Rio Grande De-Fence Briefing: Titans have no fumble recoveries but have had opportunities

If any team is going to take control of the AFC South, it might want to start with takeaways.

It is the only division in the NFL that currently has three teams with losing records. The Tennessee Titans are 1-2. The Houston Texans and Jacksonville Jaguars are 1-3.

It’s probably not a coincidence that the same division accounts for nearly half of the teams that have yet to recover an opponent’s fumble. Tennessee, Houston and Indianapolis are among the seven teams with zero fumble recoveries. The Texans (minus-6) and Colts (minus-9) are currently the two worst teams in terms of takeaway ratio.

The Titans’ failure to get a fumble recovery is not for lack of opportunity. Only Indianapolis has forced more without a recovery.

They have forced at least one in all three games yet have come up empty. At Tampa Bay and Cleveland they had two opportunities each to come up with a loose ball and could not do it.

A look at the NFL teams that currently have not recovered a fumble:

Indianapolis (6 forced fumbles)
Tennessee (5 forced fumbles)
Arizona (5 forced fumbles)
New England (4 forced fumbles)
Houston (3 forced fumbles)
San Francisco (2 forced fumbles)
Miami (1 forced fumbles)

A year ago Tennessee forced only one fumble in its first five games (the defense recovered it) and never more than one in any contest.

The last time the Titans forced at least five fumbles in their first three games was 2010, Jeff Fisher’s last season as coach. Then, they forced nine (they recovered three) through three games.

So the fact that the opportunities exit this season probably should be considered a good sign. Now it’s just a matter of falling on those fumbles.

Oct 5, 2015 10:33 AM

Locker's baseball background lands him spot in hall of fame

Less than a year after his NFL career ended, Jake Locker is headed to a hall of fame. For baseball.

The former Tennessee Titans quarterback, who retired unexpectedly in March, will be inducted into the Washington State American Legion Baseball Hall of Fame next month. He is part of a 10-person class that includes former Major League Baseball players Mike Blowers and Grady Sizemore.

Virtually all of the information regarding Locker’s nomination on the Hall’s website focuses on his football career.


Locker was pitcher and outfielder and was the state’s Class 3A high school baseball player of the year as a senior.

The induction ceremony will take place Nov. 14.

(Photo: Getty Images)

Oct 5, 2015 6:05 AM

Rookie of the Month award affirms Mariota's NFL readiness

Remember when most people thought it would take some time for Marcus Mariota to successfully make the transition to the NFL?

Well ‘some time’ turned out to be a short time. Maybe even no time.

No rookie is off to a better start than the Tennessee Titans’ rookie quarterback, who was named NFL Offensive Rookie of the Month on Thursday.

Through three games he leads all rookies in passing yards (833), touchdown passes (eight) and passer rating (109.2). He has thrown at least two touchdown passes in all three contests and has tied a league record for most touchdown passes by a rookie through his first three games.

Only three quarterbacks of any experience level – Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady and Carson Palmer – have more touchdown passes.

“Some of this, he’s experiencing for the first time,” coach Ken Whisenhunt said following Sunday’s 35-33 loss to Indianapolis. “… As much as you want to try to do it, you can’t simulate the speed, nor can you simulate what (teams are) going to do because a lot of the things that they’re defense did (Sunday), they hadn’t done before or they do differently.

“So part of it is adjusting and adapting and anticipating and all of those things he’s going to be good at as he gets more experience.”

At this point, he’s much better than most expected.

(Photo: Getty Images)

Oct 1, 2015 11:14 PM

Next step for youthful Titans is to learn to play with the lead

The Tennessee Titans had a 13-point lead going in to the fourth quarter against the defending AFC South champion Indianapolis Colts Sunday at Nissan Stadium. 

What happened from that point was not a matter of conjecture. Everyone from tight end Delanie Walker to head coach Ken Whisenhunt acknowledged the team did not do the things necessary to turn a lead into a win.

“Its just at the end of the games you’ve got to be able to finish,” Walker said. “We were down 14-0 then came back and had a 13-point lead on them we just didn’t finish the game when we needed to.

“I don’t think some of the young guys understand how the NFL works. Now they’re getting a taste of it.”

In terms of their personnel, the Titans are a talented team. They did storm back and scored 27 straight points.

However, at 1-2 entering their bye week the weaknesses – in experience among them – have outweighed the strengths. Thus far in 2015 the Titans have used 19 players, including all seven draft picks, who were not a part of last season’s 2-14 debacle.

“The thing was you could see it on the sidelines, a couple of players were getting too comfortable on the sidelines,” cornerback Perrish Cox said. “There was a lot of laughter, there was a lot of dancing around. You know we have to stop doing that and finish the game.”

It was clear that such behavior did not sit well with Cox (pictured), who is one of this season’s newcomers but also is an established veteran. Because of the latter, he feels it’s his responsibility to address these issues.

“It’s not really inexperience,” he said. “Even if it is inexperience we’ve got a lot of captains on this team and a lot of veterans on this squad that can handle the sideline. Like I said we just got too comfortable and let it slip away.

“The veterans on this team are going to get together. We’ve got a meeting Tuesday, so we’re going to get together Tuesday and we’re going to address it then.”

(Photo: Getty Images)

Sep 29, 2015 1:58 PM

Titans don't need, want featured back to be good rushing offense

As far as Ken Whisenhunt is concerned, it’s not broke. So he’s not about to fix it.

Prior to Monday’s game the Titans were ninth in the NFL in rushing offense at an average of 126 yards per game.

Among the top 10, though, they were an outlier in that they don’t have an obvious featured back. Bishop Sankey leads the team with 29 carries and 126 rushing yards. The second-year back accounts for 32.6 percent of the team’s carries.

Every other team in the top 10 had at least one back that had gotten the ball on more than 40 percent of his team’s rushes.

Six of them had a player who had run it on 50 percent or more of their attempts. That group of backs includes six of the league’s top 10 individual rushers. Among them is Tennessee’s last featured back, Chris Johnson, whose 52 carries through three games represent 57.8 percent of Arizona’s total rushes.

“What’s wrong with what we’ve been doing in the first three weeks running the football?” Whisenhunt said Monday. “We’ve been effective. Every week we have different packages and I can’t tell you which package is going to have success.”

The closest team to the Titans, in terms of division of labor, is Cincinnati, which ranks eighth with an average of 129.3 yards per game. The Bengals have two backs, Jeremy Hill and Giovanni Bernard, who each have 41 carries – a combined 83.6 percent of that team’s total or 41.8 percent apiece.

A look at the top 10 NFL’s top 10 rushing offenses and their leader in carries (percentage of his team’s total rushing attempts in parentheses):

1. Buffalo – LeSean McCoy – 43 rushes (44.3 percent)
2. San Francisco – Carlos Hyde – 54 rushes (54.5 percent)
3. Minnesota – Adrian Peterson – 59 rushes (65.6 percent)
4. Washington – Alfred Morris – 49 rushes (52.1 percent)
5. Seattle – Marshawn Lynch – 38 rushes (44.1 percent)
T6. Carolina – James Stewart – 49 rushes (50.0 percent)
T6. Chicago – Matt Forte – 59 rushes (62.0 percent)
8. Cincinnati – Giovanni Bernard/Jeremy Hill – 41 rushes each (41.8 percent each)
9. Tennessee – Bishop Sankey – 29 rushes (32.6 percent)
10. Arizona – Chris Johnson – 52 rushes (57.8 percent)

Sankey (pictured) ran it 12 times in each of the first two games and those 24 carries were 38.7 percent of the Titans’ rushes in the first two weeks.

In Sunday’s loss to Indianapolis, Antonio Andrews, who had never carried in a regular season game, got a team-high 12 carries. Sankey ran it just five times.

“We didn’t have a good matchup, we felt, in the packages that (Sankey) was in there for, especially running the football,” Whisenhunt said. “But it was a little bit more that way with (Andrews) in there, so he took advantage of it.

“I don’t know what it’s going to be next week or the next week that we play. That’s going to go from week to week.”

(Photo: Getty Images)

Sep 29, 2015 7:13 AM

Commentary: Two-point try should have been Mariota's moment

Give the kid a chance.

No. Not that one.

I’m talking about the one with the single digit on his jersey. The guy who had just completed five passes to three different receivers and got you 80 yards down the field, into the end zone and in position to tie it – all in two minutes and four seconds.

The Tennessee Titans undeniably have made Marcus Mariota the face of their franchise. At the moment of truth in Sunday’s 35-33 loss to the Indianapolis Colts at Nissan Stadium, though, they were unwilling to make him ‘the man.’

Given a second chance at a game-tying two-point conversion, this one from the 1-yard line (the Colts committed a penalty on the first try) coach Ken Whisenhunt called turned to a different rookie, running back Jalston Fowler, on a running play.

In so doing, they deprived their premier rookie, Mariota, the opportunity to further establish himself as the cornerstone of the franchise. Not only did Fowler not score, he retreated, circled away, give more ground and was tackled – 17 yards from the goal line. And he hurt his knee on the play.

“It’s a play where we are trying to establish our identity there – that we are a physical team and we know that we can get it in,” coach Ken Whisenhunt said. “… In that situation we wanted to push it in. We felt confident in the play. We felt confident in the guy running it. That’s why we ran.”

Whisenhunt makes a fair point. No matter what schematic wrinkles coaches develop on offense or on defense, physical play still makes a difference much more often than not. He should want his team to have that type of an identity.

For right now, though, the most notable aspects of this franchise are Mariota, Mariota and Mariota.

The 2014 Heisman Trophy winner is the reason fans turned out in larger numbers for the home opener than they had for any other game in recent seasons. He’s the reason no one lost hope when the Titans fell behind 14-0. And he’s the one who had his teammates, fans in the stands et. al. believing when he deftly moved the offense down the field on that last drive with a mix of precision execution and improvisational genius.

It’s just tough not to think the best thing to do was not to give him some sort of run-pass option and let him use whichever of his bountiful physical gifts were necessary to tie that game and force overtime.

Yes, the Titans proved a point on the touchdown that set up the conversion attempt. Yes, Fowler scored easily from the 1-yard line and ended a streak of 21 straight Indianapolis points.

A little more than a quarter earlier, though, Whisenhunt’s team had to settle for a field goal after it had a first-and-goal from the 1. The last two attempts at that time were runs, each of which lost a yard.

“That call had been successful previously,” Mariota said. “We thought we could kind of quick-count them and get it in. Unfortunately, it just didn’t work.”

No it didn’t. Not even close.

Whisenhunt correctly noted that such a failure creates second-guessing.

So here we go. Pretty much no one questions whether the Titans made the correct choice with the second overall pick in this year’s NFL draft. So the only decision on that two-point conversion was to give Mariota the chance to make a play.

(Photo: Getty Images)

Sep 28, 2015 7:29 AM

No lead was safe for Titans, Colts — except the last one

The Tennessee Titans learned Sunday that no lead is safe in the NFL.

They proved it to themselves after they fell behind 14-0 early Sunday at Nissan Stadium. They scored the next 27 points and took a 13-point lead into the fourth quarter.

That’s when things started to fall apart and the lesson was reinforced. Indianapolis rallied with three fourth-quarter touchdowns and Tennessee lost 35-33.

“At this point, I don’t want to say that we don’t know how to win. It’s just at the end of the games, you’ve got to be able to finish,” tight end Delanie Walker said. “We were down 14-0 then came back and had a 13-point lead on them. We just didn’t finish the game when we needed to.”

With just under seven minutes left, Andrew Luck drove the Colts down the field for the first of three touchdowns in a span of three minutes and 58 seconds.

“We blew plenty of opportunities (Sunday),” center Brian Schwenke said. “We had every chance to win that game. Even with our slow start, we still came back and put ourselves in a position to win and we just didn’t seize those opportunities. We should’ve won the game, we didn’t.”

Eight points away from a tie, Marcus Mariota led a nine-play, 80-yard touchdown drive. Needing a two-point conversion to tie, they put the ball in the hands of rookie fullback Jalston Fowler. Fowler was initially stopped at the line of scrimmage but bounced back outside and tried to turn the corner but was stopped by a convoy of Colts.

The failed two-point attempt left many wondering if a run up the middle was the best call in that situation.

“You want to play hard on every play and win on every play,” Schwenke said. “So it doesn’t matter what plays you take off it’s about winning on every play.

“It’s a good play. It’s a play that we know if we line up and play harder than they do, we should score.”

(Photo: Getty Images)

Sep 28, 2015 7:17 AM

Highlight reel: Colts 35, Titans 33

A funny thing happened (OK, it wasn’t funny at all) to the Tennessee Titans on their way to victory Sunday.

They allowed the Indianapolis Colts to score three touchdowns in a span of 3:58 of the fourth quarter, which forced them in a desperate attempt to rally. They came up just short when a two-point conversion attempt with 47 seconds remaining failed and they were left to ponder how a 13-point fourth-quarter lead turned into a 35-33 loss to their chief division rival.

A look at some of the notable performers and moments from one of the Titans’ more disheartening defeats in recent memory:

Marcus Mariota, quarterback

He wasn’t perfect. His fourth-quarter interception, which effectively shifted the Colts’ comeback into high gear, is proof of that, but he hung in there and helped give his team a chance.

The first time he faced a two-minute drive as an NFL quarterback, he led the team on an 80-yard touchdown drive that set up a chance to force overtime. He finished the day 27-for-44 for 367 yards and with two touchdowns and two interceptions (only the second interception was his fault).

Throughout the game his passing allowed the offense to overcome penalties and sacks that created unfavorable down-and-distance situations. The Titans’ first touchdown drive included an 18-yard completion on third-and-13 and the next one started with a first-and-20 after a penalty.

Honorable mention
• Antonio Andrews, RB: In the first significant playing time of his professional career he finished with a team-high 49 yards on 12 attempts and caught one pass for 12 yards.

• Perrish Cox, CB: He had the first of two Titans’ interceptions in a span of 2:56 in the third quarter, and four unassisted tackles, which tied for the team lead in that regard.

• Kendall Wright, WR: He finished with game-highs with seven receptions and 95 receiving yards. He also caught a touchdown pass and – for good measure – had a 13-yard run, which tied the Titans’ longest running play of the day.

The Titans’ two-point conversion attempt with 47 seconds to play

In a game in which both teams scored points in bunches the Titans failed to double-up when it mattered most.

Jalston Fowler not only was stopped, he was bounced backward and then in desperation retreated until he was tackled back at the 17-yard line.

The last time the Titans made a two-point conversion was Nov. 14, 2012 against Chicago, more than two franchise quarterbacks ago. Then, Matt Hasselbeck completed a pass to Kenny Britt for the two points. This one wasn’t even close.

Honorable mention
• Zach Brown’s interception with 6:45 to play in the third quarter: The Colts were driving and had momentum after they converted a fake punt tree plays earlier.

• Andrew Luck’s 35-yard touchdown pass to Phillip Dorsett: As if it wasn’t enough that it started the Colts’ comeback with 6:49 to play, it came on a third-and-20 play.

• Wright’s seven-yard touchdown catch with 19 seconds left in the first half: It gave the Titans a jolt that lasted through halftime and displayed toughness on the part of Wright, who battled to get across the goal line.


• “The fact that we fought all the way through, that we had an opportunity to win just proves to the guys that we should have confidence in every single game.” – Mariota, on dealing with the disappointment of this defeat.

• “We did not want to lose. I don’t even want to think about a loss so I’m not going to. This one was big. Very big. That’s a very good Tennessee team. … If this can jumpstart a little hot streak, then that’s what we need.” – Luck, on the Colts getting their first win after a 0-2 start.

• “Oh yeah, it’s getting old, but we had plenty of chances to win the game. We had the lead at one point.  We’ve just got to finish the game.” – Wright, on a close loss.


This is a game that is going to make the bye week a miserable time for Titans players and coaches.

Football folks love to talk about how just one play here or there can change the outcome of virtually any game. In this case, though, it felt like there were dozens of things the Titans could have done just a little better or differently and the result would have been different.

No matter what happens the rest of this season – good or bad – this is going to be the one that got away.

(Photo: Getty Images)

Sep 28, 2015 7:06 AM

Rio Grande De-Fence Briefing: Ramsey shapes up as a cornerback NFL teams seek early in draft

Jalen Ramsey’s time is coming.

There seems to be little doubt that he will forgo his senior season at Florida State and make himself eligible for the 2016 NFL Draft. Likewise, there seems to be no doubt that it will be the right move once he makes it. this week quoted an anonymous scout for an AFC team about Ramsey, a 6-foot-1, 202-pound junior cornerback: "Best cornerback in college and it really won't be close when the draft rolls around. He's an elite athlete with length and ball skills. Those guys go in the top five."

Increasingly in recent years the first cornerback has come off the board within the first 10 picks. In fact, this year’s draft ended a run of five straight years in which a player at that position was taken ninth or better.

Three of the last four who were the first cornerback taken and were picked in the top 10 overall were – like Ramsey – at least 6-foot and more than 200 pounds.

A look at the first cornerback drafted by the NFL each of the last 10 years:

2015: Trae Waynes (6-foot, 186), 11th overall
2014: Justin Gilbert (6-foot, 202), eighth overall
2013: Dee Milliner (6-foot, 201), ninth overall
2012: Morris Claiborne (5-foot-11, 192), sixth overall
2011: Patrick Peterson (6-foot-1, 219), fifth overall
2010: Joe Haden (5-foot-11, 195), seventh overall
2009: Malcolm Jenkins (6-foot, 204), 14th overall
2008: Leodis McKelvin (5-foot-10, 185), 11th overall
2007: Darrelle Revis (5-foot-11, 198), 14th overall
2006: Tye Hill (5-foot-10, 185), 15th overall

Ramsey was a multi-sport star at Brentwood Academy who has become the same at Florida State, where’s he dabbled in track and field during the offseason and become an All-American long jumper.

That versatility only will enhance his potential in the minds of scouts.

He currently leads Florida State with five passes broken up (the rest of the team has six combined) and is sixth with 10 tackles. He also recovered a fumble, which he returned 36 yards for a touchdown.

A sample of early mock drafts projects Ramsey to go anywhere from fifth overall (Dane Brugler, to 13th (Ryan McCrystal, Bleacher Report).

(Photo: Getty Images)

Sep 25, 2015 12:01 PM

Reasons to believe: Titans vs. Colts

The Tennessee Titans — and everyone else in the AFC South — have been trying for years to catch the Indianapolis Colts.

Indianapolis has been the division champion nine times in the 13 years since the AFC South was created, and has won 13 straight and 16 of its last 18 games against division opponents.

The Titans now have the opportunity to make the Colts chase them for a while. Already, Tennessee (1-1) is one game up on Indianapolis (0-2) and — for what it’s worth at this early stage — tied for first place. A victory Sunday at Nissan Stadium in the 2015 home opener (noon, CBS) will give the Titans a two-game edge on what remains the team to beat in the division.

Three reasons to believe the Titans will win Sunday

Tough up front: The Titans’ best overall position group through the first two games likely has been the defensive line. Nose tackle Al Woods (pictured) has been physical and dynamic. Second-year player (and first-year starter) DaQuan Jones has been as sturdy as hoped and Jurrell Casey has been — well — Jurrell Casey. Rotate Karl Klug and Mike Martin in there based on situations and this is a group that can take advantage of a suspect offensive line, which the Colts definitely have.

Time to work: After rookie quarterback Marcus Mariota got battered last Sunday in Cleveland, the Titans have allowed more sacks (nine) and lost more yards to sacks (62) than any team in the league. The good news is that the Colts have just one sack through their first two games. Chances are, therefore, Mariota will have time to stand in the pocket — and he showed against Tampa Bay just what he could do with that time.

Speaking of Mariota… : It’s time. Jake Locker got his first win in his third game as a starter (Sept. 23, 2012 vs. Detroit). Likewise, Vince Young got his first win in his third game as a starter (Oct. 15, 2006 at Washington). This is — you guessed it — Mariota’s third game as a starter. The difference, of course, is that neither of those other two first-round picks started in Week 1. Three games are three games, though, and this is Mariota’s third game.

Three reasons to believe the Titans won’t win Sunday

Been there, done that (Part I): The best reason to think that the Titans won’t beat the Colts is because they haven’t done it in quite a while. Indianapolis has won the last seven games in the series and 12 of the last 13. One of the last seven victories came in overtime and two others were by less than a touchdown. When or if it gets close, the Titans will have that doubt in their minds about whether they really can pull off the victory.

Been there, done that (Part II): As bad as the Colts have looked through their first two games, their current predicament is nothing new. Last season, they started out 0-2 as well then won 11 of their last 14, including five straight beginning in Week 3 when they beat a division opponent (Jacksonville). Expect this team to be poised and confident, not desperate given its experience in such situations.

The quarterback: The Titans currently rank second in the league in pass defense but their first two games were against quarterbacks with little (Johnny Manziel) or no starting experience (Jameis Winston). Andrew Luck is a much different and much more accomplished quarterback than either of those two and will present the kind of constant challenge that was decidedly lacking in either of the previous two weeks.

The bottom line

The Titans never will have a better opportunity to re-establish themselves as a legitimate contender for the division title than they do now. Everything is set up for them from the fact that it’s their home opener to the Colts’ struggles to the optimism that exists among the fan base, which had been lacking in recent seasons.

That being said, it is tough to imagine that Tennessee wins this one. The defense gave up big plays against a Cleveland offense that just wanted to run time off the clock. This game will come down to the fact that Luck will be able to make more plays when it counts than Mariota.

(Photo: Getty Images)

Sep 25, 2015 11:27 AM