AFC South: Tennessee Titans

The Film Don't Lie: Titans

September, 30, 2014
Sep 30
10:00
AM ET
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- A weekly look at what the Tennessee Titans must fix.

All sorts of circumstances have prevented the Titans from running the ball often early in games this season. As they prepare for the Cleveland Browns' visit to LP Field on Sunday, the team should examine its rushing offense.

The Titans have been falling behind, and they haven’t had the ball much. Per ESPN Stats & Information, they’ve run the ball just 19 times in the first quarters of their four games combined. Only Miami and Seattle have run fewer times in the first 15 minutes of games.

On those 19 runs, Tennessee has averaged 6 yards. But the Titans have not been able to force the issue.

No matter when in the game or when they’ve run, they’ve run well. They are fifth in the NFL at 5.03 yards per rush, but 20th with only 95 rush attempts.

“If you think you’re going to come out every week and take control of the game running the football, that doesn’t happen in the NFL," coach Ken Whisenhunt said. “And if you can show me a team that does that every week, then that would be the first time I’ve seen that.”

I understand the circumstances that have led the Titans not to run enough early. But I think they need to be more deliberate with it, and they can be.

They’ve run more often in the third quarter, with 33 attempts (ranking second in the NFL).

My proposal for the Browns game: Pretend the first quarter is the third quarter and show a determination to run in order to control the game better. It should help them get away from the deadly low time of possession the Titans have had in losses to Dallas and at Indianapolis.

No, the Titans can’t control the game by running early every week. But with their line and backs, they are built to do it at least occasionally.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Jake Locker is likely to be involved in practice when the Tennessee Titans start to prepare for the Cleveland Browns on Wednesday.

Locker
At his Monday news conference coach Ken Whisenhunt said he's optimistic about his starting quarterback, who missed Sunday's blowout loss in Indianapolis with an injured right wrist suffered a week earlier during a loss to Cincinnati.

"He's further along, hopefully we'll see Wednesday that he will be able to practice and see where that is," Whisenhunt said. "...He didn't throw today, I think he'll continue with treatment. He was very close Sunday. I would anticipate that he'll practice Wednesday."

Asked if Locker is the starter if he's healthy, Whisenhunt asked a question in return: "Has it been said differently?"

Whisenhunt said Charlie Whitehurst did a good job of running the Titans' offense, even as it was a poor offensive performance.

Rookie Zach Mettenberger quarterbacked two series at the end of the game. If Locker returns to action, Mettenberger would return to being a game-day inactive, at least for now.

Whisenhunt said the week off might help Locker reset after struggling. "But sometimes it's better to stay in the fray, that"s the way you get better."

Five changes the Titans could make

September, 29, 2014
Sep 29
2:28
PM ET
What can you do when you have underperforming guys in your lineup, Tennessee Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt was asked after Sunday's 41-17 loss in Indianapolis.

“I think you really have to look at where they are and what you can do,” he replied. “Some of them you can continue to work with and know they can get better and others you are going to have to consider making some changes. It depends on which category they fall into and that’s one thing we’re going to have to look at.”

Few starters for the Titans have reserves bearing down on them. This is not an especially deep team.

Here are five changes I think the Titans have to seriously consider making:

Sankey
1) Play Bishop Sankey more, sooner.

The rookie running back has 27 touches in four games. He’s getting 5.1 yards a carry and has 10.7 yards per catch on his three catches. I’m not knocking Shonn Greene here, he’s been underutilized, too, in my eyes. But changing the pecking order at running back is an easy change to make and it could have a bearing.

“We’ll look at what we’re doing and with who we’re doing it,” Whisenhunt said. “It’s hard to judge it because of where it was in the game, too, and the way they were playing, so we’ll continue to look at those things.”

Sankey got six of his eight touches against the Colts on one third-quarter series. He got five of his 11 touches the week before in Cincinnati on one series on one third-quarter drive.

He deserves a chance at more, earlier.

2) Give Taylor Lewan a start.

If left tackle Michael Roos or right tackle Michael Oher were playing the way Andy Levitre’s been playing, they’d be replaced by Lewan, the 11th pick in the draft.

Lewan is a tackle, not a guard. But the Titans have said he’s the first alternative at either tackle or guard position. Levitre’s been candid about his struggles so far this season.

Perhaps inserting Lewan in his spot gives the line a boost and helps the group play like a unit with the pedigree this one has.

3) Sit cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson.

The second-year man and first-year starter needs some time to settle down.

Start Coty Sensabaugh and bring in Brandon Harris as part of the nickel package. Odds of it being worse than it's been are low. The Browns, Tennessee's opponent next Sunday, don't have super-threatening receivers, and the Titans need to see what else they have at corner.

Wreh-Wilson would likely resurface, but not until he has some time off. He may have suffered a concussion at the end of the Colts game. Maybe he needs a week to get healthy anyway.

4) Go with Avery Williamson.

The rookie inside linebacker is a better fit, and already a better player, than Zaviar Gooden is. I've written about the Titans being too light with Wesley Woodyard and Gooden as their starting middle linebackers.

Gooden has 21 tackles in four games. Williamson has 13 in two and much less time. I understand mixing it up. I can understand using safety George Wilson some on the inside against a smaller team as they did against the Colts.

Go young, go Williamson.

5) Try Akeem Ayers on defense.

I understand he’s done very little to gain the faith of his coaches. Ayers has been active for only the Dallas game and did not play on defense.

But it’s not as if Derrick Morgan, or especially Kamerion Wimbley, have done a great deal as the team’s outside linebackers through a quarter of the season.

Put Ayers ahead of Wimbley and see if he can do anything.

Titans certain they'll hold together

September, 29, 2014
Sep 29
12:40
PM ET
Bad losses can create cracks.

Cracks means trouble.

Whisenhunt
As bad as the last three weeks have been for the Tennessee Titans, culminating in Sunday's 41-17 loss to the Indianapolis Colts, a lot of key people spoke of how the team won't crack.

And broad perspective remains in place. A terrible stretch has only gotten the Titans to the quarter pole of the first season under a new coach who got a five-year contract.

Ken Whisenhunt thinks he's at the head of an underachieving team.

"Well in my estimation they are [underachieving]," he said, before catching himself and making sure to include everyone. "We are, not them, we are. We are underachieving. I believe that we are a better football team than what we've shown. That's a hard thing to say because there is not a lot of evidence to back that up."

Safety George Wilson spent a good deal of time functioning as an inside linebacker in Indianapolis.

He's a crucial leader and sensible personality for the Titans. Whisenhunt will be hoping that messages like those from Wilson and inside linebacker Wesley Woodyard echo through the locker room. Receiver Kendall Wright also spoke of how four games don't set anything in granite for the Titans.

Wilson
"We have to take ownership of the record that we have," Wilson said. "No pointing fingers and the only way we can do this is if we stay together. We've got to continue to work hard like we have been, and just try to get one victory. That's all it is. We just have to find a way to win one game. ...

"There are no pity parties in this league. Teams that start pointing fingers sabotage themselves. If you've got to fight from within and fight the opponent on Sunday then it's going to be twice the battle. We have to stay together. I know that's cliché, but that's just the obvious approach that we must have. I'm confident with the leadership and the coaching staff that we have that that is going to be the case."

Woodyard appeared puzzled when I tried to convey that Whisenhunt allowed for the possibility he'd overrated his team.

"We've still got good players, that can get the job done, we've just got to continue to grow and learn how to pull tough victories out," Woodyard said. "We're still the same team we were months ago and we still believe. We've just got to continue to pull together and play hard."
The Tennessee Titans hardly had the ball during Sunday's 41-17 loss in Indianapolis.

They were 1-for-9 on third down, while allowing the Colts to go 7-for-14.

Those numbers are a major factor in time of possession, as are turnovers. The Titans gave the ball away three times and took it away only once. Tennessee also was victimized by an early onside kick.

It all meant the Colts ran 82 offensive plays in 42:21 and the Titans ran just 47 in 17:39.

That time of possession is not just the worst in the NFL this season, according to ESPN Stats & Information, it's the worst in the NFL dating back to Week 2 of the 2012 season. On that weekend, the Titans had possession for just 16:21 in a 38-10 loss at San Diego and the Jaguars had the ball for only 16:43 in a 27-7 loss to Houston.

I stayed up all night counting and it turns out of the past 540 regular-season NFL football games played, the Titans on Sunday held the ball the least of any team.

And they have four seconds of cushion over the Eagles, who held the ball for 17:43 in their 26-21 loss at San Francisco Sunday.

"[The Colts[ controlled the ball and made plays," coach Ken Whisenhunt said. "We had opportunities for plays and we didn't make them all. We turned the ball over, it's not good enough for third down. You can't just pick one thing because there were a lot of things we weren't good at."

To make things worse, the Titans' time of possession in Week 2 against Dallas was 18:49. That's the fourth-worst number in that 540-game span.

.

Zach Mettenberger is not ready yet

September, 28, 2014
Sep 28
8:05
PM ET
INDIANAPOLIS -- The untested quarterback provides intrigue.

Especially if the veterans ahead of him could wear question marks on their jerseys just as easily as numbers. Especially if the youngster has a cannon arm. Especially if he looked really good in the preseason.

Plenty of Tennessee Titans fans watched Jake Locker struggle for a half against Dallas and for a game in Cincinnati and wondered about Zach Mettenberger, the sixth-round rookie out of LSU.

[+] EnlargeZach Mettenberger
AP Photo/Darron CummingsZach Mettenberger struggled in his NFL debut, going 2-for-5 passing with an interception.
With Locker sidelined by an injured right wrist, coach Ken Whisenhunt stayed in the proper order and played backup Charlie Whitehurst against the Colts. And though Whitehurst was hardly great, he played well enough that he isn’t at, or near, the top of the list of the Titans' problems from their 41-17 loss to Indianapolis.

Whisennunt gave Mettenberger his first taste of the regular-season NFL in the fourth quarter, with the Titans down 24 points and with 7:26 left in the game.

Left guard Andy Levitre immediately drew a false start penalty, and Mettenberger sandwiched incomplete passes around a 12-yard connection with Justin Hunter. Three-and-out.

On his second series, Mettenberger hit Kendall Wright for a 5-yard gain, then overshot Wright down the middle and was picked off by safety Mike Adams.

Mettenberger finished 2-for-5 for 17 yards with the pick. He had a passer rating of 10.0.

“It was a good opportunity for me to get some playing time,” Mettenberger said. “It’s not the situation you want to be in as a team. Honestly, I’ve got to do better with my opportunity. I expect more of myself. That’s really just not the way you want to go in. Hopefully, offensively, we can just get better, I can get better and the next opportunity I get, I can play better.”

Mettenberger acknowledged the Colts had a lot of backups in the game by the time he took the field and said that was probably part of why the speed of the game wasn’t so different from what he experienced in the preseason.

Clearly, he is the Titans' quarterback with the most upside. But there is no reason to rush him into another game.

Whisenhunt was not in the mood to talk about Locker after the game.

“We can talk about it later -- there’s no reason to talk about that right now,” Whisenhunt said. “My emotions are not great from this game, so just nothing really to say there.”

The safe presumption is Locker will be back at the helm when he’s able, which could be this week in practice and Sunday against the Browns in Nashville.

“He got better during the week,” Whisenhunt said of Locker’s right wrist injury. “It was just a thing. I didn’t know for sure if he had to play in the game, if it was one shot that would put him out. With where we were, from a standpoint of Ropati [Pitoitua] being out, we had to have the extra defensive lineman up, so I couldn’t carry three quarterbacks.”

As for Mettenberger as a guy the Titans should turn to ASAP? Tap the brakes. That small sample showed he’s got plenty of work to do behind the scenes. He’ll get another chance.

It’ll be better for all involved if it’s not for a while.
video
INDIANAPOLIS -- A dejected Kendall Wright sat shirtless, talking quietly. He perked up a bit when the past tense was used in a question about himself and the Tennessee Titans receivers.

Wright lost an early fumble, Justin Hunter let a catch go off his hands that turned into an interception and Nate Washington dropped a pass at the goal line in a disastrous day for the Titans wideouts during a 41-17 loss to the Colts.

“You three were going to be the foundation of this offense, kind of the playmakers,” I started.

“We’re still going to be the foundation,” Wright said. “It’s not ‘were.’ We’re still going to be the foundation. We still have a bunch of games left and we have a lot of plays to make. I’m not getting down off this game. Justin and Nate know they can catch the ball; they’ve just got to look it all the way in. I know I can hold the ball. That’s not really the problem.

“We still have a chance to be the foundation. We still have a chance to make a lot of plays. It’s not over with after this game. We’re not hanging our heads. We know we can make plays. We’ve just got to go out there and do it.”

Hunter could have easily converted a third-and-4 from near midfield. Instead he let the ball slide off his hands up into the air, and it was plucked by strong safety Mike Adams.

“I lost the ball. I took my eyes off it at the last second,” Hunter said.

Washington had what should have been an 18-yard scoring pass ricochet off his shoulder and the Titans wound up settling for a second-quarter field goal that made it 17-3 Colts.

“I was not expecting it, to be quite honest,” Washington said. “It’s a different look, different type of communication we’ve just got to get better at.”

The way the team is constructed, the way resources have been allocated, this needs to be an offensive football team. But the offense has turned it over seven times in four games. The quarterbacks have been sacked 11 times when pass protection should be a given, considering the investment in the offensive line. The run game is producing 5 yards a carry, but the Titans are trailing too much to be able to get into a ground-game rhythm.

[+] EnlargeDelanie Walker
AP Photo/Darron CummingsDelanie Walker was the Titans' top receiver Sunday in Indianapolis with five receptions for 82 yards.
On this day, the three non-plays by receivers were huge.

“At this level, those guys are supposed to catch a football,” coach Ken Whisenhunt said. “Theirs did.”

While he said everyone wasn’t productive enough, the coach paid special attention to Hunter. There seems to be a feeling he got caught up in a good preseason and thought he’d progressed to where he needs to be.

“We all got on the Justin Hunter bandwagon in the preseason, and one of the things I said or cautioned was there are a lot of little details that he’s got to get better at,” Whisenhunt said. “Justin still has a chance at becoming a good player and he will be a good player for us.”

At this point, tight end Delanie Walker is clearly the Titans' most reliable and effective pass-catcher. He led the team with five receptions for 84 yards, including a pretty touchdown catch in the back of the end zone under the goal post with Adams draped on him and linebacker D'Qwell Jackson close by.

"Delanie Walker right now is playing at a very high level, doing a good job for us and I think he made a great [touchdown] catch for us right before the half,” Whisenhunt said. “Those are the kind of things we expect.

"It’s not extraordinary to do that. It’s what we expect.”
INDIANAPOLIS -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the Tennessee Titans’ 41-17 loss to the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium:

Did they overestimate? Ken Whisenhunt fielded this question from The Tennessean’s Jim Wyatt after the game: “I know when you first got this job you said you weren’t necessarily asking for patience. Do you think maybe you overestimated the team that you have?"

Whisenhunt
His answer: “You know, I guess that’s the problem saying those kind of things. You go on a stretch where you have a couple games and you don’t play well, and those are the kind of things that, hey, I still believe that, I still believe we have a team that’s good enough, that’s better than what we are playing right now. But we have to look at what we are doing, how we are doing it. We have to look at everything. Maybe. Maybe, Jim.”

A few fellow reporters paraphrased that quote on Twitter, and he’s getting crushed for it. I’ll never crush a guy for candor. He didn’t inherit a very good team. He didn’t inherit a good quarterback situation. A new guy has to talk optimistically. Usually a new coach would never admit he might have overestimated.

My suggestion is, don’t feel angry about it. Feel refreshed by the honesty. Handle the truth.

Non-playmaking: Kendall Wright spoke thoughtfully about the underachieving wide receivers.

He did not like the call that ruled he fumbled away a possession in the first quarter.

“It was a drive-killer, I’ll take full blame for that,” Kendall said. “I was already tripping, so I was just diving forward. Last time I checked, the ground can’t cause a fumble. Man, I don’t have any excuse. Just hold on to the ball and go make the next play.”

The officials ruled he wasn’t down by contact, in which case the ground can cause a ball to come loose, as he was never technically tackled.

Not good enough: Charlie Whitehurst said he didn’t think he played well enough to win the game. Given the broad context, he’s right. But he simply didn’t get enough help. He was taking shots. He was a victim of drops, a fumble, a tipped-ball-turned-interception and a recovered onside kick.

“I don’t think Charlie got a lot of help,” Whisenhunt said.

Pictures: Check out my Instagram account for some postgame pictures, including Bishop Sankey surrounded by familiar faces after the game.
INDIANAPOLIS -- As expected, Charlie Whitehurst is the quarterback starter for the Tennessee Titans Sunday in Indianapolis.

Whitehurst
Jake Locker is on the shelf with an injured right wrist suffered last week in Cincinnati.

Whitehurst is a mystery man, a quarterback who’s in his ninth season despite poor showings in his 13 career appearances and four starts. He’s hit 54.2 percent of his passes with three touchdowns, four interceptions, three fumbles and a 64.6 passer rating.

Still, in 2013 in San Diego he won over the team’s offensive coordinator, Ken Whisenhunt, as the backup for Philip Rivers.

And given a choice between returning to the Chargers or moving to Nashville to work more with Whisenhunt, who became Tennessee’s head coach, Whitehurst made the move.

He understands what Whisenhunt wants to do, and Whisenhunt believes he can do it. (We took a look at a few things about Whitehurst earlier this week.)

The Titans have gone from Matt Hasselbeck to Ryan Fitzpatrick to Whitehurst as their backup over the last three seasons.

We've seen other guys who haven't played in a long time emerge with success this season, particularly Drew Stanton. (John Glennon of The Tennessean illustrated that recently.)

It’ll just be one game.

But we’ll get a strong sense Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium if Whitehurst is the right guy and if Whisenhunt made the right call.

Three thoughts on Charlie Whitehurst

September, 26, 2014
Sep 26
4:51
PM ET
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Backup quarterback Charlie Whitehurst got the Tennessee Titans' practice reps this week.

Whitehurst
Jake Locker's right wrist seems unlikely to make a dramatic improvement from Friday to Sunday.

I think the Titans will be starting their backup at Lucas Oil Stadium against the Colts.

Three thoughts on Whitehurst, who could make his first start since Oct. 30, 2011, and just his fifth start in eight seasons:

System familiarity: Ken Whisenhunt likes him. A lot. The Titans sent Ryan Fitzpatrick packing and brought in Whitehurst as their veteran backup after Whisenhunt became the coach. Whitehurst backed up Philip Rivers in San Diego last season, where Whisenhunt was offensive coordinator.

He knows how this offense works, and his skill set fits it.

"He’s a dropback pocket player, and that fits well in this offense," general manager Ruston Webster said on my Nashville radio show, The Midday 180, on Friday.

Locker doesn’t rank as a dropback pocket player, at least not yet. Whitehurst is more what Whisenhunt likes in a quarterback.

Back foot: Watching him in training camp, I felt like Whitehurst threw without stepping into it a lot, even when he had room to do so. Still, a lot of those throws got where they needed to be.

In discussing it with Whisenhunt, he pointed out how often quarterbacks have to deliver balls with stuff going on at or near their feet and said he thought Whitehurst is good in such circumstances.

One other thing to watch is how much Whitehurst varies the arc of his throws given circumstances that might change from play to play, dictating some on a straight line and some with a higher trajectory.

Move around: While regarded as a pocket guy, Whitehurst is not immobile. He made a fantastic run around play in the Titans' preseason opener against Green Bay.

I wrote that night that he "looked to put himself in ridiculous trouble with a spin move and backward run under heavy pressure in the second quarter. But the Packers' Mike Neal missed him and Whitehurst recovered to find rookie running back Bishop Sankey at the first-down marker. Sankey turned it into a 24-yard gain."
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Titans have lost five consecutive games to the Colts and 10 of the past 11.

The lone win, on Oct. 30, 2012, came not against Peyton Manning or Andrew Luck, but against Curtis Painter at quarterback.

There have been close calls and big fades.

John Glennon of The Tennessean runs through them all.

In each of those past five games, the Titans have had a second half lead and let it slip away.

The list of goats includes quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, returner Devon Wylie, Jake Locker, the third-down defense and Matt Hasselbeck, who’s now Luck’s backup.

The Colts have generally been better than the Titans during the stretch in question. But they’ve also had a superior ability to finish.

“At the end of the day, we’re going to have to turn things around,” safety Michael Griffin said. “The Colts are the Colts, they are a good football team, they’ve got a good quarterback, they’ve got a good organization.

“But we can’t look at what happened in the past. This is a new regime, we’ve got a new coach, a new staff. This is a new year, and each week everybody has an opportunity.”

No practice for Jake Locker, again

September, 25, 2014
Sep 25
4:27
PM ET
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Jake Locker’s right wrist kept him from practicing for the second day in a row, a development that likely reduces the chance he plays Sunday for the Tennessee Titans in Indianapolis.

Teams work on first and second down on Wednesdays and install their third-down packages on Thursdays.

Whitehurst
Locker
Without having worked through those plays in practice, will Ken Whisenhunt stick with his starter or give him a week off to heal?

Ken Whisenhunt is giving no hint about his philosophy regarding such a decision, and said Saturday will be the day on which the Titans are likely to determine what they will do at quarterback.

Backup quarterback Charlie Whitehurst said knowing if he will play or not doesn’t affect his preparation, so when he finds out doesn’t matter.

“Just because he hasn’t played doesn’t mean he can’t play,” Whisenhunt said.

As for Locker, "he’s progressing, slowly but surely,” Whisenhunt said. “He’s got a shot until he doesn’t have a shot.”

The coach said Locker did more Thursday than he did Wednesday.

But as he didn’t practice either day, it’s not clear what it is he did more of. Conditioning? Rehabilitation work? Game-plan discussion?

I asked if he’s thrown, and Whisenhunt said, “He’s worked with the football, yeah.”

I feel more and more strongly the team’s best chance to win in Indianapolis comes with a prepared and healthy Whitehurst.

On Jake Locker outside the pocket

September, 25, 2014
Sep 25
11:09
AM ET
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- One of the biggest questions staring back at the Tennessee Titans from their 1-2 record concerns just how much they've shaped their offense to Jake Locker.

The quarterback certainly has limitations and he may be out Sunday with a right wrist injury that kept him out of practice Wednesday.

[+] EnlargeJake Locker
AP Photo/Wade PayneShould the Titans push QB Jake Locker to throw more passes outside of the pocket?
He's the sort of guy who can play his best when asked to do things that fit his skill set the most.

But have we seen coach Ken Whisenhunt incorporating those things?

Former Titans quarterback Neil O'Donnell said in an appearance on The Wake Up Zone in Nashville that he isn't so sure. (I also appear on the station.)

"It's just like grab bag," he said of his review of the Titans-Bengals game. "I don't know where the identity on this offense is right now, and it's too early to really press the panic button. But you're going to lose the fan base pretty quickly if we don't start to show some type of improvement....

"I think one of Jake's strengths is getting him on the edge and letting him have the run-pass option. And I don't see any bootlegs, I don't see any keeper blocks where it's a fake bootleg and you actually have max protection and take shots down the field."

Putting Locker on the move should play to his strengths. But it also increases the chances of him getting hurt. Are the Titans sacrificing a positive element of his game to help protect him?

Maybe. I think it's more likely that this is Whisenhunt running the sort of offense he prefers, and Locker not necessarily being a fit for it.

"We've had some things where we're designed to do that, and just the way the games have gone we haven't necessarily gotten to them," Whisenhunt said. "Jake can do that. That will always continue to be part of our plan. There will be some times you see more of that, some times that you don;t."

In his six years as head coach in Arizona, Whisenhunt had a top quarterback, Kurt Warner, take him to a Super Bowl. The coach generally showed a preference for big pocket passers, and he didn't ask his quarterbacks to do a lot outside the pocket.

From 2009-12, the Cardinals had 229 plays outside the pocket by their QBs (tied for 22nd), according to ESPN Stats & Information. They hit on only 43.7 percent of attempts (29th in NFL), got 5.1 yards per attempt (25th) and scored eight touchdowns (T-24th).

Those numbers may explain why Whisenhunt is reluctant to call for too much that sends Locker outside the pocket.

But here is another reason: While Locker looks better on the move, he actually has not fared better throwing outside the pocket. These numbers don't factor in designed plays versus plays where he's forced to move, but they are still telling.

In the pocket on 638 plays, he's posted an 81.0 passer rating and a 46.5 QBR for his career.

Out of the pocket on 91 plays, he's posted a 67.8 passer rating and a 39.5 QBR.

And take note: He played a great game in the season-opening win in Kansas City and didn't attempt a single pass outside the pocket.

Titans vs. Colts preview

September, 25, 2014
Sep 25
8:00
AM ET

INDIANAPOLIS – The Indianapolis Colts got off to a slow start, losing their first two games of the season until the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars helped them get their first victory Sunday. The Tennessee Titans opened the season with a victory, but have dropped their last two games while being outscored 59-17.

The Colts and Titans meet at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis on Sunday to see which team can even its record to .500.

ESPN.com Colts reporter Mike Wells and Titans reporter Paul Kuharsky discuss this AFC South matchup.

Wells: At the start of the season, there were some questions about whether Jake Locker was the right guy to quarterback the Titans. Now he’s dealing with a wrist injury. At what point do the Titans determine if he’s truly their quarterback of the future?

Kuharsky: Soon. They want to give him a thorough look and a fair chance. He played a great game in Kansas City, a terrible first half against Dallas and a terrible game in Cincinnati. But coach Ken Whisenhunt doesn’t appear to be shaping his offense around Locker’s skill set. Locker simply isn't capable of doing what Kurt Warner or Philip Rivers did with Whisenhunt as the playcaller. This is Locker’s final year under contact.

At some point, if he still isn’t playing well, they have to decide he’s not the future and then get a look at sixth-rounder Zach Mettenberger to find out whether he’s the answer. Otherwise, they'll need to spend a high draft pick to compete with Mettenberger and Charlie Whitehurst in 2015.

How have the Colts failed, again, to fix the offensive line? How does it rate at this point?

Wells: It appeared it would be another long season for the Colts along the offensive line before they even played their first game of the season. Starting guard Donald Thomas was lost for the season in training camp, and center Khaled Holmes suffered a high ankle sprain on the opening series in the first preseason game. But the pieces have come together along the line for Indianapolis. Rookie Jack Mewhort has slid into Thomas’ spot at guard, and the Colts claimed center A.Q. Shipley off waivers from Baltimore a week before the season opener at Denver. The Colts are averaging 122 yards rushing per game, and quarterback Andrew Luck is on pace to be sacked a career-low 25 times this season.

Chris Johnson rushed for at least 1,000 yards in his six seasons with the Titans. He’s with the Jets now. How have the Titans gone about replacing him in the backfield?

Kuharsky: They’ve run the ball well, really. They are averaging 5 yards per carry; CJ averaged 3.9 last year. The committee of Shonn Greene, Bishop Sankey and Dexter McCluster has a nice skill-set combination. And they were deployed unpredictably in the season-opening win at Arrowhead Stadium. In the two losses, their usage has produced more questions. Considering the ground gains and the resources dedicated to the offensive line, they should be running more.

And I’m surprised how far the Titans have strayed from play-action, which could help the run-game success have more of a bearing on Locker and the passing game.

Is there any hope for the Colts' pass rush without Robert Mathis? How’s replacing safety Antoine Bethea going?

Wells: Let’s just say replacing Bethea has been easier -- and that’s been a challenge -- than getting a consistent pass rush without Mathis. Veteran Mike Adams, who played in Denver last season, is starting alongside LaRon Landry at safety.

About the pass rush? That’s a completely different story. Let’s get this out of the way: There is no replacing Robert Mathis. Everybody inside the organization knows that. They’re trying to do it as an entire unit. Defensive coordinator Greg Manusky is sending Landry on a lot of safety blitzes. Second-year linebacker Bjoern Werner is starting in place of Mathis, but he has yet to make an impact. He has only five tackles, no sacks and just one quarterback hit through the first three weeks. The Colts came alive defensively against the Jaguars last weekend. They had four sacks and hit Jacksonville’s quarterbacks seven times. Now they have to be consistent with their pressure.

Passing the ball against the Titans is a challenge, as they’re giving up only 170 yards per game through the air. What makes them so tough in that area?

Kuharsky: The Titans gave up 220 yards rushing to the Cowboys and set the Bengals up inside the red zone with a bad pick. (And Bengals WR Mohamed Sanu found it a great pass defense to throw against, since he found Andy Dalton with an 18-yard trick-play scoring pass.) In those two blowouts, it was not so much that the Titans played great pass defense, it was that the opponents didn’t need to throw it very much or very effectively to win. Dez Bryant and A.J. Green each gained more than 100 yards receiving.

At least against Kansas City and Dallas, the Titans created pass pressure. They had four sacks in each of those games. They didn’t really threaten Dalton. To have any chance of upsetting the Colts, they’ll need to get to Luck.

Luck is coming off a fantastic game. A lot of analysts predicted a big jump for him to MVP-caliber this season. How much better has he gotten since the last time the Titans saw him?

Wells: Last weekend, the Colts laid out their blueprint for success this season against the Jaguars. Luck completed passes to nine receivers, and a solid running game allowed them to run play-action. Luck was 6-of-6 on passes of at least 20 yards and completed 12 passes on play-action calls. Colts receiver T.Y. Hilton told me after the game that they’ll be a tough team to stop this season as long as they spread the ball around. The Colts need Luck to continue to be that effective this season because, as I noted earlier, their defense is suspect because of an inconsistent pass rush.

video
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Tennessee Titans punter Brett Kern said Wednesday that accounts of Rob Bironas’ behavior before he was killed in a single-car accident Saturday night don’t sound like his friend.

Kern
“It’s not him at all. It’s tough to hear everything coming out,” Kern said. “I’m really trying not to pay attention to it because I want to honor him, the legacy that he had here -- the man that he was, the father that he was, and the husband that he was, the family guy that he was.

“So I want to honor that. A bunch of guys do. So the details will take care of themselves, everything will come out. Tonight and tomorrow, it’s just honoring Rob.”

The Tennessean has reported that Bironas had encounters with two different vehicles before the fatal crash. A group of local college students said he tried to run them off the road. A couple said that near the accident site, he gave them a dirty look and forced them to let him pass.

“It’s just hard to comprehend all that taking place,” Kern said. “I know there were calls about it and everything. But knowing Rob, that’s not his character, that’s not who he is.”

Kern said he will attend the visitation Wednesday evening and the Thursday afternoon funeral with holder Beau Brinkley, former Titans punter and holder Craig Hentrich and former Titans holder Ken Amano.

“We’re going to roll together, as a specialist crew,” Kern said. “Guys who really knew Rob really well. We’ll go together.”

Kern said he texted with Bironas early last week about his trip to Detroit to work out for the Lions. The two spoke on the phone on Friday and he said Bironas was himself.

“He was so excited that it went well,” Kern said. “I told him I was proud of him. That’s the last thing I told him.”

SPONSORED HEADLINES