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Many contributors to Titans' stingy 'D'

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Posted Oct. 30, 2010 @ 9:07 p.m. ET
By Mike Wilkening

When looking for reasons for the Titans' strong start, the collective play of the defense belongs at or near the top of the list.

The disruptiveness of the defense, which has forced 17 turnovers, stands out. For starters, the Titans' pass rush, led by DEs Jason Babin and Dave Ball, has been significantly stronger than a season ago. Babin and Ball, who are having career years, fit the Titans' scheme, which requires the ends to be hard chargers who get up the field. The depth beyond Babin and Ball is solid, too, with Jacob Ford and William Hayes both starter-caliber players. The Titans, who have 25 sacks in seven games this season after notching just 32 a season ago, regularly rotate their ends to keep them fresh.

Not to be overlooked in the success of Babin and Ball, the way we hear it, is the play of the Titans' interior linemen, led by DTs Tony Brown and Jason Jones. Jones made a key play in the Week Seven win vs. Philadelphia, bursting through the line to tackle QB Kevin Kolb as he was handing the ball off, forcing a fumble that was recovered by rookie CB Alterraun Verner.

At linebacker, instinctive MLB Stephen Tulloch, on pace for more than 160 tackles, is having his most productive season yet and has really come into his own in his fifth professional season.

The pass defense has also been much better. FS Michael Griffin, who struggled last season, has returned to form, intercepting a pass in four consecutive games from Weeks Four through Seven. Verner has been a playmaker since entering the lineup in place of the injured Jason McCourty and has held up well opposite Cortland Finnegan. While the Titans are in the bottom half of the league in passing yards allowed per game, they are allowing a mere 5.25 yards per passing play (attempts plus sacks) after allowing 6.51 yards a season ago, and they lead the NFL in interceptions (12).

The Titans' red-zone defense has been excellent, limiting opponents to seven TDs in 30 possessions for an NFL-best 23.3 percent. Word is this was a point of emphasis for Tennessee in the offseason, and the approach has paid dividends.

One other factor that's played a role in the defense's success: good health. Injuries decimated the secondary early last season, which played a role in Tennessee's 0-6 start. This season, eight of 11 defensive starters have started every game, and the replacements for unavailable starters have stepped up, most notably Verner.

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