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Titans defense eager for second chance to slow down Tomlinson

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Tennessee Titans have studied LaDainian Tomlinson enough to know they can't stop the NFL's top rusher.

So they have an alternate plan to try to neutralize L.T.: Eliminate his big plays.

The Titans boast the NFL's fifth-stingiest rushing defense and allowed an average of 92.4 yards per game during the regular season. They limited Tomlinson to 33 yards in the first half of their 23-17 overtime loss to the Chargers on Dec. 9.

But the NFL's top rusher the past two seasons finished with 146 yards and punctuated his performance with a 16-yard touchdown run to win the game. It was the most yards given up to one running back all season by the Titans, who allowed only one other 100-yard rusher.

Now the Titans have a second chance at L.T. on Sunday in their opening playoff game, and they have studied what went wrong carefully. Their plan to fix those mistakes centers on the five carries in which Tomlinson gained 94 of his yards.

"We've kind of gone back to the drawing board, and hopefully we can negate those plays," Titans linebacker Keith Bulluck said Thursday.

"I feel it's hard to say you did a good job on a guy when he had 140-something yards. Minus those five critical plays, we did a good job. At the end of the day, they got the win, so we have to do way better."

Tomlinson hurt the Titans with a 16-yard run in the second quarter and opened the third quarter picking up 32 yards on his first carry with a 15-yarder later. He added a 15-yarder in the fourth quarter and capped his day by sprinting left and upfield for the TD midway through overtime.

Pro Bowl defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch said they know they can't shut L.T. down completely. Limiting those big plays? That's the focus.

"Not let him get long runs, make their team drive the ball down the field and not let them have the big plays, the big home run plays where they just take it to the house," Vanden Bosch said.

On his 21 other carries, Tomlinson totaled 52 yards. He has averaged 121.3 yards and four TDs against Tennessee in three career games, but he said he doesn't think the Chargers have an edge because they won a month ago.

"It was a tough game last time we played them, and we barely escaped with a victory. We don't have an edge at all. We're going to have to earn everything that we get from these guys," Tomlinson said.

That's exactly the Titans' plan. Swarm, hit and smother L.T. Make him earn every single yard. In their last game, nine of Tomlinson's carries were for 1 yard, no gain or tackled for a loss.

TitansPro Bowl defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth said gang tackling will be a must.

"It doesn't matter how hard you hit him, how many times you hit him. He's still fast and keeps coming. We've got to make sure we don't make any mistakes and definitely wrap up and don't allow the big gains," Haynesworth said.

Haynesworth can help play a key role in slowing down Tomlinson. San Diego was his second game back from a strained right hamstring that kept him out of three games, and the Titans gave up 148 yards rushing to the Chargers that day.

They have allowed only 203 yards rushing total in the three games since then -- all victories.

"When he's back in the lineup, we're a much more productive defense," Titans coach Jeff Fisher said of Haynesworth.

Tomlinson has rushed for 100 yards or more in four of the last five games, and he ran for 123 yards against New England a year ago.

But the Titans feel they have something to prove defensively. Vanden Bosch had three of their five sacks as they shut down Philip Rivers in building a 17-3 lead through three quarters.

"We have to be able to protect a lead," Vanden Bosch said. "That's the way this team is built for. Getting a lead and protecting that lead, and we didn't get it done."

On Sunday, they get another chance.

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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