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Titans' Hasselbeck, Britt shine in surprising win over Ravens

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Recent posts by Arthur Arkush

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Posted Sept. 19, 2011 @ 9:37 p.m. ET
By Arthur Arkush

The Titans make no secret about the fact they're a running football team. The offensive line, which returned all five starters, is big and nasty. The lead blocker, Ahmard Hall, is a fearless former Marine who will meet any linebacker in the hole. And Chris Johnson is the highest-paid running back in the world, a threat to go the distance from anywhere on the field. Yet, through the first two games, the O-line has struggled to open holes, Hall is currently serving a four-game suspension for using performance-enhancing drugs, and Johnson is averaging 2.3 yards per clip.

Thanks in large part, though, to QB Matt Hasselbeck (358 passing yards, 95.1 QB rating), WR Kenny Britt (9-135-1) and a much improved defensive showing (three sacks, three takeaways), the Titans shook off a terrible loss in Week One to the Jaguars and defeated a much stronger opponent, the Ravens, 26-13 at LP Field on Sunday. Mike Munchak got his first career win as a head coach and a Gatorade shower from his successful quarterback and O-line afterward.

The PFW Spin

When Hasselbeck signed a three-year deal with the Titans shortly after the lockout was lifted, the popular belief was that it would take time for him to get acclimated, with Johnson and the rushing attack doing most of the heavy lifting early in the season. Of course, that was before Johnson's lengthy contract holdout made for some inevitable rust on the Titans' greatest asset early in the season. While there were signs of progress Sunday from Johnson — and more noticeably from backup Javon Ringer, who was inactive in Week One with a back injury — the Titans were propelled by Hasselbeck and their suddenly dangerous aerial attack.

Most impressive about Hasselbeck's performance was the variety of throws he made. The deep ball — never a strong suit for the classic West Coast passer — was accurate. The short timing routes, including some slants and outs, were on point. He also completed several back-shoulder throws that take time to master with a new group of receivers.

Hasselbeck's favorite target, emerging star Britt, is building chemistry with his new QB rapidly after missing most of training camp and the preseason with a nagging hamstring injury. In fact, after two games, Britt has been as dominant as any wideout in football — with the exception of Panthers WR Steve Smith, who has been rookie sensation Cam Newton's go-to guy. Britt and Hasselbeck's TD connection on Sunday — already their third of the young season — came on a fade-stop option route where Britt saw that Ravens CB Domonique Foxworth was playing off coverage at the goal line and Hasselbeck saw it, too, finding Britt with a four-yard strike. With Britt beating both single and double coverage regularly, Titans No. 2 receiver Nate Washington has also started fast, reeling in 13 grabs for 166 yards in the first two weeks. Washington, who has had issues hanging on to the ball throughout his career, has been very steady. For years Tennessee has lacked the type of dynamic playmaking ability in the receiving corps that has been on display to begin the 2011 campaign.

The passing game got a major assist from the O-line on Sunday, as well. While the running lanes were few and far between, Hasselbeck was not sacked once by an aggressive Baltimore "D" and was knocked to the ground only twice. A blocking performance like that against such a dangerous defense goes a long way in developing confidence and trust in the unit.

The best part for the Titans?

Johnson is on the cusp. It might not be evident from the way he has looked in the first two weeks, but one long run is all it takes for him to get going. And the more Hasselbeck shows he can beat opponents with his arm, the fewer eight- and nine-man fronts Johnson will have to contend with. The Titans might look back on Johnson's start as a blessing in disguise, as Hasselbeck and the passing game have quickly shown it is capable of beating opponents on its own.

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