Raiders still wary of hobbled McNair

"He's a tough guy who has been through the wars," Woodson said of McNair. "If you hit him high he's going to be tough to bring down. It's his offense and Eddie George is still a part of it." -- Raiders safety Rod Woodson on Steve McNair

 

            Two years ago, the Tennessee Titans and Oakland Raiders relied heavily on the ground game.

That time, however, seems more like two decades ago instead of two years. In 2000, Tennessee had roughly a 55-45 play distribution ratio in favor of the run (546 rush, 462 pass) while the Raiders were 52-48 (520 rush, 476 pass) in favor of the ground game. In 2002, Oakland became a 60-40 passing team (618 pass, 414 run). Tennessee is pretty much even in passing 500 times and running 511 times.

The Titans, however, have been led more so by quarterback Steve McNair than running back Eddie George this season – especially in their current six game winning streak. McNair has completed 108-of-177 (61 percent) of his passes for 1,308 yards, seven touchdowns and three interceptions. He has also rushed for 226 yards and three scores. George, meanwhile, rushed 1,165 yards but only averaged 3.4 yards per carry.

Even more impressive about McNair, who had back surgery in 1999, is he toughness. McNair has sustained injuries to his ribs, toe and calf and, during last Saturday's divisional playoff victory over Pittsburgh; the thumb on his throwing hand was injured. McNair might have to slightly alter his grip on the football but he will start and probably play the entire game against the Raiders.

At Monday's press conference, one reporter asked Oakland head coach Bill Callahan if the Titans are possibly "sandbagging" when talking about McNair's physical well being.

"All I know is that when I turn on the film he's playing," Callahan said. "He's quite a quarterback and you've really got to admire his toughness."

He's a country kid from Mount Olive, Miss., about 20 miles from where Green Bay quarterback Brett Favre lives now. McNair describes himself as "country tough," growing up on a farm where his weight-lifting exercises consisted of doing the farm chores.

George (concussion), like McNair, is listed as questionable but the Raiders are taking the approach that those two individuals will be playing. McNair's challenge will be even greater if Tennessee cannot muster a ground game against Oakland's No. 3 rated run defense. The question becomes – will McNair be forced to do too much? Oakland free safety Rod Woodson used to face McNair twice per season when he was a Baltimore Raven.

"He's a tough guy who has been through the wars," Woodson said of McNair. "If you hit him high he's going to be tough to bring down. It's his offense and Eddie George is still a part of it."

 

Vince D'Adamo can be reached at vdad7@yahoo.com

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