Titans' Fisher says keys to victory are defense, run

His team was one of two to beat Ravens, Giants

Coach's Viewpoint

January 28, 2001|By Christian Ewell | Christian Ewell,SUN STAFF

TAMPA, Fla. - The Tennessee Titans beat the Ravens and New York Giants this season, the only team other than the Washington Redskins to defeat both of this year's Super Bowl contestants.

Two different styles accounted for the wins. Tennessee dominated New York on Oct. 1 in Nashville. It forced three turnovers to win in Baltimore on Oct. 22, despite giving up nearly twice as many yards as it gained.

The Sun asked Titans coach Jeff Fisher to break down tonight's game. Not surprisingly, he's expecting defense to be the major factor - both teams are ranked among NFL's top five - with the running game not far behind.

"I believe that this game takes on a personality of its own," Fisher said, "because the defenses have the potential to cancel out each offense."

The Titans got past the Giants by doing what Fisher says both teams need to do: establishing the run and converting third downs. Tennessee had three 80-yard drives to start the game, setting the tone and making the job easier for its offense.

"Any time you drive over 80 yards three times, you're converting third downs," said Fisher, whose team turned 14 of its 20 third-down plays into first downs that day and held the ball for nearly 43 minutes. "The defensive success against the Giants was a byproduct of our offense."

The coach did not eliminate the possibility of running against the Ravens, and said that the Giants could potentially get Tiki Barber into open spaces, which will work better than plowing Ron Dayne through the middle.

The Giants' coaches "are very imaginative," Fisher said. "They're going to find a way to get [Barber] on the edge with the ball. They're just going to have to contend with the speed of the Ravens' defense, and he's going to run out of room."

The Giants' running game, Fisher noted, features a lot of pulling and trapping. Jim Fassel's team may not want to do that.

"Penetration from Baltimore's front four will make the trapping and pulling game difficult for the Giants," Fisher said, predicting that such schemes could result in "collisions in the backfield" and losses for New York running plays.

Baltimore's offense will simply need to run the ball for four quarters, the coach said, and with Jamal Lewis, the Ravens are in better shape to do that than they have been in quite some time.

Fisher said the Ravens are a different team on offense than they were even three months ago. The pass-oriented attack is gone, and the Ravens have the potential to wear down an opposing defense.

"The Giants have to prepare themselves for a very physical offense," Fisher said. "They pride themselves on being aggressive, but there's a mentality in our [AFC Central] division, and it's about being physical. You cannot underestimate that."

Neither Trent Dilfer nor Kerry Collins figured much in Fisher's analysis. But Titans defensive coordinator Gregg Williams said New York is in good shape if Collins plays as he did in the NFC title game.

Still, Williams said, "Baltimore's defense minimizes your opportunities. The ones Kerry Collins gets, he has to take advantage."

As for Dilfer, "He'll have to do more than Brian's asking of him," Williams said, referring to coach Brian Billick. "He's going to have to do some things, because New York is a real solid defense also."

For the Ravens, Fisher said tight end Shannon Sharpe is "the player you've got to be concerned with" other than Jamal Lewis.

The coach said that he doesn't see any edge on special teams, and added it's important that each team protect its punter. The Giants should be conscious "about punting down the middle against Jermaine Lewis," Fisher said.

Finally, Fisher said, "the round football" - getting the good bounces and avoiding the bad ones - will determine the winner.

"What you look for is a big play, because that can be the difference in this game," Fisher said. "The team that protects the football will win the game. I don't see much scoring because of the manner and confidence with which the defenses are playing."

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