Though having LenDale White and Chris Brown available to face one of the league’s worst run defenses could be key, the Titans getting Albert Haynesworth back on the field might be more critical for their matchup with the Denver Broncos on Monday night.
Known as one of the league’s best run stuffers, Haynesworth missed a game for the first time this season last Sunday and the Titans gave up a season-high 166 rushing yards in a 28-13 loss to Jacksonville.
“We were just out of position, we missed some tackles and those kinds of things,” Tennessee coach Jeff Fisher said. “But no, they didn’t go in pressing or lacking confidence because one of their teammates was out.”
The Titans (6-3), who had not allowed 100 yards rushing in a game all season, had a three-game winning streak snapped and blew a chance to move into a tie with Indianapolis atop the AFC South.
“We feel like we’re a really good team, right up there with the best and a Monday night game is a chance to show everybody,” defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch said.
The sore right hamstring that kept Haynesworth sidelined is still an issue, keeping him out of practice this week and leaving his status uncertain for this game.
“I feel 100 percent better than I did last week,” Haynesworth said Wednesday. “It’s improving daily. I haven’t felt this good in a while. It also gives me a chance to heal other injuries I had.”
The 6-foot-6, 320-pound defensive tackle is tied for the team lead with five sacks and may be the most important piece of a Tennessee run defense which ranks fourth in the NFL, allowing 77.1 yards per game.
That’s about half of what Denver (4-5) allows, giving the Titans offense all the more reason to do what it does best - run the ball. Tennessee is averaging 139.8 rushing yards to rank fourth in the league, and faces a Broncos defense which ranks second-to-last in run defense (151.0).
“We keep working on it and hopefully we can continue to improve,” Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said. “If you don’t get good stopping the run, you’re in for a long day, I don’t care who you are.”
White had three straight 100-yard games going into last week, but was held to 12 yards on eight carries before leaving early in the third quarter with a knee injury. Brown has missed the last four games with an ankle problem, but both he and White are practicing this week and expect to play Monday.
With White out for much of the second half last week and Tennessee trailing 21-3, Fisher had no choice but to let Young throw the ball more and the second-year quarterback was unsuccessful putting together many good drives. The Titans’ three possessions in the fourth quarter ended with a punt, a failed fourth-down attempt and an interception.
Young had two interceptions for the second straight game, though he did attempt a career-high 41 passes, completing 24, and had a career-best 257 yards passing. He threw his first touchdown pass in five games since Sept. 24, and ran eight times for 52 yards.
“We threw the ball 41 times. That implies that we trust what he’s doing,” Fisher said. “I thought he played a pretty good ballgame, considering the defense he was up against. The way he ran the football and many of the decisions he made were very, very good decisions.”
Tennessee had a season-low 62 rushing yards - it averaged 162.3 during the three-game win streak - and is facing a Broncos defense which could have gained some confidence from its performance last Sunday.
Denver gave up 284 total yards, its fewest since the season opener, and allowed its lowest point total of the year in a 27-11 win at Kansas City. The Broncos gave up 67 rushing yards - the first time all season they allowed less than 100 - but that came against a Chiefs team missing Pro Bowler Larry Johnson.
The Broncos give up 4.8 yards per carry, tied with Oakland for worst in the NFL.
Denver’s ground game may have discovered a new weapon last week in undrafted rookie Selvin Young, who rushed for 109 yards and his first career touchdown.
“Before the game, if you would have gotten a close-up of me, I had tears coming out of my eyes,” Young said. “It has just been so long and so much dreaming, wishing and working hard. I feel blessed.”
Young has started two of the last three games in place of Travis Henry, who was the league’s leading rusher in September but has been bothered by bruised ribs and a sore knee. Even if Henry is healthy enough to take the bulk of the carries, it’s possible he won’t be on the field.
Henry is trying to keep the league from suspending him over the results of a drug test earlier this season, and he’ll present his case to the NFL on Friday. Shanahan does not expect to hear back from the league on a ruling until after Monday’s game.
“I don’t think they would do that,” Shanahan said. “You practice somebody during the week and not let them play Monday night? I don’t think that’s been done before. I’m sure it will be the day after or the week after.”
Denver won for just the second time in seven games last week to remain one game behind first-place San Diego in the AFC West.
The Broncos won 37-16 in Nashville on Christmas night in 2004 in the only game between these teams since the Titans franchise moved to Tennessee in 1997.
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