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Titans' defense a big concern

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It looks like another one of those mismatches in Reliant Stadium Sunday between the Texans' struggling running game and the Titans' defense, ranked No. 1 in the NFL against the run.

The Texans haven't been able to get their running game charged since Ahman Green missed most of three games with a knee injury. Even when he returned last week, the Texans managed only 61 yards in a 37-17 loss to Jacksonville.

It could be more of the same this week. But hold on. Although he'll be staring into the collective flaring nostrils of the Titans' defensive front four on Sunday, right tackle Eric Winston has a different take.

"I think it's a perfect opportunity for us to break out of it," Winston said. "Why not? If we can get our running game going against them, it proves we can do it against anybody.

"It's a heck of an opportunity. Let's go out there and see what happens. It's there. We just have to put it all together."

{QUOTE}The Titans made Tampa Bay work hard for its 13-10 victory last week. The Bucs won after Tennessee quarterback Vince Young left the game with a right quadriceps injury.

Don't feel too sorry for the Titans' defense. Despite the loss, they held the Bucs to 30 rushing yards. They are allowing 63.8 yards rushing this season, first in the league, and they are sixth in total defense, yielding only 281.4 yards.

"Their effort level is the most impressive, how hard they play," Winston said. "You don't normally see a team with a bunch of guys playing that hard. They go out there and you've got 11 guys playing like it's their last play. That's pretty impressive."

So the Titans rank first again the run. It wasn't necessary to inform left guard Chester Pitts. Just a little study showed him what the Texans face.

"It doesn't surprise me," Pitts said. "I just watched about three games on them. Their front seven is as good as we've played this season. We're just not executing. It's a lot of little things like technical issues, things that are correctable things and we're going to find a way to get it fixed."

One of the most talked about Titans defenders is right tackle Albert Haynesworth. He had 10 tackles and a quarterback pressure against Tampa Bay.

"He's playing the best ball of his life," Pitts said. "Not only that, I've always felt he was one of the best interior linemen in the NFL and he's showing that this season."

The Texans were mauled last week by Jacksonville's massive defensive line that included tackles Marcus Stroud and John Henderson.

"I think he's probably a little better than them," Pitts said of Haynesworth. "He's more explosive and probably a little more disruptive. He's a good player. I've got my work cut out for me this week."

Guard Fred Weary expects a tough day at the office.

"One reason is Haynesworth," Weary said. "He's taking up a lot of blockers and giving those linebackers a chance to play. Collectively, they're playing pretty doggone good as a defensive front."

Wide receiver Kevin Walter had a career day against Jacksonville. He caught 12 passes for 160 yards. He equaled his yardage total for all of last season. He sees another rugged task.

"Their front seven, they're unbelievable," Walter said. "They are physical, similar to Jacksonville."

Running back Samkon Gado expects big improvements in the Texans' running game despite the opponent.

"You don't give up just because we keep having failure," Gado said. "Eventually, we'll come through. We did last year and believe it or not we're actually better at this point than we were last year. Hopefully, we can take that point and run with it.

"It's the same as running up against guys like Henderson and Stroud. Haynesworth is having a great year. Their formula is the same for success."

The Texans' biggest offensive goals must be establishing their running game and scoring inside the red zone. They were inside the Jaguars' 20 five times without a touchdown.

"We've moved the ball well pretty much every game this year," tight end Own Daniels said. "I think we rank high in offense, but we haven't executed down there for whatever reason. We're putting a big focus on that this week."

The Texans are 29th in rushing offense, but they rank 10th in total offense and sixth in passing offense.

"It comes back to running the ball," Daniels said. "If you can run the ball effectively anywhere on the field, you can be successful. We will get that done this week."

The Texans are as tired of hearing about lack of rushing and red zone ineptitude as the fans are watching it.

"It wears on you a lot, but the only thing we can do is go out and prepare every week and try to do something about it," Weary said. "The best way to stop critics is to do something about it. As long as we're critical of ourselves, that's what we have to be."

Winston sees a copy-cat effect going on in the AFC South.

"A lot of people have taken a page out of the Colts," Winston said. "They've seen what they've done well and copied it. You don't need to look farther than this division for proof that it works.

"You find a defensive line that's big and stout. Get as much pressure with the front four and play seven behind it. You look at all the teams. The Colts started it, Jacksonville does it, Tennessee does it, and we try to do it.

"It's a formula that's working and we've got to break through."

To do that, Gado says the Texans must look inward, not at the tough competition.

"One of the things that coach (Gary) Kubiak told us before the season was that it's always about us, it's not about them," Gado said. "They have a great defense, but if we do what we're capable of doing and what we know to do, the outcome will be in our favor."

EDITOR'S NOTE: Michael A. Lutz worked for The Associated Press for 38 years covering news and sports in Louisville, Ky. Dallas and Houston. Most of that time was spent in Houston covering the Oilers, Astros, Texans and other college and pro sports.

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