Locker, Titans need receivers running for more on pass plays

Jake Locker can get the ball into the hands of his receivers.

Prior to Thursday’s game between Cincinnati and Miami, the Tennessee Titans quarterback was 14th in the NFL with a 61.8 completion percentage and – based largely on the fact that he had thrown one interception in 152 attempts – ninth with a 97.1 passer rating.

What he must do better is help those receivers use their feet.

“It’s throwing really accurate balls, allowing guys to run with it after the catch and guys running strong with the football in their hands,” Locker said. “I think that’s something that we’ve done and we’ll continue to do.”

Sure, they’ve done it. Just not particularly well.

Despite the positive aspects of his passing numbers, Locker is 28th among the NFL’s top 32 quarterbacks, based on passer rating, in yards after the catch.

Through seven games, his receivers average 4.28 yards once the ball is in their hands. The only ones with worse numbers are Cleveland’s Brandon Weeden (4.07), Houston’s Matt Schaub (4.05), Chicago’s Jay Cutler (3.95) and Tampa Bay rookie Mike Glennon (3.84) – not exactly a distinguished group. By comparison, Philadelphia’s Michael Vick leads the league at 7.86 and Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers is second at 6.65.

“It’s something we want to get better at – we need to,” coach Mike Munchak said. “I think [Chris Johnson is] a guy that’s obviously made, on two or three short throws, some big-time plays. We got to do more of that with him, more of that with Kendall [Wright]. … We’ve got to do more of that because to me they’re like runs, and if the run game is suffering, that’s where we can pick up the slack a little bit.”

Twice in the last three games, Johnson has taken short throws and turned them into long touchdown receptions – 49 yards against Kansas City and 66 yards against San Francisco. He actually is an anomaly in that he has more yards after the catch than he has receiving yards. That is a product of balls caught behind the line of scrimmage and several plays for losses.

Wright was 14th overall and sixth among wide receivers with 237 yards after the catch. That is 54.7 percent of his 433 total yards, easily the best percentage among the Titans’ wide receivers. All of the league’s top five wide receivers had gotten fewer than half of their yards after the catch.

A look at the Titans’ top seven in receptions and how many of their yards have come after the reception:

Kendall Wright 433 yards, 237 after the catch (54.7 percent)
Nate Washington 439 receiving yards, 114 after the catch (25.9 percent)
Delanie Walker 237 yards, 61 after the catch (25.7 percent)
Chris Johnson 167 yards, 182 after the catch (109.0 percent)
Damian Williams 126 yards, 17 after the catch (13.5 percent)
Kenny Britt 67 yards, 2 after the catch (3.0 percent)
Justin Hunter yards, 7 after the catch (12.1 percent)

Wright averages 5.65 yards after the catch, which exceeds Locker’s average, but his longest reception of the season – 32 yards against Seattle – was on a pass thrown by Ryan Fitzpatrick during the two games Locker missed with hip and knee injuries.

Likewise, Johnson’s touchdown against the Chiefs was on a throw by Fitzpatrick, which did nothing for Locker’s average, and Tennessee’s longest offensive play of the season is a 77-yard touchdown pass from Fitzpatrick to Nate Washington that included 30 yards after the catch.

Locker has four completions to wide receivers for gains of more than 30 yards. Only one of those, a 35-yard gain by Washington against San Diego, included any significant yards after the catch.

“With Kendall, I’ve been extremely pleased,” offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said. “… He’s done a good job for us on third down. I’ve been really pleased with that. I think that CJ has done a good job when he’s had opportunities in the screen game. I think … that’s how you make big plays.

“We’ve missed that a little bit outside of Kendall being dynamic with the ball in his hands or Chris.”