The Buffalo Bills' defense is still a work in progress, but that group showed plenty of positive signs in the last game.
The Tennessee Titans have to be pleased with the recent improvements they've made on both sides of the ball.
Defensive end Shawne Merriman is expected to make his return to the Bills on Sunday when the visiting Titans try to win back-to-back games for the first time this season.
After giving up 97 points and 1,201 yards in their previous two games - the most by an NFL team since the New York Yanks gave up 1,227 in 1950 - Buffalo (3-3) allowed 332 yards and avoided a third straight defeat last Sunday with a 19-16 overtime victory at Arizona.
The Bills spent the week in the desert after getting routed 45-3 at San Francisco on Oct. 7, and that decision appeared to re-energize the defensive unit, which matched season highs with five sacks - two apiece by Mario Williams and Nick Barnett - and two interceptions. Jairus Byrd had both picks, including one in overtime that helped set up Rian Lindell's 25-yard field goal.
"We were away from the distractions and it was just us here in Arizona," said Byrd, the AFC defensive player of the week. "It was a chance for us to soul search, get corrected what we needed to get corrected without the distractions of being at home. It was great for us mentally."
Getting Merriman back in the defensive end rotation could be a great addition for a team that will be without Mark Anderson (knee surgery) and possibly Spencer Johnson (ankle) for a third straight week. Merriman, who played five games for Buffalo last season before undergoing season-ending surgery on a partially torn right Achilles' tendon, is expected to dress Sunday after getting cut by Buffalo in August.
"You can never have too many guys that we believe can rush the passer," said coach Chan Gailey, whose team is yielding 32.0 points per game, second-worst in the league behind Tennessee (34.0). "We'd rather not go into a game with just three defensive ends."
The Bills' defensive front will face a Titans line that's surrendered nine sacks in the last two games. Matt Hasselbeck was sacked three times in a 26-23 win over Pittsburgh on Oct. 11, but the veteran quarterback threw for 290 yards.
Tennessee (2-4) had just two offensive touchdowns - a 1-yard run by Jamie Harper and 5-yard reception by Kenny Britt - but it was a step in the right direction after the team totaled 21 points in consecutive road losses to Houston and Minnesota.
"It feels good to win against a good opponent," said Hasselbeck, who will start a third straight game in place of the injured Jake Locker.
The Titans also have to feel good about Chris Johnson rushing for 91 yards against the Steelers. Tennessee ranks last in the NFL in rushing with 70.2 yards per game and Johnson is running for a career-worst 3.3 yards per carry.
Buffalo, though, has given up 740 rushing yards and seven TDs on the ground in its last three contests.
Johnson rushed for 153 yards and two TDs as Tennessee won its fourth in a row in this series, 23-17 in Buffalo on Dec. 4.
The Titans allowed their fewest rushing yards of the season against Pittsburgh with 56, but slowing down the Bills' backfield duo of C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson could be a challenge. They ran for a combined 141 yards against the Cardinals, with both reaching the end zone.
Fumbles, though, continue to be an issue for Spiller and Jackson, whose first-quarter fumble versus Arizona led to a field goal. Both backs have fumbled twice this season, with the opponent recovering each time.
Buffalo's Ryan Fitzpatrick has just one INT in the last two games after getting picked off four times in a 52-28 home loss to New England on Sept. 30, but he also has no TD passes and 279 total passing yards during that stretch.
Tennessee has the league's worst opponents' passer rating at 107.9, yet the team has three of its four INTs in the last two games.
The Titans will try to win for the eighth time in nine matchups with Buffalo, including the postseason.
- Tennessee Titans
- Shawne Merriman