NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Tennessee Titans are pretty happy with their dominating defensive performance in the season opener. After all, nine points is a big improvement from the nightmare of 2012.
Still, the team that gave up the most points in the NFL last season also knows it's way too early to think anything has been proven yet.
Defensive coordinator Jerry Gray said Thursday they need to wait to see if the Titans have the defense they tried to build. He says he was deservedly criticized in 2012 with the Titans allowing a franchise-worst 471 points.
"At the end of the year, hopefully we're in the playoffs and we'll get a chance to see," Gray said.
The Titans allowed at least 30 points in each of the first five games in 2012 and were embarrassed with a 55-7 loss at Green Bay in the next to last game.
So they went out this offseason and brought in six veteran free agents for the defense alone, trying to add size on the line with tackles Sammie Hill and Antonio Johnson and end Ropati Pitoitua. They added leadership and physical tackling in safeties Bernard Pollard and George Wilson along with a new middle linebacker in Moise Fokou.
Tennessee opened this season with a splash, holding the Steelers to only a touchdown scored with 83 seconds left and 195 yards total offense in a 16-9 victory in Pittsburgh. The other points? A safety on the opening kickoff — not allowed by the defense.
Now the Titans (1-0) are preparing to head to Houston where a much different challenge awaits.
Matt Schaub and Arian Foster helped the Texans put up 38 points when these teams last played in Houston on Sept. 30, 2012. Texans coach Gary Kubiak called the Titans' opener an excellent defensive performance, and he can see signs of Gregg Williams' aggressive style as a senior assistant coach for defense.
"To go out and hold a team on the road to 195 yards, that's a statement in itself," Kubiak said. "They can get after the quarterback up front, so we know we've got our hands full."
The Titans sacked Ben Roethlisberger five times with tackle Jurrell Casey and linebacker Zach Brown getting two apiece.
"They're an aggressive group," Schaub said. "A team we know well. We play twice a year, but they're an active, very fast-flow, physical defense. We're going to have to be in top form for 60 minutes. They're a good defensive group, really held Pittsburgh in check. So we're going to have our hands full."
The Titans also have some key players who survived last season. Casey played through an injured elbow last season, and now the third-round draft pick in 2011 out of Southern California is healthy. Brown was a speedy second-round draft pick out of North Carolina who feels even more comfortable than he did finishing his rookie season with 5 ½ sacks.
Casey said their performance in Pittsburgh let the Titans know they can be a physical team.
"We have to make sure we're dominating every play, and I feel like we've got the guys that can do that," Casey said.
Pollard sees the Titans having a simple identity on defense of see ball, get ball back for the offense. He said the Titans already had some players on this team in Brown, Casey and ends Derrick Morgan and Kamerion Wimbley.
"Now it's time for us to step up and show the league what we got," Pollard said.
What the Titans did has them ranked second in the NFL in total defense, a number that means nothing this early. Cornerback Alterraun Verner said they are reminding each other to build on that performance and continue creating havoc.
"We still have to work," Verner said. "We can't get complacent like we've arrived."
Notes: The Titans had to move practice indoors midway through Thursday because of thunderstorms. RT David Stewart (right calf), RB Shonn Greene (knee) and WR Damian Williams (hamstring) did not practice for a second straight day. Munchak said Stewart and Williams may practice Friday with Greene questionable.
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