Titans enter matchup with a running start

George, McNair rushing has grounded opponents

Matchup

Super Bowl Xxxiv

January 26, 2000|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

As run-oriented as the Tennessee Titans were in the regular season, they've become even more so in the postseason. And not only have they run more often in the playoffs, they've also run better.

Eddie George, their marquee running back, averaged 20 carries and 81.5 rushing yards a game in the regular season. In three postseason games, he's averaging 26.7 carries and 118 yards per outing.

This is a team that loves to play smashmouth football. What the Titans lack in finesse on offense, they make up for in might.

One of the critical matchups of Super Bowl XXXIV will be Tennessee's ability to run the ball against the St. Louis Rams' No. 1 rush defense in the NFL.

George's power running game not only sets up the pass, it also sets up quarterback Steve McNair's improvisational running game.

At 6 feet 2 and 225 pounds, McNair is a punishing runner when he breaks out of the pocket. He gouged the Jacksonville Jaguars for 91 rushing yards -- including a 51-yard sprint -- in the AFC championship game despite a painful turf toe. He is just as likely to take off from the pocket as throw a short curl pattern to a tight end.

After the Titans pound with George, they like to use play- action for their short passing game.

The combination of George and McNair is the reason the Titans have produced 65 percent of their playoff offense with the running game. In beating the Buffalo Bills and the Jaguars, they've faced the No. 4 and No. 6 rush defenses in the league.

The Titans' massive offensive line averages 308 pounds. The Rams' defensive line averages 278.

The best matchups to watch are Tennessee's left guard Bruce Matthews against defensive tackle D'Marco Farr, and Titans right tackle Jon Runyan against defensive end Kevin Carter. Matthews and Carter were both named All-Pro this season.

Middle linebacker London Fletcher, a 5-10, 241-pound dynamo, leads the Rams in tackles, but will have his hands full with the 6-3, 240-pound George, an upright runner.

The Rams gave up 74.3 rushing yards per game, and 3.5 a carry, in the regular season. They're giving up 82 rushing yards a game and 3.2 yards a carry in the playoffs.

Perhaps more impressively, they have yet to give up a 100-yard rushing game this season.

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