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Ground Game An Imperative vs. Titans

Even though the Redskins have been inconsistent on offense so far this season, the running game has always been there. Washington is ranked sixth in the NFL in rushing offense, and the Titans are ranked last--32nd overall--in run defense.

With head coach Joe Gibbs saying that the team needed to get back to "Redskins football," it's safe to say that establishing a strong run game will be a key on Sunday.

That's fine with Clinton Portis.

"That just puts pressure on me to go out and perform, and I can't do anything but step up to that challenge, put the pressure on myself and try to respond" Portis said. "When I have a big game, I carry the team and when I don't, we lose. So I need to have another big game."

Establishing the run is also a priority for the Redskins' offensive line, which turned in two dominating performances against the Houston Texans and Jacksonville Jaguars earlier this season, then struggled against the New York Giants last week.

Said assistant head coach-offense Joe Bugel: "[The offensive linemen] told me again this week, 'Put it on us.' I said, 'Look, that's how I feel, now you're going to have to back it up.' So we're getting ready to back it up."

The Titans' defensive line is led by sixth-year end Kyle Vanden Bosch and seventh-year tackle Robaire Smith. The unit has yielded 172.4 rushing yards per game.

"Their ranking means nothing," fullback Mike Sellers cautioned. "They might do some things on defense that emphasize stopping the run. We just have to come out and play Redskins football. Of course we'll want to run the ball, and if we have success, we'll keep on doing it."

When Mark Brunell drops back, he'll face a Titans' pass defense that is ranked 18th in the NFL.

"Watching them on film, there's not a lot of different coverages and blitzes, they just played real hard," Brunell said. "They played with a lot of intensity. They played with a lot of speed."

The Titans have managed just eight sacks this season, led by Vanden Bosch and rookie cornerback Cortland Finnegan with two each.

Outside linebacker Keith Bulluck is regarded as one of the top linebackers in the NFL. The 6-3, 235-pounder has logged 150-plus tackles each of the last four seasons. Last offseason, the Titans added free agent David Thornton from the Indianapolis Colts.

The Titans have a pair of young cornerbacks in second-year players Reynaldo Hill and Pacman Jones, along with fourth-year nickel cornerback Andre Woolfolk.

Matchups with Santana Moss, Brandon Lloyd and Antwaan Randle El will be critical, especially if the Redskins' running game is working behind Portis. That could force the Titans to bring up safety Chris Hope to help defend against the run.

Tennessee's offense is directed by rookie quarterback Vince Young, making his third NFL start after the Titans selected him with the third-overall pick in last April's NFL Draft.

Young is 6-4 and 233 pounds and has great speed as a rusher. The Titans appear to be still finding ways to use that speed, whether on quarterback options or on roll-outs.

"He is an unbelievable athlete," assistant head coach-defense Gregg Williams said. "He poses a tremendous task and coaches are doing a good job of highlighting the things that he can do."

Added cornerback Carlos Rogers: "We haven't faced a lot of quarterbacks who can run and throw. With Vince, it's kind of hard to know what he's going to do, but he's so young, he's going to try to make plays whenever he can. They're going to try to make the game plan simple for him."

Williams could try to confuse the rookie quarterback with a series of disguised blitzes, forcing him to make a play out of the pocket. Last year, Williams' defense was 3-0 against rookie quarterbacks.

Will the Redskins use a spy on Young? If so, there could be any number of candidates, including defensive end Andre Carter, who played linebacker with the 49ers last year and has the ability to keep up with him. If not Carter, then safety Sean Taylor, always a menacing presence, could get the call on Young.

Still, as Marcus Washington said earlier this week, Sunday's game is not going to be 11-on-Young.

The Titans' run game is ranked 23rd in the NFL and has a trio of running backs who could see action on Sunday: Travis Henry (205 rushing yards this season), Chris Brown (106 rushing yards) and rookie Lendale White (111 rushing yards). Along with Young, the Titans compiled 100 rushing yards in one quarter in their game against the Colts last Sunday.

The Redskins have mostly been solid against the run, but last Sunday they yielded 155 rushing yards to Tiki Barber and the Giants. Complicating matters is the health of ends Phillip Daniels (back injury), Cornelius Griffin (hip) and tackle Joe Salave'a (calf).

Salave'a, listed as questionable heading into the game, could give way to rookie Kedric Golston, who has impressed so far this season. Whoever plays will have to work against Titans' center Kevin Mawae, a six-time Pro Bowler who anchors the line.

The Titans have yielded just six sacks this season, so their offensive line is stout. Left tackle Michael Roos has been solid and will match up against Carter. The Titans are expected to stat Jacob Bell at left guard to replace injured starter Zach Piller.

Young has struggled in the passing game, completing just 45.9 percent of his passes for two touchdowns and four interceptions. The top receiver is Drew Bennett, who has 18 catches for 245 yards and one touchdown. Wide receiver Bobby Wade, a speedster who could see extensive action with starter David Givens sidelined due to injury, has 10 catches for 138 yards.

The Titans have had success passing to tight ends. Combined, Ben Troupe and Bo Scaife have 17 catches for 263 yards and two touchdowns. They should provide a test for middle linebacker Lemar Marshall and safeties Taylor and Adam Archuleta in the downfield passing game.

The Redskins' secondary has struggled giving up big plays this season and the unit is 28th in the NFL. The unit could get a boost from the return of Shawn Springs, who has been sidelined with a groin injury. Springs is listed as questionable heading into the game.

If Young struggles, don't be surprised to see backup Kerry Collins, a 12-year veteran who was with Oakland last year, enter the game.

The Titans have entrusted their place kicking game to a second-year player, Rob Bironas. So far this season, he is 5-of-6 on field goals, with the only miss a 51-yarder.

The Redskins also have a second-year kicker in Nick Novak, signed last week to replace injured John Hall. Novak will make his season debut on Sunday and coaches appear committed to giving him an extended look after he performed promisingly last year.

Novak is expected to kick off as well, relieving punter Derrick Frost from that duty. Frost, who has a 44.1-yard punting average this season, will play despite a mild calf injury.

At punter, Craig Hentrich is a 14-year veteran who has a career 42.8-yard punting average. He has never had a punt block in his career.

Wade is a dangerous kickoff return specialist, averaging 25.8 yards per return. The Redskins are ranked 26th in the NFL in kick coverage.

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