Wednesday, December 06, 2000

Titans like the cold

Running game gives them the edge

By Jim Wyatt
The Tennessean

        NASHVILLE — Flip the calendar, throw an extra log on the fire and hand the ball off to Eddie George. It's December, and that usually means the weather is finally right for the Tennessee Titans' style of play.

        And suddenly, as boring as it might seem to fans at times, the philosophy doesn't seem so bad for a lot of teams around the NFL.

        Take, for instance, the once high-flying offense of the St. Louis Rams, which has come plummeting back down to earth after a fast September — although two of its last three losses have been indoors.

        Or the Kansas City Chiefs, third in the AFC in passing yards per game but losers of five straight because of a dismal ground game.

        “About six weeks ago, everybody was talking about the lack of run games in the NFL and asking us why we were one of the few with that philosophy,” Titans coach Jeff Fisher said. “I said the weather is going to change by the end of November and December, and the teams that are going to make their move or be there then are the teams that run the football, and now you're seeing teams do just that.”

        In the 15 NFL games played during the weekend, the team that ended up with more rushing yards won 11 of the contests, including the Titans, who outrushed the Philadelphia Eagles 118-56 en route to a 15-13 victory.

        There were also four 200-yard rushers — Denver's Mike Anderson (251 yards), Cincinnati's Corey Dillon (216), New York Jets' Curtis Martin (216) and Tampa Bay's Warrick Dunn (210). Not surprisingly, their teams all won.

        It was George who did, and will continue to do, the dirty work for the Titans. His fifth 100-yard rushing performance of the season came by grinding out 101 yards on 32 carries.

        “That's my job,” he said. “I'm supposed to get the hard, tough yards. That's what I love to do. That's why I play this game. I've been playing this game for quite a while now, and I know what to expect out of my body.”

        Many would probably say the likely cold weather for the stretch run suits the Titans as well as any team in the NFL.

        With a grind-it-out style on offense and an overall philosophy that games are won on defense, it should come as no surprise the Titans do their best when the temperature drops, when crisp passes and finger-tip catches are tougher to come by in outdoor stadiums.

        Dating back to last season, the Titans are a perfect 7-0 when the temperature is below 50 degrees at kickoff, including a 3-0 mark this year. In those games, Tennessee has have outrushed the opposition every time.

        “I think when you look at it in past history, running the football this late in the year is the key to winning,” quarterback Steve McNair said.

        “In the last three or four years we have been successful running the ball in ... November and December. We ran the ball well on Sunday and outdid them in time of possession by a good amount.”

        What he didn't mention was that it took a last-second 50-yard field goal by Al Del Greco to win, and that the Titans didn't score a touchdown.

        Of course a good defense is also included in the formula for success.

        Just ask the Titans' opponent this week, the bedraggled Cincinnati Bengals, who have the NFL's top rushing offense (157.4 yards per game), but very little defense to go with it. As a result, the Bengals enter Sunday's game just 3-11 overall.

        Tennessee's defense helped the Titans' offense keep the ball for 38:42 of 60 minutes of action against the Eagles on Sunday.

        “It's a lot easier to go with a run game and play solid defense this time of the year,” linebacker Eddie Robinson said. “It's harder for the receivers to get open and catch balls in the cold weather, so it's definitely to your advantage to have a good running game now.

        “That's usually a formula for success — when you can run the football on offense and play good, solid defense. And that's pretty much our philosophy.”


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