Titans’ lines key 13-9 win over Raiders

As Vince Young struggled in his return from injury, the Titans’ offensive and defensive lines put up another dominating performance to lead the team to a 13-9 win over the Raiders. Chris Henry rushed the ball 24 yards for a 3rd quarter score, as LenDale White set a career high in rushing yards for the second week in a row.
The Titans started out sluggish offensively, going 3&out twice, while the Raiders used big plays in the pass game to move the ball down the field and set up Sebastian Janikowski’s first field goal of the game. The Titans had more success on their third drive, with good runs by White and Henry and a 3rd down conversion on a pass to White, but stalled out inside the 20 (again!) and resulted in a 35 yard field goal by Rob Bironas that tied the game at 3. The Titans had a dreadful second quarter, though, as they had nearly as many penalties on offense (three) as plays (four). The big penalty was a marginal offensive pass interference call against Justin Gage that erased a 44 yard gain on 3&21. Thankfully, the Raiders were only able to come away from their two drive with a total of 6 points, as neither drive reached the red zone.
The turning point of the game was the Raiders’ second of the second half. Each team moved the ball a little but not too much on their first second half possession, and the Raiders started their second drive at their own 16. Antwan Odom sacked Culpepper on first down for a loss of 6. Justin Fargas then had a gain of 4, but Barry Sims followed with one of his 4 false starts on the day to set up 3&17. Culpepper had a pass to Curry that appeared to go for a first down, but was negated by an illegal shift. FB Justin Griffith ran the draw on third down and the Raiders punted out of their own end zone. The Titans’ mandatory linebacker punt return penalty (this one by Tulloch) reared its ugly head, and they started from their own 31. A pass to Scaife for 4. Then White for 27. White for 14 more. And, then, Henry burst through the left side of the offensive line and finished his run with a leap into the end zone, smartly keeping the ball inside the pylon (remember that rule change this year?), and the Titans had their first lead of the game.
The fourth quarter naturally featured the Raiders trying to come back, and the Titans not letting them. The Titans’ key second FG came on a play where LaBoy sacked Culpepper on 3&20, forcing a fumble recovered by LaBoy at the Raider 9. The Titans again failed to turn a red zone possession into a TD, but Bironas did hit a 23 yard field goal to force the Raiders to score a TD to avoid the loss. This ended up being key, as the Raiders’ last possession started at their own 47 after the Titans failed to salt the game away offensively after Hope intercepted Culpepper at the 9. Culpepper had a deep pass to Curry to get the Raiders into field goal range, but incompletions on 3&14 and 4&14 from the Titans’ 30 meant the game was over.
So, how’d VY look? How’s 6 of 14 for 42 yard grabs you? Those are his stats for the entire game. Not one drive. Not one quarter. Not one half. One whole game. Oh, and he was also credited with 7 rushes for 11 yards. Yeah. Gage had 2 catches for 19 yards, and a long of 12. Scaife had 2 catches for 12. White had 1 for 8. Roydell had 1 for 3. At least they didn’t turn the ball over. At least the rushing game worked. A little. White had 25 carries for a career-high 133 yards, while Henry had 4 for 48, half of those yards on the TD. White’s numbers seem great, but they’re incredibly deceptive. In the first half, he had 9 carries for 33 yards. In the fourth quarter, when the Titans were trying to preserve their lead, White had 9 carries for 19 yards. It was the third quarter, then, where White was actually good-carries for 8, 6, 21, and 1 (on 2&3) on the first drive, the aforementioned 27 and 14 yard runs on the TD drive, and a final 4 yard run. The hallmark of a good running back is consistent success, and White didn’t have it today, superficially good numbers notwithstanding. Credit to the Titans’ offensive line for opening up some nice holds on the good gains, though.
You may have noticed I didn’t say anything about the Raiders running the ball effectively. That’s because they didn’t. LaMont Jordan had 12 carries for a grand total of 16 yards. Justin Fargas actually did hurt the Titans some, and ended up with a 5.1 ypc average, but, lilke White, lacked consistent success. Culpepper had a nice 3rd down scramble, but that was it. The Raiders did have some occasional success in the passing game, as Culpepper finished with 167 yards, topped by Porter with 4 catches for 46 and Curry with 3 for 45, but they completed fewer than half their passes (15/32) and failed when Kiffin needed them. That failure was in large part because of the pressure the Titans’ defensive line applied almost every play. And, for a change this year, that pressure resulted in QB sacks: 2 by LaBoy, 1 by Odom, 1 by Haynesworth, and 1 by KVB. Two of those forced fumbles, one of which the Titans recovered. It’s tough to complain about that kind of pressure. And yet… when the Raider o-line did hold up, Culpepper was able to find holes in the Titans’ secondary. Subjectively, those holes not infrequently appeared to be located in the general vicinity of Nick Harper. Michael Griffin started his first game at safety, and didn’t seem to make too many errors in pass coverage, though I reserve the right to change my mind on the next viewing.
Rob Bironas continued his FG streak, as he hit on both of his attempts today. Kickoffs weren’t great, but the coverage wasn’t too terrible, either (all Raider drives off KOs started inside own 35). The Raiders didn’t have any particularly long punt returns, and Hentrich wasn’t too bad. The return game, both kickoff and punt, is missing the presence of an explosive player-Chris Davis averaged 6 yards on 4 punt returns, 17 yards of which came on 1 return, and had a kickoff return of 19 yards. Whoopee. Plus, of course, there was that aforementioned requisite linebacker penalty on a punt return. At least there was only one today.
I can kvetch some more, but at the end of the day, the Titans ended up with more points than the Raiders, and that’s what they put in the standings. The record is now 5-2, the best it’s been after 7 games since the team’s last playoff year, 2003. The Titans’ homestand continues next week with what should be another winnable game, this one against the Carolina Panthers, who fell today to the Colts by a 31-7 tally. The calendar is soon to turn to November, and Titan playoff hopes aren’t anywhere close to being on life support. There’s still plenty of football left to be played this year, but things aren’t looking too bad for the Nashville squad so far.

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