After flirting with the possibility of reacquiring Albert Haynesworth from the Washington Redskins earlier this week, the Tennessee defense took matters into its own hands with four first-half sacks and two turnovers in helping the Titans coast to a 38-13 victory over the hapless Oakland Raiders.
The tone was set from the first play from scrimmage when Jason Jones broke through the line and batted down Jason Campbell's screen pass for an incompletion. It seemed to send notice that, at least for one week, the Titans defense would more closely resemble the one of the past few years, and not the one that stumbled through 2009.
“We were just getting off the rock really, getting off the rock and attacking them. We were just taking advantage of some things. We got a lot of pressure on Jason Campbell,” Jones said. “We got him moving around and making throws he shouldn't have been making.”
It was fitting that linebacker Will Witherspoon, who had missed the entire week after the unexpected death of his mother, got the first sack of Raiders quarterback Jason Campbell.
After that, it was the Titans defensive line that bedeviled the Raiders signal-caller.
Defensive end Jacob Ford beat Mario Henderson around the edge for one of the sacks, forcing a fumble that Michael Griffin recovered. For a brief moment – until replay intervened to reverse the call- Griffin returned the fumble for a touchdown. Instead the Titans settled for Rob Bironas' 43-yard field goal and a 10-3 lead.
It mattered little, as the defense had set the tone that left Campbell and the Raiders' offense more than a little bit uncomfortable for the rest of the afternoon.
“Last year we didn't get as much pressure as we wanted to and that made it tough on the secondary. Today, I think we did a pretty good job of getting after it,” Ford said.
Jason Babin and rookie first-round pick Derrick Morgan had sacks as well.
"A lot of our plays are designed to go downfield," Campbell said. "It makes it a lot harder, those guys getting a good rush the way they did."
Even when the pressure didn't force a sack, oftentimes it was enough to disrupt the Raiders into other mistakes, including Chris Hope's 32-yard interception return that set up Tennessee's final touchdown.
Hope said a return to form from the defense has been the focus ever since last season ended.
“We've been working hard. Everybody is believing in each other and holding themselves accountable, and everybody is doing their job,” Hope said. “Last year, I think we got into a lot of trying to overcompensate and making too many plays instead of letting them come to us. This whole entire training camp and OTAs, we've done a great job of just focusing on each other.”
The Raiders themselves couldn't help but notice.
"I felt like we were catching everything instead of taking the fight to them," Raiders coach Tom Cable admitted.