Titans-49ers: Can Tennessee Keep the Momentum Going in San Francisco?

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Titans-49ers: Can Tennessee Keep the Momentum Going in San Francisco?
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

"Okay, guys. Remember what you did last Sunday? Just do that again."

One can't help but think that Tennessee Titans coach Jeff Fisher will preach a paraphrased version of that mantra this week as his squad prepares to take on the enigmatic San Francisco 49ers.

Tennessee snagged their elusive first win of the season against the Jacksonville Jaguars with explosive running and mistake-free, albeit pedestrian (pun intended), passing.

The 49ers present a different set of challenges, but like Jacksonville, they are a talented team playing under their potential.  

Coach Mike Singletary and Co. started fast, only to string together some sloppy losses. At this point, they too are in search of an identity.  

Chances are they are looking at the Titans as a non-conference, "get back on track" game.  

Not that they're underestimating them, mind you. It's just that Tennessee will prove to be the most tempting to overlook, given the fact that in spite of their troubles, they're still in the thick of the NFC West race.  

As has been mentioned in these pages, confidence goes a long way when it comes to the proverbial intangibles.  

But how exactly do the Titans match up with the 49ers otherwise?  

Here is a look at a few key areas to watch.

 

Chris Johnson vs. 49ers Rush Defense

Titans running back Johnson is playing his best football of the year right now. That's saying a lot, given his consistent knack for making the big play.

However, San Francisco has the second-ranked rush defense in the league. They held Minnesota's equally explosive Adrian Peterson to a paltry—by his standards, anyway—85 yards.

If the Titans can effectively use Vince Young as a decoy in certain situations, then perhaps that would open up some lanes for Johnson.  

 

Vince Young vs. 49ers Pass Defense

Come to think of it, Young just might have a chance for a breakout day...as a traditional pocket passer, perhaps.  

San Francisco is ranked 30th in the league in pass defense right now. With the new energy (and ensuing confidence) that Young has breathed into the offense right now, the Titans just might have a shot.

Of course, "having a shot" means, "Don't throw interceptions, and hold on to the ball."

As mentioned, his legs might open up a few doors for the running game, for him and Johnson. All year long, the 49ers have faced nothing but traditional pocket passers. This matchup should be interesting.  

 

Frank Gore vs. Titans Rush Defense

Uh-oh.  

Tennessee might have some trouble with this one. Last week, the Jags' Maurice Jones-Drew ran roughshod over the Titans.  

Gore is a similar running back: deceptively powerful, deceptively fast.  

Don't look for the 49ers to be run-first all day, however. Odds are that he'll initially be used to set up a suspect passing game.  

Tennessee would be wise to employ a "bend, don't break" defensive philosophy like the one then-Giants defensive coordinator Bill Belichick used on Bills running back Thurman Thomas in Super Bowl XXV.

Give him his five- to seven-yard carries; let him have his 100-yard day. Just don't let him into the secondary, and don't let the passing game beat you because of the running game.

 

Alex Smith vs. Himself

Their quarterback, the embattled Alex Smith, was benched all year until recently. At this point, his career is arguably a borderline bust—which is sad, given his immense talent and mishandling by previous coaches.

But this year, he gets another shot, as Coach Singletary benched previous starter Shaun Hill due to lack of productivity. Not exactly a sign of stability.

In spite of the Titans' woes on pass defense this year, they are capable of playing decently. This was proven last Sunday, when they effectively shut down David Garrard and the Jags. 

Truth be told, San Francisco's passing game doesn't scare anybody at this point. That's not to say that they aren't capable of later developing into a big play unit, but nowadays they're a bit too rough around the edges.  

Isaac Bruce was at one time phenomenal...in the leather helmet era.  

Michael Crabtree is still learning and unproven.

Vernon Davis, the underachieving tight end, is at the moment their biggest weapon (literally and figuratively).   

Of course, subpar units have made a living out of feasting on the Titans all year long. Stats on paper are one thing; Tennessee consistently seizing defeat from the jaws of victory is another.

 

The bottom line? Whoever makes the fewest mistakes—not the most big plays—should emerge victorious.

The 49ers have thus far been guilty of playing to the level of their competition. Against the Indianapolis Colts last weekend, they played tough and lost by four. Yet against the less scary Atlanta Falcons, they got blown out by 35.   

Tennessee, it's time for an encore performance.

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