Titans see Falcons RB Freeman as defensive challenge
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) The Titans still have the NFL's stingiest pass defense, possibly because running against Tennessee has been so easy the past couple weeks. Now they face their biggest challenge yet in Falcons running back Devonta Freeman.
''Whew, he's leading the league in scoring, he's leading the league in yards from scrimmage, he's second in the league in rushing,'' Titans defensive coordinator Ray Horton ticked off Thursday.
''What an excellent challenge.''
The Titans (1-4) are allowing a league-fewest 184 yards passing, but they now are allowing 129.6 yards rushing after Buffalo quarterback Tyrod Taylor ran for 76 yards in a 14-13 win on Oct. 11 and Miami running back Lamar Miller ran for 113 yards as the Dolphins routed Tennessee 38-10 last week. That puts the Titans 28th in the NFL.
Horton points to Taylor's performance helping skew Tennessee's defensive numbers. Freeman offers the Titans a bit of redemption to show how they can stuff the run.
''This is going to be an excellent challenge for our run defense,'' Horton said.
Miller was the first running back to top 100 yards against Tennessee this season. Titans defensive lineman Jurrell Casey sees mobile quarterbacks as hurting them worse by taking off running. Colts quarterback Andrew Luck broke loose for a 15-yard run, and Miami quarterback Ryan Tannehill had a 10-yard run.
''I don't think we're really having a hard time stopping the run,'' Casey said. ''Our hard thing is letting quarterbacks scramble on us. With Freeman coming in, we just have to stick to what we do and make sure we make the tackle when he runs at us.''
Freeman leads the NFL with nine touchdowns rushing and has run for a TD in five straight games. He's just behind Chicago running back Matt Forte with his 505 yards rushing.
Atlanta coach Dan Quinn isn't ready to look at the Titans and say his Falcons will be able to run all over them, not with Horton and defensive whiz Dick LeBeau running Tennessee's defense. Quinn said the Titans' pass defense is so good the Falcons (5-1) will have to be balanced.
''We like the run game but we like also the keepers that come with it, the play-action pass,'' Quinn said. ''So for us, when we're at our best, we know we have good balance offensively.''
The Titans can't afford to focus solely on Freeman, not with Julio Jones leading the NFC with 49 catches for 638 yards. Cornerback Jason McCourty said the Falcons' offensive options means that everyone has to do their job.
''At no point if I'm lined up on Julio Jones should I be thinking about Freeman,'' McCourty said. ''But at the same time for defensive linemen, Freeman's their main thing. ... We have to be good with our eyes and our technique.''
Titans linebacker Brian Orakpo has been impressed with how Freeman finishes his runs, showing power along with quickness. Orakpo said the Titans know Atlanta will be able to move the ball and three-time Pro Bowler is relishing this defensive challenge.
''Obviously, we're a good defense,'' Orakpo said. ''This can be an opportunity for us to be looked at as one of the best in the league, if not the best. It's going to be a great test for us.''
Notes: QB Marcus Mariota missed practice for a second straight day. Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt said the rookie is doing really well healing the sprained MCL in his left knee, but they will know more Friday. ... WR Harry Douglas (ribs) and CB Perrish Cox (hamstring) also did not practice. S Michael Griffin (hamstring) was limited. RB Dexter McCluster (illness) practiced fully after missing Wednesday.
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