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Know the Foe: Improved Titans Defense Awaits Chargers TE Antonio Gates

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The sample size is small and multiple factors could be at work, but the Titans have made noticeable improvements at defending tight ends in the first two games this season, compared to the first two of 2012.


They'll have another chance to build on that Sunday against San Diego's Antonio Gates, who became the fifth tight end in NFL history with at least 650 career catches and posted his 20th game with at least 100 yards receiving last week.

"He's difficult. He definitely causes a mismatch for linebackers and DBs," linebacker Akeem Ayers said. "He's bigger than the safeties so he uses his body well to get open. He's not a really fast guy vertically or quick but he uses his body to get open. I'm not really going to be covering him, so I'll leave that to the secondary or whoever else that is."

In two games this season, opposing tight ends have been targeted 11 times and have six catches for 65 yards (10.8 per catch) with a long of 18 yards and two TDs. Last season, tight ends were targeted 22 times and caught 20 passes for 227 yards (11.35 per catch) with a long of 31 yards and five TDs.

True, Pittsburgh was without Heath Miller and Matt Spaeth, marking a considerable drop off between the combination of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez that New England used against Tennessee in the opener last season.

The Titans, however, played the Chargers without Gates in Week 2 last season, and had considerable difficulty with backups Dante Rosario (four catches, 48 yards, three TDs), Randy McMichael (three catches, 29 yards) and Ladarius Green (one catch, 31 yards). Rosario and McMichael are no longer with San Diego.

Last week, the Texans targeted TEs Owen Daniels and Garrett Graham 10 times for five catches and 54 yards and two TDs.

Safety George Wilson, who joined the Titans as a free agent this offseason, drew Daniels as an assignment a considerable amount of the time last week.

"I thought we did a good job besides the touchdown we gave up. Other than that, I don't think they hurt us as bad as they have in the past," defensive coordinator Jerry Gray said. "With the matchup that George provided, I thought he did a great job. He's a good cover guy. He's smart enough to play in the interior. He's tough enough to play and stop the run, he's done a great job for us in that position, and now we're going against another All-Pro tight end, so George may have to pick this straw again."

Titans coach Mike Munchak said Wilson will be "one of the guys" the Titans use against Gates, who has 10 receptions for 173 yards this season.

"That's a guy who's going to make some catches, but hopefully we can limit that and limit the yards after he catches it, that type of thing," Munchak said. "(Gates) and the back coming out on third down (Danny Woodhead) make a lot of plays, so they've got some guys (Philip) Rivers takes advantage of. We have to know what his thinking is on third down."


Titans safety George Wilson breaks up a pass to Houston tight end Owen Daniels. Wilson is likely to have several matchups with Antonio Gates in Sunday's home opener at LP Field.

Gates (6-foot-4, 255 pounds) is much larger than Wilson (6-0, 210 pounds), but the veteran who switched from receiver to safety earlier in his career, held his own against the 6-3, 249-pound Daniels.

"I've been covering tight ends ever since I made the transition to safety," Wilson said. "With my offensive background, I understand a big part of their success with the passing game is timing, and the best way to disrupt that is to challenge their guys at the line of scrimmage, try to get your hands on them, try to throw off their route tree and make the quarterback come off his initial read and go to his next guy, go through his route progression."

Wilson said he's spent an extensive amount of time studying film and developing a "good, solid plan" for when he's tasked with Gates this week. Wilson said the Chargers line up the tight end in multiple formations and at different spots on the field.

"He gives you so many different things, Wilson said. "He's a former basketball player and he does a great job of having body control. He has great hand-eye coordination."

In addition to better understanding Gates' style, Wilson has also worked on knowing where his help from Titans teammates will be and techniques for particular situations. He said he's enjoyed the week of preparations and the buildup to Sunday's game, which should provide another assessment metric for improvement for Tennessee's defense over last year's results.

"These are games you look forward to," Wilson said. "He's a future Hall of Famer and you always want to measure yourself going up against the best."

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