Originally posted on Fox Sports Tennessee  |  Last updated 11/14/11
The Titans' pass rush had been conspicuous by its absence for much of the first half of the season, with just 14 through the first eight games. So there was really no reason to believe that things would get markedly better this week when the Titans faced the most elusive quarterback on their schedule in Carolina's Cam Newton. But the defense more than rose to the occasion, sacking the Panthers rookie starter five times in Sunday's 30-3 rout and showing that a unit that had been struggling to get to opposing quarterbacks might be jelling just in time for the second half of the season. "The defensive line played well, and our offense started scoring points, we sort of made them one-dimensional. And that was the biggest key today. The defensive line got rolling," said cornerback Cortland Finnegan who had one of the two sacks that did not come from the line on Sunday. Many times in previous years with the Titans, as has gone the defensive line, so has gone the team. When the Titans have had success in the past, it was largely because of a defensive line that could impose its will on opposing teams. During the Titans' first wave of success between 1999-2003, a defensive line spearheaded by Jevon Kearse and Kevin Carter, was at the heart of those teams' defensive success. Later on, when the Titans returned to the playoffs in 2007-08, it was the play of Albert Haynesworth that was often cited as the difference in putting those teams over the top and into the postseason. Thus far, the current unit sports no players the caliber of Kearse or Haynesworth in their prime, just a group of blue-collar players, who have had flashes of success here and there. But this unit needs to produce more like they did Sunday and produce effectively over the second half of the season if the Titans are to improve and present themselves as a legitimate playoff contender during November and December. "We know over the next seven games, if we play well and win, we can go to the playoffs," defensive end Jason Jones said, speaking about the entire team, but in a statement that surely applies to his group. Jones, who had one of the sacks on Sunday, has shown flashes of his potential over the years at both tackle and end, but he, along with last year's first-round pick Derrick Morgan are players who have to continue to get better as pass rushers from the edge as the season progresses in order for the Titans' defense to be effective. Tennessee changed its philosophy somewhat on the line in the offseason with Jerry Gray becoming the new defensive coordinator and Tracy Rocker being the new line coach. The new approach was to get bigger on the defensive front to better combat the run. They did so inside, adding beefy Jurrell Casey and Shaun Smith at tackle, and outside hoped that Jones, Morgan and the other ends could stand up better at the point of attack without losing explosiveness. The Titans have been better at the point of attack, but until Sunday, the explosiveness had not been there. But with the way they played in containing and corralling Newton, it has to be an encouraging sign to Gray and the defense that perhaps their system is starting to take root. BY THE NUMBERS Rookie middle linebacker Colin McCarthy had eight tackles in his first NFL start, filling in for an injured Barrett Ruud. TRENDING Damian Williams scored a touchdown for the second straight week, and now has a team-leading four for the season. PLAYER NOTES QB Matt Hasselbeck was trying to run some clock Sunday with a bootleg scramble, but wound up going 21 yards to the 1-yard line, setting up Tennessee's final touchdown. WR Damian Williams had the first 100-yard rushing game of his career with five catches for 107 yards. LB Akeem Ayers had his best game in his rookie season as a Titan with a fumble recovery and later a sack of Cam Newton. LB Barrett Ruud was held out of Sunday's game with a groin injury. It is only the second game Ruud has missed in his seven-year NFL career. DE Dave Ball missed the game with a concussion and did not make the trip. S Chris Hope returned after missing four games with a broken forearm and played in spot duty. He did haul in an interception off a deflection.
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