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Notebook: Titans Secondary Prepares for Broncos Passing Challenge

Posted Dec 4, 2013

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Titans’ secondary is anticipating a challenge from the Broncos’ assortment of receivers and believes the contest will start before each snap.

Tennessee (5-7) visits Denver (10-2) at 3:05 p.m. (CT) Sunday and is preparing for a Broncos offense that leads the NFL in yards per game (458.5), passing yards per game (336.6), first downs a game (27) and points per game (38.7).

Much of that success is traced to Peyton Manning’s ability to read a defensive coverage before the ball is snapped and deliver it to weapons such as Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker and Wes Welker where he thinks it will be most advantageous to throw the ball.

Jason McCourty and Bernard Pollard are looking forward to the challenge that Denver's passing game poses. Pollard has three interceptions.

“He’s a smart guy and he’s able to read the defenses and they’re able to pick an offensive play to beat your defense. I think the biggest thing is we’ve got to go out there and compete,” Titans cornerback Jason McCourty said. “It’s not going to be easy by any stretch. He’s a Hall of Fame quarterback with really good weapons on the outside, so we’ve got to play every snap like it’s our last and go have fun.”

Manning also has options for handing the ball off to a combination of running backs Knowshon Moreno, Montee Ball and Ronnie Hillman that are averaging 121.9 yards per game.

“It seems like he (Peyton Manning) makes all the players around him better,” Titans coach Mike Munchak said. “There’s no doubt that he has good weapons this year. The running backs are running well also. That makes it even scarier, the fact that he’s comfortable handing it off if he has to five times in a row because the running game has really picked up quite a bit. He looks at the coverage, and he has a good feel for how to get them in the right play. You can see it on tape over and over again. You think you pick up something on him, and he figures it out.”

Tennessee’s defense ranks ninth in yards allowed per game (326.6), seventh in passing yards allowed per game (212.6), 12th in first downs allowed per game (19.3) and 11th in points allowed per game (22.3).

Thomas (6-foot-3, 229 pounds), Decker (6-3, 214) and Welker (5-9, 185) offer different attributes for Manning to try and create advantageous matchups.

“Tthey’re all really good receivers. It doesn’t matter who is guarding who,” McCourty said. “We’re all going to have a tough matchup every time we line up, and that’s the fun part about it, we get to compete against some really good players and we think we’re good on defense so it’s going to give us an opportunity to go against the best.”

Safety Bernard Pollard helped Baltimore win 38-35 at Denver in the AFC Divisional in January. He said the best method for limiting the passing game is to disrupt Manning and make sure defenders hit receivers hard but cleanly. Pollard is leading the Titans with 104 tackles and has three interceptions this season.

“We’ve just got to play good ball and don’t get caught up in what they’ve done. Let’s go play ball because they’ve got to face us that day,” Pollard said. “At some point in time, somebody’s got to buckle, and hopefully it’s not us buckling first. I respect them. I’ve played them before. I understand the things they’re doing. They’re trying to get a Super Bowl, for us, we’re trying to get a Super Bowl as well, so I think if we mean what we say, we’re going to handle this situation great.”

The Titans will get additional help in the return of Michael Griffin from a one-game suspension by the league. Griffin has helped Tennessee’s defense hold opponents to two pass plays of 40 or more yards this season while often playing deep off the line of scrimmage.

“He was excited. I think he came in Monday and was like, ‘Am I allowed to be here? What time can I officially be back?’ He was depressed to miss the game,” Munchak said. “There’s no doubt you can’t miss a player like him and it not affect your defense so we’re just happy to have him back. We’re going to need all hands on deck on the back end of the defense.”

HELP AT TIGHT END: Veteran Visanthe Shiancoe, who signed with the Titans on Tuesday went through his first practice and day of installation Wednesday. Tennessee added the 11-year pro who as appeared in 148 games while Craig Stevens and Delanie Walker are recovering from concussions. Stevens suffered his at Oakland two weeks ago, and Walker suffered his Sunday at Indianapolis.

Munchak said the Titans won’t know much about Walker’s status until Friday, but Stevens may be able to do more Thursday, pending an evaluation.  

“They both seem to be doing pretty good, but we got to follow the procedure there,” Munchak said. “Hoping to have both of them on Friday.”

Munchak said the Titans were getting Shiancoe up to speed on terminology and the offense, but would likely hone in on how they utilize him in a phase of the offense that will likely be more in the passing game than run blocking game. Munchak and QB Ryan Fitzpatrick said they were impressed with Shiancoe’s initial grasp of the offense.

“I’m picking it up pretty quick. It was pretty fluid,” Shiancoe said. “Being on that many teams, you notice it’s the same concepts with different terminologies so that’s easy to pick up and mix and match.”

QUINN JOHNSON RETURNS: Fullback Quinn Johnson rejoined the Titans on the practice field Wednesday for the first time since his release with an injury settlement at the start of the season. Johnson was required to wait until after Week 10 before he could sign and kept working out after he recovered from the injury, and the Titans called because Collin Mooney suffered a season-ending  

“It’s my plan to get back in there and do what I’ve got to do to help the team,” Johnson said. “I’ve just been waiting for my opportunity, whatever it was, and it just happened to be back here.”

Johnson played in four games with Tennessee in 2011, all 16 last season and went through training camp with the Titans this year, so he’s familiar with the offense and teammates.

“He’s a big fullback that can help us and has a good understanding of our offense,” Munchak said. “Losing (Collin) Mooney was a tough blow for us, but having Quinn (Johnson) available definitely makes it a lot better.”

WILLIAMS BACK IN ACTION: Damian Williams was limited in practice as he is returning from a hip injury he suffered during a punt return on Nov. 10, but Munchak said Williams showed progress.  

“He did more show team than our stuff, but that was good,” Munchak said, “so tomorrow I think he’ll jump right into more of our offense.”

Munchak said if Williams is available against the Broncos, the Titans will still have Leon Washington return kicks and punts.

OTHER INJURIES: Kendall Wright (ankle) was limited, and Brett Kern (back) and David Stewart (shoulder) did not practice.

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