In a recent issue of ESPN The Magazine, Charles Curtis broke down the essence of the league's most mysterious undefeated of the last few years. But really, just how do the Tennessee Titans, not blessed with a roster full of big names, roll through the league as they have?
We found five ways, from the style of their running backs as it merges with their zone-blocking scheme to the swagger Jeff Fisher maintains in making some risky decisions and watching them pay off—big.
RUNNING BACKS THAT FIT THE SCHEME
Curtis notes, "Rookie RB Chris Johnson's 4.24 40 speed makes him the perfect fit for the Titans' zone-blocking scheme. Says C Kevin Mawae: 'It's all about his ability to beat linebackers to the corner and make safeties miss.' When that happens, Johnson turns on the jets. See Week 2 vs. Cincy: He broke a 51-yard run off-tackle, the longest Titans run in two years." Remember that the Titans also use LenDale White to bring some pop to balance the speed, especially at the goal line. Dude is like an old Bettis—a 1.2 ypc average, but a TD every game. Tandem backs? Yeah, we got you covered there too.
FIND A GUY WHO CAN OPEN UP YOUR OFFENSE
Curtis notes, "(With) the switch from (Vince) Young to Kerry Collins, Tennessee now has a QB who can take advantage and go long. In his career, Young has completed 18% of his attempts of more than 20 yards, whereas Collins hits 24% of his deep balls."
PIECING TOGETHER A STRONG SECONDARY
Curtis writes, "CB Cortland Finnegan was a seventh-round pick in 2006 but is first-rate in coverage. Even Ocho Cinco said so before the Titans' Week 2 win over the Bengals. Paired with Nick Harper, Finnegan lets D-coordinator Jim Schwartz mix up schemes. The Titans used eight-man fronts to stop the Jags' run game in Week 1 (33 yards), then utilized a Cover 2 vs. Cincy."
LINEBACKERS THAT CAN RUN AND HIT
"The relentless D-line allows the smallish but quick LBs to make plays all over the field. OLBs Keith Bulluck (6'3", 235) and David Thornton (6'2", 225) can run and hit, and MLB Ryan Fowler (6'2", 250) is a classic thumper who blows up blockers." Find a line that can hold blockers and linebackers who can run, and you kill a running game and cover TE's and backs in the flat. Simple as that.
CHANNEL YOUR KENNY ROGERS
Fisher apparently hasn't hung around so long by being conservative. Curtis notes, "Fisher stands out as a gambler…With Bengals punter Kyle Larson backed up on his own 1-yard line, Fisher stuck with his regular D instead of bringing in the special teams. Bulluck blocked the punt and recovered it for six."