NASHVILLE, TN, Nov. 25, 2008 —The Tennessee Titans have proven they can throw the ball when necessary. Now coach Jeff Fisher wants them to go back to what he likes to do best: Run, run, run.
"It's not that we didn't remain committed to it or didn't intend to do it, but we were put in a position to pick it up and throw it," Fisher said Tuesday. "It was good for us, but we have to get back. It's time. It's what everybody's talking about at this time of year. Some people can do it, some people can't, so we'll see."
Defenses had been stacking the line with eight and nine defenders, daring Kerry Collins to beat them by throwing. He did until last weekend when the New York Jets handed the Titans their first loss.
Under Fisher, the Titans are among the NFL teams that can run, ranking eighth overall since 1995 in yards rushing per game. They're even better on the road, averaging 123.4 yards rushing in that time, third in the NFL behind only Denver and Pittsburgh. And they're averaging 124.7 yards this season, good for ninth in the NFL.
But they've been held to below 88 yards rushing or worse in five games including a 20-yard performance at Chicago on Nov. 19 and only 45 yards in last week's 34-13 loss to the New York Jets - two of the NFL's top five run defenses.
"We never really turned it off," fullback Ahmard Hall said.
"You adjust to what the defense is doing and take what they give you. The last couple weeks, they've been giving us the pass, and Kerry's been doing a great job of executing it. What we do best is run the ball. We're known as a physical team that runs the ball, and we just want to get back to that."
Well, here's the perfect opportunity Thursday with their visit to Detroit (0-11).
The Lions are giving up a league-worst 166.7 yards rushing and will be without starting defensive end Jared DeVries who broke his right hand again, ending his season. Corey Smith also will be filling in for their other starting end Dewayne White who is out for a third straight game. Andre Fluellen will be making his first start in DeVries' place.
Detroit coach Rod Marinelli has been impressed with the Titans' run game.
"They certainly can run the football, there's no doubt about that. We have struggled stopping it. They're a very big, physical front, they know what they're doing, they have two great backs. They're very impressive and their record shows.
Running early and often can help the Titans restore some balance to their own backfield where Fisher long has promised to try to balance out the workload. But Chris Johnson ranks second in the AFC with 833 yards with 64 more carries than LenDale White.
White, who ran for 1,110 yards and started every game last season, let his emotions spill over after the Jets' loss when he complained to reporters that he didn't care about a game when he was on the field for only three plays. Fisher said Monday that he had spoken to White who regretted what he said, and the running back agreed Wednesday that he lost his "cool."
"I let the little guy on this shoulder get too much in my ear and I said some things without talking to Coach Fisher before I made some of the comments that I made," White said.
White said Fisher didn't make any promises about how much work he will get. But White knows he will get more chances.
"The run game is a major part of what he does whether it's me, CJ or Q(uinton Ganther) or Ahmard, whoever's out there I think he wants to get back to that. He's going to count on us to get that run game going again. If he calls my number, I'm more than willing and ready to accept the bar," White said.
NOTES:The Titans decided to keep rookie running back Rafael Little on the non-football injury list. Little, who tore his ACL in January, had practiced with the team until the Titans were forced to make a decision. Fisher said Little will be ready to compete in training camp in 2009....Cornerback Nick Harper, who missed the past two games with an injured foot, practiced Tuesday. He will be a game-time decision along with defensive tackle Jason Jones (foot) who also practiced.