New Orleans at Tennessee Game Preview

Breakdown preview of the New Orleans Saints at Tennessee Titans battle in week-three of the NFL season.

New Orleans Saints (1-1) at Tennessee Titans (1-1)


GAME SNAPSHOT
KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 ET
SURFACE: Grass
TV: FOX, Ron Pitts, Tim Ryan
SERIES: 11th meeting. Tennessee leads 5-4-1. The Titans have won three of the last four, including a 24-21 win in 1999.
2003 RANKINGS: Saints: offense 13th (13th rush, 13th pass); defense 9th (22nd rush, 7th pass). Titans: offense 22nd (29th rush, 15th pass); defense 11th (12th rush, 16th pass)

KEYS TO THE GAME: The Saints have some real concerns on defense, where they will be without DE Darren Howard, SLB Sedrick Hodge, CB Dale Carter and DT Johnathan Sullivan. Tennessee plans to force the run, with rookie RB Chris Brown expected to be available to spell Eddie George after missing the first two games. The Titans know they will see a lot of Saints RB Deuce McAllister after struggling to stop Indianapolis' Edgerrin James last Sunday. Tennessee doesn't have the corners to matchup with WRs Joe Horn, Donte' Stallworth and Jerome Pathon, so if the defense has to move forward to stop the run, it could turn into a shootout.

FAST FACTS: Saints: The team is 16-9 on the road under coach Jim Haslett. ... New Orleans is 11-3 when QB Aaron Brooks has a 100.0 passer rating or better. Titans: Titans RB Eddie George has started 113 consecutive games to begin his career, the longest streak in the NFL. ... RG Benji Olson (knee) is expected to sit out, ending his streak of 73 consecutive starts. ... WR Derrick Mason leads the NFL with 20 receptions.


PREDICTED SCORE: Titans 23-20

PERSONNEL NEWS
Saints:
   --SLB Sedrick Hodge is out for six-to-eight weeks with a hairline fracture in his lower right leg. Surgery will not be required to repair the fracture.
   --LCB Dale Carter underwent surgery this week to have a small plate inserted into the fractured orbit bone around his right eye. He will be out for up to a month, but Saints officials are hoping that he can return in two or three weeks using a shield on his helmet.
   --DT Johnathan Sullivan tore the meniscus in his left knee on Wednesday and will likely be out two-to-three weeks.
   --DE Darren Howard had surgery on his dislocated right wrist on Sept. 8 and will be sidelined for another nine-to-11 weeks.
   --FB Terrelle Smith worked Thursday after missing Wednesday's practice with a strained left knee. He remains questionable for Sunday's game with the Titans.
   --LB Cie Grant, who missed the first two games after having arthroscopic knee surgery on Aug. 27, is listed as doubtful for Sunday.
   --DT Henry Ford will play Sunday for the first time since signing with the Saints on July 27. He missed all of the preseason with bone spurs in his right ankle and underwent surgery on Aug. 25, which kept him out of the first two regular-season games.
   --LB Roger Knight will start against the Titans and probably play on first and second downs in place of injured strong-side linebacker Sedrick Hodge.
   --WLBs Derrick Rodgers and James Allen will likely replace Knight on passing downs.
   --DT Kenny Smith will start at the three technique for the injured Johnathan Sullivan against the Titans.
   --CB Fred Thomas will start at left cornerback Sunday in place of the injured Dale Carter.
   --CB Fakhir Brown will be the third corner on the field and will play in nickel situations although Fred Thomas will move to the nickel spot when Brown comes into the game.

Titans:
   --TE Frank Wycheck remains out of action as he recovers from two concussions suffered in less than a month.
   --TE Shad Meier has shown the versatility to line up on the line or to line up in the backfield, running pass routes or throwing blocks from either spot. Playing as the second TE behind Erron Kinney, Meier is playing well enough that the Titans are willing to let Frank Wycheck return when he feels ready.
   --DE Carlos Hall was excused from practice Thursday to deal with some personal affairs, but will still be a big factor in the pass rush plan against the Saints.
   --QB Steve McNair took about half the work in Thursday at practice and the ring finger on his right hand has improved significantly. His left knee may still be bothering him a touch.
   --WR Drew Bennett may have wavering confidence, but it's certainly not as a result of any external public pressure. The Titans continue to tout him as their No. 2 receiver even as he's yet to catch a ball this season, and Jeff Fisher has talked of getting Bennett into the flow earlier and more often.
   --RB Chris Brown, who has been out of action since a hamstring pull early in training camp, is ready for his NFL debut Sunday against New Orleans. Expectations are high for the third-round draft pick who has shown an ability to hit some home runs out of the backfield.
   --WR Tyrone Calico is supposed to be a deep threat, but so far the Titans have used him from close range, and he has caught one pass in each of his first two NFL games - both for TDs.
   --DT Rien Long will get his first significant action as he helps fill in the middle of the defensive line where Albert Haynesworth (elbow) will be missing. Look for the Saints to send RB Deuce McAllister at Long and James Atkins, who also has little experience.
   --DT James Atkins saw significant action last week after Albert Haynesworth (elbow) was hurt early in Indianapolis. The Saints will likely test the DTs beyond Robaire Smith with Deuce McAllister.
   --DT Albert Haynesworth (elbow) will not play against the Saints.

INSIDE THE CAMPS

Saints:
   For the third consecutive week, injuries to key defensive players are haunting the Saints as they prepare for Sunday's road game with the Tennessee Titans.
   Defensive coordinator Rick Venturi will line up without five starters on that side of the ball when the Saints (1-1) face the Titans (1-1).
   Each of the players have been lost in the last three games, which means an alarming number of substitutes for a unit that already had eight new starters playing in the season opener. Still, the Saints rank ninth in total defense and seventh against the pass after two games.
   Strong safety Mel Mitchell tore his left ACL in the team's final exhibition game and right defensive end Darren Howard dislocated his right wrist in the season opener. Mitchell is out for the season and Howard, who had surgery on Sept. 8, will be sidelined for up to 11 more weeks.
   Then, in a 31-10 win over the Texans last Sunday, defensive tackle Johnathan Sullivan tore the meniscus in his left knee, cornerback Dale Carter fractured the orbit bone in his right eye and strong-side linebacker Sedrick Hodge suffered a hairline fracture of his lower right leg. Sullivan and Carter had surgery this week.
   They, along with Howard, are expected back later in the season, so the Saints will not put them on IR.
   That means the Saints, who signed former New York Jets and New England Patriots safety Victor Green on Tuesday, will have only 20 defensive players available for the game with the Titans. One of them, safety Steve Gleason, is primarily a special teams player although he could play a couple of snaps on defense if needed.
   "I just don't dwell on it, to be honest with you," Venturi said. "I can't dwell on it. In this business, we live in a day-type compartment, a day-type tunnel. That's not just coaching rhetoric, that's the way it is. As coaches, you are brought up to worry about solutions -- not problems."

Titans:
   The Titans head into Sunday's game in Nashville thinned out on the offensive and defensive lines. Tennessee will be without right guard Benji Olson (knee) and right defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth (elbow).
   The hope is that a couple rookies who will play for the first time will help offset the losses, even though they play different positions.
   Running back Chris Brown, a third-round pick out of Colorado, hasn't played since early in training camp because of a strained hamstring. In his debut he could take snaps away from both Eddie George and Robert Holcombe. While Jeff Fisher has emphasized how far behind Brown is from all the missed practices and games, expectations that Brown will offer a quality and fast change up are high.
   Top draft pick Andre Woolfolk will play with a steel plate in his shoe to protect the toe he dislocated in the preseason opener. He will play nickelback and likely draw speedster Donte' Stallworth in coverage.
   With Woolfolk ready to contribute, Lance Schulters will be able to remain at free safety in the nickel package, which should increase the defenses' chances at big plays. Scott McGarrahan, who played well at free safety in nickel when Schulters moved up to play as the third corner, will now work as the dime.


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