The Titans play in the AFC's toughest division, have lost alleged franchise QB Vince Young for the foreseeable future and don't have a receiver on anybody's fantasy team. And yet here they are, 3—0, sitting in first place and primed for another playoff run. How? Let us count the ways …
1. FASTER THAN A …
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.
2. EIGHT-MAN FRONTS — VY = BIG PLAYS
With opposing safeties gearing up to stop the run, Titans WRs Justin Gage & Co. face man coverage much of the time. And with the switch from 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.
3. AIR-TRAFFIC CONTROL
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.
4. THE 'BACKER FACTOR
Led by DT Albert Haynesworth, 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. Plus, Thornton has the range to lock down TEs and RBs on passing downs.
5. LIVING ON THE EDGE
In the don't-dare-to-be-different NFL, Jeff Fisher stands out as a gambler. "When you're a winner, you have more freedom to take risks," Thornton says. Classic example: 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.