Don't forget the Titans: They have a great defense, too

LB Keith Bulluck is the leader of a Titans defense that believes it has been overlooked entering Saturday's AFC Divisional Playoff Game against the Ravens.
The Titans respond, all together now: Ooooooooh.

Actually, the Titans stress, the Pittsburgh Steelers own the NFL's No. 1-ranked defense in terms of fewest yards allowed (237.2 per game). Baltimore is No. 2 (261.1).

And, the Titans emphasize, although their defense ranks No. 7 in that statistic, the order goes this way in scoring defense: Pittsburgh (13.9 points allowed per game), Tennessee (14.6), then Baltimore (15.2).

And the Titans beat Baltimore 13-10 on the road in Week 5. They beat Pittsburgh 31-14 at home in Week 16. They won more games (13) than any other NFL team.

Thus, as Saturday's Baltimore-Tennessee AFC Divisional Playoff Game nears, the Titans defense is smoldering, fuming. Jeff Fisher arrived as this franchise's coach 14-plus seasons ago preaching defense, hammering home that his teams always would be stout against the run and physical in every way.

And that has been Tennessee's staple.

But the Ravens are currently, undeniably, the league's defensive darlings. This isn't sitting well with the Titans.

A sampling:

Cornerback Cortland Finnegan: "Well, that's what everybody is saying, they are the best. We've got a lot to prove to people for a team that finished 13-3 with the No. 1 seed in the AFC. We're rested, and we're confident. We haven't talked a lot about this. All of us on defense have sort of put it in our back pocket as a little extra ammunition."

Defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch: "This isn't a game where defensively, in terms of schemes, you keep things in your hip pocket and save them for another day. We will use whatever we need to use to win this game. Their defense outplay our defense? That isn't going to happen. We heard some of this stuff when we played them before. We heard it when we played Pittsburgh. We do think a lot of their defense. We think more of ours."

Linebacker Keith Bulluck: "First and foremost, the Ravens defense has been at the top of the league for the last few years. It's a very good defense. But we do have a problem with them being considered so much better than our defense. And now we get the chance to show it. It's quite an opportunity."

Concluded Fisher: "We have great respect for their defense. But we have beaten good defenses this year. I just want to find a way to win the ballgame, and it doesn't matter to me if that happens on defense or not. I will say this -- our defense is getting healthy again. There is more depth with the experience our backups have gained. The defenses are close in nearly all categories across the board. They just have a face or one or two defensive stars that we don't. We just have 11 players on our defense."

Defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth's return to the Titans is expected after he missed the final two regular-season games because of a left knee injury. Vanden Bosch, who missed the final three regular-season games because of a groin injury, said he's nearly 100 percent healed. That should help Tennessee's defense match Baltimore's two defensive supernovas, linebacker Ray Lewis and safety Ed Reed.

The Ravens have the marquee defense. The Titans have the backstage defense. The Ravens have the penthouse defense. The Titans have the community-center defense.

Both boast strong run-stoppers. Both create turnovers. Both clearly are physical.

"But we don't blitz nearly as much as they do," Titans defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said. "We try to get there with our four down linemen. And what we also have is a lot of guys who have been through some tough times in the NFL. We don't have a lot of selfish guys in our group. We don't worry about a lot of stats, just keep the scoring down. Everything else is secondary.

"We are the quintessential 'the sum is better than individual parts' when it comes to our defense," Schwartz added. "The focus is on preventing big plays, points and performing good tackling. We have guys who have made a name for themselves, but, really, it's 11 role players on defense doing their jobs. It takes mental and physical toughness to do it like we do, where a team may have a couple of 10- or 11-play drives but only get field goals, if that. That is wear and tear and having toughness to answer it. We see how Joe Flacco has grown since we played them last. He's taking better care of the football when he's on the move. We will have to keep pressure on him with our front four."

Flacco, the Ravens' rookie quarterback, passed for 153 yards and had two throws intercepted in his first meeting with the Titans. Flacco threw seven interceptions in his first five NFL regular-season games. He threw just five in his final 11.

"Our defense will be ready for anything," Titans tight end Alge Crumpler said. "This is a line-up-and-hit-you-in-the-mouth defense. We don't confuse anybody. We understand matchups better than any defense I've ever been around. They expect to win those matchups."

Crumpler said Bulluck "deals" with the defense "like it is" and lets each member know when they must improve, whether they like it or not. Bulluck isn't an advisor, Crumpler said, he's an enforcer. An accountable leader who will do what he asks of others. One who will handle business in front of the team, the opponent, all.

That's what happened the last time the Ravens and Titans met. There was a hands-on "clarifying" incident between Bulluck and Finnegan.

"After Cortland got his first penalty, I told him (former Titans and current Ravens wide receiver) Derrick Mason was getting to him," Bulluck said. "He told me that was over. Then there was another incident and another penalty. I had some words with him. I put my hands on him. I later apologized to him for that. But not for getting him to correct things. It's behind us. We are teammates."

Finnegan didn't like the treatment, but he understands the message.

"It was almost like a big brother-little brother thing, a family thing, and it did take some time to get over it," Finnegan said. "But we have moved forward. He is a captain. He is a leader and a big part of our team."

That's what the Titans' defense brings. Zest within. Zest without.

"We know what good team defense is," Schwartz said. "This is the time to show it."

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