The Tennessee Titans’ pass defense is an enigma.
In terms of passing yards allowed per game, the Titans rank sixth in the NFL (194.7). In terms of yards allowed per pass play, though, they are 25th (7.49) and only three teams have allowed more pass plays of 40 yards or more than Tennessee, which has given up four.
Perhaps nothing explains the disparity in those numbers better than this: The Titans are one of five NFL teams that has not been called for defensive pass interference this season and the only team in the league that has not been flagged for defensive pass interference or defensive holding.
The other four teams that have not been called for pass interference are Carolina, Cincinnati, Detroit and Green Bay. All have been called for defensive holding multiple times. Similarly, New England, Atlanta and Chicago have not been called for defensive holding but have been flagged for pass interference (five times in the Bears’ case).
So either the Titans’ pass defense is not close enough to, or physical enough with, opposing receivers to commit penalties. Or their positioning and coverage have been sound enough that officials have not ben compelled to throw flags.
Evidence suggests it is the latter.
“There are always points of emphasis that the league goes through every year,” coach Ken Whisenhunt said. “I remember last year at this time, we were talking about pass interference, illegal contact and those penalties. It just seems to kind of even itself out as the season goes on.”
There is no better example of the good and bad of the Titans’ pass defense than its last game, against Indianapolis.
Colts quarterback Andrew Luck set up his team’s first touchdown with a 48-yard completion on third-and-20 and threw his second touchdown pass of the day on third-and-20 from the Titans’ 35. In both cases, defensive backs were in position but failed to make a play.
The rest of the game, Luck had 16 completions for 157 yards and threw two interceptions.
“The thing is, we’re in position. We just have to make the play,” cornerback Jason McCourty, who missed the first three games with a hamstring injury said. “There’s a ton of players in this league that can be in this position and that’s what we get paid to do. Part of it is just having the confidence to look back for the ball or whatever it might be in that particular moment.
“At the end of the day, you get paid, you get promoted, you get whatever accolades if you can make the play.”
(Photo: Getty Images)
Since the franchise was rebranded in 1999, there have been just three seasons in which the Tennessee Titans won in Week 1 and then lost (at least) their next three games.
Never has it happened in consecutive seasons, but that could change Sunday when the Titans (1-2) host the Buffalo Bills (2-2).
Tennessee answered the 2014 season-opening victory at Kansas City with four straight defeats and followed up this season’s win at Tampa Bay with a pair of losses. Similar things happened in 2002 and 2004.
Now they get Buffalo, which has alternated wins and losses through the first four weeks and — based on that — is due for a victory.
Three reasons to believe the Titans will win Sunday
• It’s the Bills: The Titans have won the last five meetings with Buffalo, which is their longest active win streak against any team — and it does not even include the Music City Miracle. The current run of success dates back to 2003 and features a pair of one-point victories and another by two points. There also was a 24-point rout the last time Buffalo came to Nissan Stadium (Nov. 15, 2009). In short: Tennessee just seems to find a way in this series.
• Pass defense: The Titans have given up some big plays in the passing game but they have allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete just 53.8 percent of their throws. Buffalo’s Tyrod Taylor is one of eight QBs with a completion rate of 70 or better (71.7) but he is 22nd in average yards per catch, which means he gets it there but not in the perfect spot. If the defense can limit his completion percentage, his chances to hit on a big play will decrease significantly.
• Halftime adjustments: The Titans’ best quarter this season has been the third, when they have outscored opponents 31-0. Buffalo’s worst quarter has been the third, when it has been outscored 29-7. If Tennessee wins the coin toss, therefore, expect coach Ken Whisenhunt to defer and take the ball to start the second half. As long as nothing disastrous happens in the first two quarters, that will be the opportunity to take control.
Three reasons to believe the Titans won’t win Sunday
• Coaching connections: Without question, of the three defenses they have faced thus far none gave the Titans more trouble than Cleveland’s. The Browns coach is Mike Pettine, who spent several years on Buffalo coach Rex Ryan’s defensive staffs in Baltimore and New York. Those two think alike and they probably share information and insight. So Ryan (pictured) and the Bills ought to come into this game with a pretty good idea of what they want to do on defense.
• Running out of backs: Buffalo has the league’s sixth-best rushing offense with an average of 128.3 yards per game and only four teams have scored more rushing touchdowns than their five. However, veteran LeSean McCoy and rookie Karlos Williams, who have combined for 372 of their team’s 513 rushing yards, might not play because of injury issues. That would make Boobie Dixon, who has 261 rushes in five-plus NFL seasons, the man.
• Tough stuff: Only three teams have more takeaways than Buffalo, which has nine (six interceptions, three fumble recoveries) through its first four games. One of those teams is the New York Jets, which Ryan coached last season. Tough, physical defense is his calling card and the Titans have lost four fumbles (they have committed six), which are more than all but two other teams. It’s going to be difficult to hang on to the ball. If Tennessee can’t do it, this will be a long day.
The bottom line
This is the best team the Titans have faced thus far. Buffalo’s offensive personnel doesn’t necessarily scare anybody but the coaching staff has made it easier for Taylor by taking advantage of the individual talents of the other skill position players such as the running backs or wide receiver Percy Harvin or tight end Charles Clay.
Tennessee simply does not have as many options to give quarterback Marcus Mariota against a stout defense. And unless everybody got an attitude adjustment during the bye week, the Titans have looked physical enough to stand up to a team like Buffalo’s.
It’s going to take some big plays on offense and defense for Tennessee to win this one. Absent any such dramatic moments, the losing streak will reach three games.
(Photo: Getty Images)
It won’t be a sprint to the finish.
With their bye coming after just three games, the Tennessee Titans have a long way to go to complete their 2015 schedule.
But even at 1-2, they have come a long way from where they were a year ago. They have identified their quarterback of the future, addressed personnel mistakes that had plagued them for the last couple seasons and went toe-to-toe with the team to beat in the AFC South. Let's take stock.
Three reasons to believe things will be much better for the Titans after the bye
• The kid: In just three NFL starts, Marcus Mariota has shown he is tough, he can make plays in the clutch and — when everyone else in the lineup does their jobs — can perform at as high a level as statistically imaginable. It’s been a stirring — not to mention record-setting — start for the second overall pick in the draft. His presence is cause for optimism, not just for the long term but for the remaining 13 games of this season.
• Check the standings: For what it’s worth, the Titans are tied for first place in the division — with Indianapolis, Jacksonville and Houston. The entire AFC South is 1-2, which means it is completely up for grabs. Given the fact that Tennessee gave away a game to the Colts and let one get away early at Cleveland (a team that’s not going to scare a lot of opponents), things could be a lot worse right now.
• Roster wrangling: Coaches and management made some tough decisions coming out of training camp. They finally jettisoned left guard Andy Levitre after three disappointing seasons and got a little something for him from Atlanta. They also kept five tight ends, which is a remarkable number in the NFL. There are some holes in the roster, but at least those in charge made decisions to try to get the best 53 players possible, regardless of position of contract status, and that’s a good thing.
Three reasons to believe things won’t be much better for the Titans after the bye
• Pushed around: Cleveland showed that the Titans’ offensive line is vulnerable. Right tackle Jeremiah Poutasi still has a lot to learn, left guard Byron Bell continues to sort out the subtleties of a new position and left tackle Taylor Lewan commits a few too many penalties. The Browns did a great job exploiting all of that and others are bound to borrow from that blueprint.
• Big plays: The secondary gave up a pair of touchdowns on long passes when it allowed receivers to get open deep in Cleveland. Last Sunday, defensive backs were in position yet failed to make plays, one on a third-and-20 that turned into the game-winning touchdown. The front seven of the defense looks more solid and sturdier than it has in years. Until the back end starts to hold up its end of the bargain, though, opponents will continue to score points in bunches.
• Grounded: The Titans rank among the top 10 in rushing offense but don’t have a true No. 1 back. Coach Ken Whisenhunt insists one is not necessary and that the workload will be divided based on packages and personnel groups. It’s a nice idea but — as last Sunday’s game with Indianapolis proved — when you need a yard or two in a clutch situation, you need a guy who can get that yard or two, regardless of which play is called or how well it’s executed. This team does not have such a person.
The bottom line
It is tough to know exactly what to make of this team at this point. For all the good things that happened last Sunday against Indianapolis, the Titans still lost. They couldn’t make the plays they needed when they needed to make them. There were similar issues at Cleveland.
There’s no reason to think that this is a playoff team, but it ought to be one worth watching for the remainder of the season. And that's an improvement from a year ago.
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)
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.
RUNNING THE SHOW
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)
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)
Jamon Meredith does not give a lot of thought to which team he’s on or which position he plays.
He has boiled his NFL career down to a simple question of which hand.
“I just put a different hand down,” the Tennessee Titans offensive lineman said Thursday. “If I’m on the right side I put my right hand down. If I’m on the left side I put my left hand down.
“Then I go out there and play football.”
Sunday, when the Titans host the Indianapolis Colts in their home-opener (noon, CBS), it will be Meredith’s right hand in the ground. He will start at right guard in place of Chance Warmack, who will miss at least one game with a knee injury sustained last Sunday at Cleveland.
Changes on the offensive line are nothing new to the Titans in recent seasons. They had the same starting five in 15 of the 16 games in 2011, the last time they finished with a winning record (9-7), but since then it has been a steady shuffle.
This season, though, the issues arose sooner than ever.
Last year, Tennessee started the same five offensive linemen for each of the first five games. From there, they used four different combinations in the last 11. In 2013 the first six games featured the same five blockers before injuries caused them to use three different units in the final 10. In 2012, the line was unchanged through the first eight games but there were four different units in the last eight.
Now it’s the third game of this season and already they have to adjust for injury. Enter Meredith.
“This is my seventh year in the league and that’s how I’ve made it,” he said.
“Everybody has their own niche. Some people are drafted high and get automatically pushed into starting roles. I didn’t have it like that so I’ve always been a get-in-where-I-fit-in type of player. Anytime my number’s called I’m always ready to go.”
It will be the 28th start of Meredith’s seven-year career and his fourth for Tennessee. He’s played for five other teams and started for two of them and those starts include at least three at every position on the offensive line except center.
Last season he started two games at left tackle and one at right tackle for the Titans, who signed him a week after the Cincinnati Bengals released him.
“I give the guy credit,” coach Ken Whisenhunt said. “That’s good for him to be able to do all this. It was certainly nice to be able to put him in there in the game against Cleveland and he played well on Sunday.
“So it certainly feels better going into this game.”
The hope is that the results will be much better.
The Titans won their first game once the injuries started last season but then lost 10 in a row. In 2013 they went 4-6 after they started making changes up front and they lost five of their last eight as they rolled through different combinations.
“I told (Warmack) as soon as he went down, ‘Chance, I’m going to hold it down for you until you get back,’” Meredith said. “So that’s what I plan on doing.”
Then he’ll wait for another opportunity. Possibly at another position. Maybe even another team.
It will still come down to one of his two hands, though.
Having dropped their first two games of the season, the Indianapolis Colts could not ask for a better opponent than the Tennessee Titans.
No matter whether it has been Jeff Fisher, Mike Munchak or Ken Whisenhunt in charge, Tennessee consistently has been a team Indianapolis could beat when it needed a win.
Specifically, in the last five seasons the Colts have faced the Titans five times after having lost its previous game. All five times they won.
They come into Sunday’s contest at Nissan Stadium (noon, CBS) one of three AFC teams that has yet to win this season.
“We haven’t performed very well,” Indianapolis quarterback Andrew Luck said Wednesday. “It gets frustrating but the good thing is there are games left. We get to play a tough Tennessee team and hopefully go out there and right our wrongs.”
TURN IT AROUND
A look at how the Indianapolis Colts have fared against the Tennessee Titans following a loss (2010-14):
Dec. 5 – L 38-35 vs. Dallas
Dec. 9 – W 30-28 at Tennessee
Dec. 11 – L 24-10 at Baltimore-x
Dec. 18 – W 27-13 vs. Tennessee
Nov. 10 – L 38-8 vs. St. Louis
Nov. 14 – W 30-27 at Tennessee
Nov. 24 – L 40-11 at Arizona
Dec. 1 – W 22-14 vs. Tennessee
Dec. 21 – L 42-7 at Dallas
Dec. 28 – W 27-10 at Tennessee
x-Indianapolis was 0-11 following loss to Ravens
The turnarounds in the three seasons Luck has been the Colts quarterback have been particularly dramatic. All three times they have been in this situation since 2013 they lost the preceding game by 29 points or more yet still got a win against the Titans.
Overall, with Luck and coach Chuck Pagano (both arrived in 2012) the Colts are 14-2 following a loss, but the Titans are the team they have beaten more than once for those 14 victories.
Then, of course, there was 2011, when Indianapolis lost its first 11 games but finally got in the win column against Tennessee, which was in playoff contention at the time.
“There’s a lot of talk about this team from that perspective [of them being 0-2], but I don’t know where that’s coming from,” Whisenhunt said. “They’ve got a great quarterback, talented receivers, a good running back. Defensively, they’ve got a lot of good personnel. So they present a lot of problems for us. We’ve got to play our best football.”
If not, they’ll remain the best way for the Colts to get back to winning.
(Photo: Getty Images)
Two weeks into the season, the Tennessee Titans are a study in uncertainty.
Are they as good as they looked in the opener against Tampa Bay? Or are they as bad as they appeared Sunday (in the first half, at least) at Cleveland?
The answer likely comes Sunday, when they face the Indianapolis Colts in their home opener (noon, CBS).
“You know it’s not easy to go on the road and win,” coach Ken Whisenhunt said Monday. “Two games on the road is hard, especially when you’re playing season openers. But that’s not an excuse. At times, we played well enough in both of them that we could have won them.”
A year ago, more than half the league — 18 teams, to be exact — was 1-1 after two games as Tennessee is now. The majority of those that won in Week 3 went on to have a good season. Many even made the playoffs. Those that lost in Week 3, including the Titans, fared much worse, except for the Green Bay Packers.
Six of the nine teams that won in Week 3 to get to 2-1 reached the postseason. That group included New England and Seattle, the teams that eventually met in the Super Bowl. Combined, those nine Week 3 winners averaged 9.8 victories and seven of them finished with winning records.
Of the nine that lost in week 3 and fell to 1-2, only Green Bay finished with a winning record and made the playoffs. Two others managed to get to 8-8 but six finished with losing records and all told those nine teams averaged 6.4 victories for the season.
A look at how the 18 teams that started 1-1 last season fared in Week 3 and what their final records were:
Week 3 winners
Week 3 losers
New England-x 12-4
Green Bay-x 12-4
San Francisco 8-8
St. Louis 6-10
San Diego 9-7
N.Y. Jets 4-12
x-made the playoffs
This season, the Titans are one of 14 teams that have started 1-1. It’s hardly the first time they have found themselves in this situation.
From 2000 through last season, they split their first two contests 10 times and the franchise’s experience is similar to what happened league-wide a year ago. In four of those seasons, they ultimately made the playoffs (2000, 2002, 2003 and 2007) and three of those four years included a victory in Week 3.
The exception was 2002. Since then, there have been three times the Titans lost in Week 3 and dropped to 1-2. Each time, things got worse from there. They finished 5-11 (2004), 4-12 (2005) and 2-14 (2014).
“We’ve done some good things in the first couple of games and hopefully we can build off that,” Whisenhunt said. “There’s no question it’s important. If we can win games at home, we’ve got a chance to be a pretty good football team.”
Winning this game at home will give them a much better chance.
(Photo: Getty Images)
The question is not whether quarterback Marcus Mariota can maintain his level of play after a Week 1 blowout of Tampa Bay.
Expectations are, of course, high but it is unrealistic to suspect he can post a perfect passer rating every week.
The bigger issue is whether the Tennessee Titans – as a team – can follow up a standout individual performance with a winning effort. Recent history suggests it is not as easy as many might think.
Wednesday, the NFL named the Tennessee Titans quarterback AFC Offensive Player of the Week over New England’s Tom Brady, among others.
He is the first Titans player since Chris Johnson in 2012 (Week 7) and the first quarterback since Vince Young in 2009 (Week 12) to earn that particular honor. Jurrell Casey was the most recent weekly award winner when he was named Defensive Player of the Week once last season (Week 6).
In the previous five seasons, Tennessee had someone named player of the week 10 times. In seven of those cases, including the last five, the Titans followed that with a loss in their next game.
STAR POWER OUTAGE
A look at the last 10 Titans’ AFC weekly award winners and how the team fared the next week:
Jurrell Casey (defense), Week 6. Next game: L 19-17 at Washington
Alterraun Verner (defense), Week 4. Next game: L 26-17 vs. Kansas City
Darius Reynaud (special teams), Week 3. Next game: L 38-14 at Houston
Chris Johnson (offense), Week 7. Next game: L 19-13 (OT) vs. Indianapolis
Darius Reynaud (special teams), Week 17. Next game: NA
Marc Mariani (special teams), Week 10. Next game: L 23-17 at Atlanta
Chris Johnson (offense), Week 12. Next game: W 23-17 at Buffalo
Colin McCarthy (defense), Week 13. Next game: L 22-17 vs. New Orleans
Chris Johnson (offense), Week 5. Next game: W 30-3 at Jacksonville
Marc Mariani (special teams), Week 11. Next game: L 20-0 at Houston
“Not to be a Negative Nelly here, but we have to continue to focus on getting better,” coach Ken Whisnehunt said Monday. “I think if we continue to do that, if we keep that same mentality, we’re excited about becoming a better football team.
“… One game doesn’t make success. I think it’s great to do some things in a game that you feel like you could do, based off of what we’ve done through camp, but we’ve got to continue this.”
(Photo: Getty Images)
POSTDATA: WARRANTY DEEDS