DT Albert Haynesworth and the Titans will make stopping the run a priority against the Jaguars.
They couldn't have started any better than holding not only the talented duo but all the Jaguars to a combined 33 yards rushing in a 17-10 win. That stout run defense has been a key piece of the Titans' 9-0 start, but Tennessee has shown some cracks in recent weeks.
So visiting Jacksonville on Sunday offers a good challenge for the Titans to, well, tighten up.
"That's definitely what we wish we could do, but I remember the last year when we played them first we totally stopped their run," Titans linebacker Keith Bulluck said Wednesday. "They came back and I think ran for a season high against us. I definitely remember things like that. ... We have to stay focused and really be serious."
The Titans held Jacksonville to 75 yards rushing in the 2007 opener and won. But Jacksonville beat Tennessee by running for 166 yards in the rematch.
This AFC South rivalry is basic football, and Titans coach Jeff Fisher said this will be one of his defense's bigger challenges in the run game.
"We took advantages of the turnovers and some sacks and some third-and-long situations in the first game against them, but there are no guarantees. That's the challenge when you face a divisional opponent for the second time. There's no way to anticipate what's going to happen, you can't expect any repeat performances and things like that," Fisher said.
"There's really no secrets to this game. It's going to be a physical game. Both teams are going to try to establish the run and stop the run and just try to keep the ball away."
That 33 yards rushing allowed remains the Titans' best performance against the run this season. They have held opponents to 94 yards or less in six games and are giving up 90.1 yards rushing.
The cracks have been on some specific runs.
Dominic Rhodes broke loose on a 23-yarder in Tennessee's 31-21 win over Indianapolis on Oct. 27; Ryan Grant finished with 86 yards, with a long of 14, in the Titans' 19-16 overtime win over Green Bay; and rookie Matt Forte had a 14-yarder that helped him run for 72 yards on 20 carries.
The Jaguars (4-5) ran for 157 yards in last week's 38-14 win over Detroit. Jones-Drew ran for three touchdowns, and Taylor had 80 yards. Taylor called Tennessee's defense wonderful in a conference call Wednesday.
"What we're trying to do is get back to the basics. Our mind-set is always to try and establish the run as well as stop the run. It would benefit us if we could go in there and run the ball well like we know how. It's a challenge, it's a test and we'll see what happens on Sunday," Taylor said.
Part of Tennessee's success in the opener resulted from two injuries in the Jacksonville offensive line to starting guards Vince Manuwai and Maurice Williams. That was the start of a near epidemic at that position for the Jaguars, but coach Jack Del Rio said he will start the same lineup for a second straight week.
"So we're looking forward to getting it settled down and having a little more continuity," Del Rio said.
The Titans are eager for this game, not just because of the chance to improve to 10-0 but to pad their lead in the AFC South. They also look forward to the physical challenge.
"We know that it's always tough to recover from Jacksonville games because they bring it, and they've got that running attack," Titans defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch said. "If you're not ready for it, they can run all over you."
LUCKY CHARM? Jaguars running back Fred Taylor sees defensive end Jevon Kearse as the ultimate good luck charm for a football team -- at least in his first season with a team. And he has the proof.
Taylor's Gators won a national championship in 1996 when Kearse was a freshman. The Tennessee Titans reached the Super Bowl by beating Taylor's Jaguars in 1999 with Kearse the NFL's Defensive Rookie of the Year. And in Kearse's first season with Philadelphia in 2004, the Eagles went to the Super Bowl.
Now Kearse is in his first season back with the Titans, who are the NFL's last unbeaten team with a 9-0 start that is the franchise's best ever.
"That stat doesn't help us out, but it sure enough works in their favor," said Taylor, whose Jaguars host Tennessee on Sunday. "So we'll see how it goes. That's my man forever."