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Rivalry Reborn?

Titans exalt in beating "the piss" out of Texans, claim they're the more physical team

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Andre Johnson Texans Titans
Andre Johnson paid for his tough catches against the Tennessee Titans. With his head. Photo by Michelle Watson/CultureMapSnap
Ben Tate Texans Titans hit
Ben Tate felt the weight of the Titans' physicality as well. Photo by Michelle Watson/CultureMapSnap
Texans Titans tough
The Titans clearly feel they are tougher than their AFC South rival Texans. Photo by Michelle Watson/CultureMapSnap
Andre Johnson Texans Titans
Ben Tate Texans Titans hit
Texans Titans tough

Tennessee Titans strong safety Bernard Pollard was bound to utter something inflammatory. Anyone remotely familiar with his entertaining locker room ramblings during his two-year stint with the Texans (2009-10) realized that if Pollard were bombarded with enough queries,  he would eventually spout off at the mouth and leave the media throng chuckling.

It's what he does.

 "Oh, we beat the piss out of them. We did. I truly believe that." 

So when Pollard was asked to assess the Titans' defensive performance, their physically aggressive effort that came up just short in the Texans' 30-24 overtime victory on Sunday at Reliant Stadium, he delivered. And, in truth, his evaluation was honest and accurate, the final tally on the scoreboard notwithstanding.

"Oh, we beat the piss out of them. We did. I truly believe that," Pollard said. "You cut the film on — we outhit them. We did some good things, we did some really good things. We'll see them. We're going to see them again, I'll promise you that.

"We know they're in the division (AFC South) and we're going to play them again at home. And hopefully it goes further than that."

How much further Pollard and the Titans would like to take things will be determined on Dec. 29 when the rivals close the regular season at L.P. Field in Nashville. And while Texans fans might be inclined to use the scoreboard to determine which team administered the most thorough beating, the Titans' physicality was undeniable. They hammered Texans quarterback Matt Schaub with impunity. They knocked All-Pro receiver Andre Johnson from the game, possibly with a concussion.

Even on offense they delivered the blow, with backup running back Jackie Battle producing the most memorable hit of the afternoon via his steam rolling of Texans strong safety Danieal Manning in the first quarter. No one could question the Titans' toughness.

Ultimately it didn't matter, not with the Texans parlaying their two-minute offense into another riveting comeback victory. But before the Texans marched 87 yards in eight plays to erase the Titans 24-16 advantage, Tennessee clearly had the Texans frustrated. All told the Titans sacked Schaub twice, hit him eight additional times, and picked off two of his pass attempts.

Between the touchdown drives that resulted in a 14-10 lead midway through the third quarter and the equalizer in the fourth, the Texans amassed 30 yards and punted four times over five possessions. The fifth drive ended with an  Alterraun Verner  Pick-6 that supplied the Titans their eight-point lead and left the partisan and record crowd of 71,718 groaning in disgust. 

The Titans finished 27th in the NFL in total defense last season, surrendering 5,999 yards en route to a 6-10 finish. But after bludgeoning the Pittsburgh Steelers in their season-opening, 16-9 victory last week, Tennessee seems to be establishing a new identity defensively.

The New Tough Titans

Pollard, his reputation burnished by his Super Bowl credentials with the Baltimore Ravens, is one of a handful of new additions. Tackle Sammie Hill signed as an unrestricted free agent after spending his first four seasons with the Detroit Lions. End Ropati Pitoitua came over from the Kansas City Chiefs. Linebacker Moise Fokou spent three seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles before playing for the Indianapolis Colts in 2012. Pollard also played previously with the Chiefs (2006-08).

 "We'll see them. We're going to see them again, I'll promise you that." 

The mix of holdovers and newcomers has struck a nice balance thus far. Several of the Titans' younger returnees seem hardened by the experience of last year's tribulations. Second-year linebacker Zach Brown followed his 10-tackle, two-sack performance against the Steelers with a dozen tackles on Sunday. Verner, a fourth-year cornerback, picked off a Ben Roethlisberger pass attempt last week and recorded four tackles. He added six tackles and defended three other passes on top of his 23-yard interception return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter Sunday. 

Before the Texans quickened the pace, the Titans' secondary appeared impenetrable down the field. Even though the Texans fashioned an impressive comeback, the rally was largely built upon the extraordinary play-making of the Texans' playmakers. It wasn't an indictment of the ineptitude of the defenders charged with preventing backbreaking plays in the passing game.

"I just think they made some great catches," Titans coach Mike Munchak said. "They were not easy catches. He (Schaub) was getting hit, making some good throws. We were all over them defensively. The guys made catches.

"The perfect ball is hard to defend. I think they threw some good balls there, even under pressure, and the guys being covered very well on the last play, the last couple plays, (Titans cornerback Jason) McCourty was all over them. You hope nine times out of 10 that ball would be broken up and that wasn't one."

The Texans managed 237 yards over their first 13 possessions on Sunday. Perhaps that stat is more reflective of where the Titans are headed defensively, not what the Texans accomplished when pushed to the brink of an unexpected loss in their home opener. When the Titans return to Nashville and examine how well they held up to the pressure of defending the Texans' multitude of weapons, that film study should resonate.

Their defense is vastly improved, and while Tennessee must wait for third-year quarterback Jake Locker to establish the consistency winning teams require at that position, the Titans at least appear to have in place a defense capable of keeping opponents in check long enough for the offense to grow around its signal caller.

Progress is frequently masked by defeat. But Pollard, in all of his veteran wisdom, noticed the Titans' ferocity. When the teams meet again, perhaps his boasts will come with confirmation.

"We want to continue to improve. That's the name of the game," McCourty said. "A decent start throughout the first two games, but when you lose a game it's hard to see the positives right now.

"I'm sure we'll go back and watch that film and we'll see some good things happen, but it just hurts at this point not to make those plays down the stretch to give our team the win."

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