|Charlie Riedel / Associated Press|
|Titans RB LenDale White earned a trip to the buffet table after rushing for 149 yards and three TDs against the Chiefs.|
Before Tennessee met Minnesota in Week 4, before the Titans would eventually beat the Vikings, Ravens and Chiefs en route to 6-0, LenDale White stood at his locker and discussed his role. The team's 1,000-yard rusher from a year ago seemed lost in the euphoria and searing speed of rookie addition Chris Johnson.
But White never embraced that view.
"There is room on a football team for more than one running back, especially different ones like us," White said. "It's a long season. For us to achieve what we want as a team, we need both of us to contribute. I feel good. My time is coming."
On Sunday at Kansas City, his time arrived.
White rushed for 149 yards and three touchdowns including an 80-yard scoring romp in Tennessee's imposing 34-10 victory over the Chiefs on Sunday. Johnson did his part, rushing for 168 yards and a 66-yard score. Both helped Tennessee gain a franchise-record 332 rushing yards.
White dubbed the pair "Smash and Dash."
Despite how glum the Chiefs have become, this ground-game accomplishment is remarkable. To run the football that way against any NFL team in this pass-first era of pro football is as throwback as it gets. To do it with both starting receivers Justin Gage (knee) and Justin McCareins (hamstring) out, to do it with the Chiefs knowing that the Titans' run game was coming all game long says as much about Tennessee's fortitude as it does about the Chiefs' futility.
White is listed as 6-foot-1, 235 pounds.
But each week lately, he has been telling Titans offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger: "I lost some more."
Heimerdinger sees a hungry back.
"LenDale had a good week of practice before the Chiefs game and he is finally getting into shape," Heimerdinger said. "His weight was up. He's getting it down. He was a little quicker this week. He worked his way in there. He's got to be in shape and keep his weight down. I talk to him about the fact that longevity for running backs is not good. It's hard on running backs, with the pounding they take.
"I believe LenDale is getting it. He is very intelligent. He knows where the ball should go in our offense. He knows where the blitz pickup is. He knows the fronts. Very, very intelligent. He's in great shape there."
And now White is rounding out in other places.
So is the Tennessee offense.
It recognizes the role of the passing game but insists on the rock-solid benefits of the running game. Fisher has built his team in this manner -- running the ball, stopping the run -- for cold-weather playoff football. For the long haul. Baltimore is first in the league in rushing attempts per game (35.8) and Tennessee is second (34.3) The top eight NFL rushing teams in attempts per game run it at least 30 times and only one of them (Oakland at No. 5 at 31.7) owns a losing record. Four of them (Tennessee, Carolina, the Giants and Chicago) are divisional leaders. The combined record of the top eight minus Oakland is 32-13.
Most offensive coordinators in the league would love to dial that kind of play-calling with big results. Most NFL quarterbacks would love to turn around and hand the ball to his running back and watch the back and his offensive line dominate.
"We thought we'd be good on Sunday -- not that good," Heimerdinger said. "We run it, and the defense here is built to stop the run and make offenses one-dimensional. This defense is pretty good at its job. We're getting there. That's what Fish (Fisher) has always done; he's a defensive guy. He's always believed in that approach on both sides going way back. Now, it's the Tennessee way. It's the belief around here."
The Titans offensive line of tackles David Stewart and Michael Roos, center Kevin Mawae and guards Jake Scott and Eugene Amano were considered the strength of the team by Fisher entering the season. The group is hitting a groove in consistency and in interlocking play. And the Titans benefit with coach Earnest Byner tutoring the running backs. This former NFL back turned coach is an effective teacher and communicator with players. He has helped White and Johnson foster confident attitudes and team-first approaches.
White's long run this season before the Chiefs game was 28 yards. His most productive rushing game was 59 yards. He was averaging 2.6 yards per carry before Sunday.
But White looked ahead and saw more. He still does.
The Colts are next, the AFC South's longtime kings who the Titans now lead in the division by three games. It is a Monday night test on Oct. 27 in Nashville, where Tennessee seeks to extend its regular-season victory streak to 10 games.
But the way that Tennessee can wear opponents down with a versatile running game and with punishing run defense, that should keep footballs up in the air for the Colts offense. And keep the Titans' feet firmly planted. They lead the league in rushing touchdowns with 11.
"I'm not sure what anybody around the league is thinking about us," Heimerdinger said. "But our offense, if we don't screw up our part of it, we can have a pretty special running game."