Sunday, December 10, 2000

Titans mission? Stop Dillon

AP Sports Writer

        NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Tennessee Titans have a problem that can be diagnosed as “Corey Dillonitis.” Every time they play the Bengals, Dillon finds some way to leave the Titans feeling sick.

        Some of his best performances have come against Tennessee, with the Titans' lowest moment coming in 1997 when he set the NFL rookie rushing record (erased last week by Denver's Mike Anderson).

        And when the Titans beat the Bengals 23-14 on Oct. 8, they held Cincinnati to just 213 yards offense — but Dillon managed to break loose for an 80-yard touchdown, his longest this season.

        That's why the Titans (10-3) have Dillon on the brain as they prepare to play the Bengals (3-10) today.

        “Worry about Corey Dillon? He put up over 200 yards against us over two years ago and put up an NFL record a few weeks ago,” defensive end Kenny Holmes said. “He could win the game by himself. We have to have a serious focus.”

        The Titans hold a one-game lead over the Baltimore Ravens (9-4) in the AFC Central and can clinch a playoff berth with a victory. That would mean their first back-to-back playoff appearance since 1992-93, but thoughts of Dillon keep filling their heads.

        “That's basically it right now,” Titans end Jevon Kearse said. “We have to look at what's in front of us now. That's stopping them from running the ball, make them pass and go tee off on a less mobile quarterback.”

        There's the rub for Cincinnati.

        Thanks to Dillon, the Bengals feature the NFL's best rushing offense. Dillon already has set a team record with 1,278 yards this season, and the Bengals are averaging 157.4 yards per game.

        But the passing attack, with second-year quarterback Akili Smith and veteran Scott Mitchell, is the league's worst. They are next to last in points scored, and only three other teams have turned the ball over more than the Bengals.

        They have given up 42 sacks, and the Tennessee defense leads the AFC with 45.

        Mitchell is starting his third game since coach Dick LeBeau benched Smith, and he expects to throw quite a bit because the NFL's second-ranked defense will be fixated on Dillon. Mitchell was just 11-of-23 for 106 yards in last week's 24-13 victory over the Arizona Cardinals, while Dillon ran for 216 yards.

        “But when we do get into a situation where we need to throw the ball, I feel very capable of being able to do that, and I expect that to happen this week,” Mitchell said.

        The Titans are coming off a 15-13 road victory over the Philadelphia Eagles. The defending AFC champions hope that will start them rolling back to the Super Bowl.

        “We're not necessarily trying to repeat what we did last year, other than we want to win the remaining ball games, and we'd like to do that in a convincing fashion,” Titans coach Jeff Fisher said.

        Their biggest focus is fine-tuning the offense. They rank third in the NFL in time of possession, and nobody starts drives with better field position. Yet for the past seven quarters, they haven't scored a touchdown.

        That has been the big topic this week.

        “We've told the offense the red zone now extends the entire field, not just the 20-yard line,” Fisher said.

        Quarterback Steve McNair is questionable with a sprained left ankle and knee, and whether he plays will be decided before kickoff. The receiving corps is healthier than in two months, with Yancey Thigpen and Carl Pickens back in the rotation.

        Eddie George needs just 31 yards rushing for his own piece of NFL history. He would join Eric Dickerson as the only players to rush for at least 1,200 yards in each of his first five seasons.

        With Dillon on their side and a history of winning in December, the Bengals don't want to consider themselves spoilers. They aren't ready to roll over and play dead just yet.

        “It's important to us to finish the season the right way and kind of get some momentum, something to look forward to next year,” Mitchell said.


Bengals Stories
Bengals hope to emulate Titans
Titans win while Bengals build
- Titans mission? Stop Dillon
Who's got the edge?
By the numbers
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