretch a 24-17 decision over the Houston Oilers at the Astrodome on Dec. 10, 1995.
BY THE NUMBERS
Offensive Team Rankings
Detroit: 14th overall (362.5 ypg), 25th rushing (82.5 ypg), 5th passing (280.0 ypg), 17th scoring (23.0 ppg)
Tennessee: 31st overall (248.0 ypg), 32nd rushing (29.0 ypg), 22nd passing (219.0 ypg), 32nd scoring (11.5 ppg)
Defensive Team Rankings
Detroit: 10th overall (299.5 ypg), 17th rushing (112.5 ypg), 6th passing (187.0 ypg), 18th scoring (25.0 ppg)
Tennessee: 25th overall (403.0 ypg), 30th rushing (155.0 ypg), 20th passing (248.0 ypg), 30th scoring (36.0 ppg)
Detroit: -3 (1 takeaways, 4 giveaways) Tennessee: -2 (1 takeaways, 3 giveaways)
Red Zone Touchdown Percentage (offense)
Detroit: 66.7 percent (6 possessions, 4 TD, 0 FG) -- tied 6th overall Tennessee: 25.0 percent (4 possessions, 1 TD, 3 FG) -- tied 26th overall
Red Zone Touchdown Percentage (defense)
Detroit: 33.3 percent (3 possessions, 1 TD, 2 FG) -- tied 5th overall Tennessee: 70.0 percent (10 possessions, 7 TD, 3 FG) -- tied 23rd overall
WHEN THE LIONS HAVE THE BALL
The message is loud and clear this week for Detroit: run the football. The Lions are averaging 82.5 rushing yards in two games this season and have had nobody to run the ball other than Smith (115 rushing yards, 1 TD). He has been serviceable in the first two weeks, averaging 57.5 yards on the ground, and has seven touchdowns in 12 career games against the AFC. Second-year running back Leshoure is expected to make his season debut Sunday after serving a two-game suspension for violating the league's substance-abuse policy. He has the confidence of Schwartz, who said the team has high expectations for the running back. Leshoure missed his 2011 rookie season with a torn Achilles tendon. Stafford (585 passing yards, 2 TD, 4 INT) has been having trouble protecting the football, as evidenced by his four interceptions so far. He is still one of the top young passers in the game, but still needs to regain the form that helped the Lions to the postseason in 2011. Stafford, who has been sacked only three times, has won four games in a row against the AFC. Calvin Johnson (14 receptions, 205 yards) still does not have a touchdown in 2012 and looks to change that this week. He had four scoring catches after two weeks a season ago.
So far the Titans have one of the worst defenses in the league and are rated 30th in both rushing yards allowed (155.0 ypg) and points against (36.0 ypg). Tennessee is 25th in total yards given up (403.0 ypg) and 20th in pass defense (248.0 ypg) as well. The Titans are hoping defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks can make a strong return on Sunday, as he hasn't played this season because of a knee issue. The Titans shouldn't expect much from Detroit's running game this week, but then again they could be in trouble if they're not prepared. The Lions are expecting Leshoure to return from last year's Achilles injury and Smith has been solid so far. Tennessee's biggest concern is Detroit's pass attack, however, as Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers passed for 284 yards and three touchdowns with an interception against the Titans last Sunday. Cornerback Alterraun Verner (15 tackles, 1 INT) did pick off Rivers and has the only interception for the Titans in two games. Verner and cornerback Jason McCourty (7 tackles) have a major responsibility in containing Calvin Johnson, Lions tight end Brandon Pettigrew (8 receptions) and wide receiver Nate Burleson (7 receptions). Defensive ends Kamerion Wimbley (6 tackles, 1 sack) and Derrick Morgan (14 tackles, 1 sack) must apply pressure on Stafford to slow down his timing as well. Safety Michael Griffin (22 tackles) leads the team in stops and must prevent the big play.
WHEN THE TITANS HAVE THE BALL
Getting Chris Johnson off to a fast start will be key for the Titans in their quest for their first win of the season. A dangerous back the past few years, he has been bottled up rather easily the first two games. The quick and agile East Carolina product has hauled in eight passes for 58 yards, and can be a dual threat if the ground game finds some order of semblance. Chris Johnson has faced the Lions once in his career, rushing for 125 yards on 16 carries and a pair of touchdowns back in 2008, and needs just two scores to join Earl Campbell and Eddie George as the only players in team history with 40 for his career. Perhaps the lack of a running game this season has stemmed Locker's production, since he's been left to account for all of the offense. It hasn't worked out so far for Locker (403 yards, 2 TD, 2 INT), whose ability to allude tacklers has resulted in only two sacks on the season. A win on Sunday would be his first as a starter. Rookie wide receiver Kendall Wright (7 receptions, 1 TD) scored his first NFL touchdown last week, while fellow wideout Kenny Britt was limited in his return from a suspension and had just one catch. Britt is also recovering from knee surgery and has been on a play count. On the line, tackle Michael Roos has started 114 straight games.
The Lions have to be aware of Chris Johnson despite how ineffective he has been in two games this season. They held the Rams to 77 yards rushing in Week 1, but gave up 148 yards on the ground to the 49ers. Detroit is 17th against the run so far, allowing 112.5 yards per game, and has four strong lineman up front. Tackle Ndamukong Suh (5 tackles, 2 1/2 sacks) has been very aggressive so far, and his 16 1/2 sacks since 2010 is the most among interior lineman. Suh not only collapses the pocket, but can be stout against the run as well. Corey Williams (6 tackles, 1 1/2 sacks) benefits from playing alongside Suh, and his massive stature will be another road block the Titans will try to avoid. Ends Cliff Avril (2 tackles, sack) and Kyle Vanden Bosch (5 tackles, sack) could have a field day against the inexperienced Locker under center if Tennessee's running game isn't again working. Vanden Bosch played with Tennessee from 2005-09. The speedy trio of linebackers Justin Durant (19 tackles), DeAndre Levy (16 tackles) and Stephen Tulloch (14 tackles) are expected to be busy Sunday. but Detroit's secondary could suffer the most. Cornerback Drayton Florence (5 tackles) sustained an arm injury at San Francisco and was placed on injured reserve, while rookie Bill Bentley (concussion), cornerback Chris Houston (ankle) and safety Louis Delmas (knee) are banged up. The Lions claimed corner Jerome Murphy off waivers this week, and Bentley is expected to return.
Schwartz will probably reflect on a few moments from his days with the Titans' organization before his team records its second win of the season Sunday. Known for his teams' defensive prowess as a coordinator, Schwartz now benefits from one of the more commanding offenses in the league. The Lions are still looking for that signature win like the ones that put them back on the NFL map last year, and no time is better than against the lowly Titans. Tennessee has struggled in all phases of defense, and going up against a pass-happy Detroit squad will be a difficult task. The only way the Titans have a shot at recording their first win is if Chris Johnson finally breaks out of his slumber. It's anyone's guess as to when that will happen, so picking the Lions in a close one makes sense.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Lions 23, Titans 17