NASHVILLE, TN, Dec. 25, 2008 —Call it the Tennessee Tower. How about Titanic protection?
Veteran Kevin Mawae and the Titans have allowed an NFL-low and franchise-record 9 sacks in 2008.
One thing is certain: The Tennessee Titans know how to protect their quarterback.
The Titans (13-2) are on the verge of setting a club record for fewest sacks allowed, having given up nine through 15 games -- the only team in the league still in single digits.
"To go half a season with only nine, let alone an entire season, is a feat in itself," Pro Bowl center Kevin Mawae said Wednesday. "If you can hold it down under double digits, then you've done something pretty special."
There's plenty of credit to go around.
The offensive line starts with Mawae and is anchored by Pro Bowl left tackle Michael Roo, David Stewart on the right and guards Eugene Amano and Jake Scott in between. They also have a quarterback in veteran Kerry Collins who doesn't take cheap sacks by holding onto the ball, and consistently get strong blocking from tight ends and running backs.
Collins, who turns 36 on Tuesday, has been taken down only eight times. He said it's good for an "old man" like himself to enjoy that kind of protection from his offensive line.
"The biggest reason we have been able to limit turnovers and be efficient has been their play. It has been their ability to pass protect and run block. The running game takes pressure off the pass game. ... A lot of credit goes to them. Week in and week out this year, they have been extremely consistent," Collins said.
Collins gets his share of credit for helping.
"He's able to change protections on the line of scrimmage," Titans coach Jeff Fisher said. "He knows where his potential problems are, and he knows if he's got an unblocked rusher he's got to get rid of the football. On the other hand, he knows if he's protected, he is going to be protected because he trusts the offensive line."
The Titans' success at protecting the quarterback comes in a season where they replaced two starters. Right guard Benji Olson retired in the offseason and was replaced by Scott, a former Colts lineman who signed with Tennessee as a free agent. Amano took over for left guard Jacob Bell, who left for St. Louis.
They went five straight games without allowing a single sack earlier this season through a 31-21 win over Indianapolis on Oct. 27.
"We have some good guys up front, some pretty good tackles in Roos and Stewart, Kevin's a veteran guy who puts us in the right situation. We've been playing well together," Amano said.
Sacks didn't become an official statistic in the NFL until 1982, and this franchise's best mark since then was 21 sacks allowed in 2002 when the Titans reached the AFC championship game. As the then-Houston Oilers, the fewest allowed in a 16-game season was 17 in 1978 for a squad that also reached the AFC title game.
The best ever for this team? The Oilers gave up 11 sacks in 1962 while in the AFL.
The closest NFL team to the Titans this season is New Orleans, which has given up 11 sacks. Denver ranks third (12) followed by Indianapolis (13), the team Tennessee wraps up the regular season against on Sunday.
Colts coach Tony Dungy has been impressed with the Titans' protection.
"It's the offensive line protecting and the whole philosophy fitting together. They're playing very, very mistake-free, they've been the most consistent team I've seen playing mistake-free, and that's what's really made them tough to beat," Dungy said.