Kingsport Times News Monday, August 31, 2015

Titans hope bye provides chance for stretch run

October 26th, 2013 9:10 am by TERESA M. WALKER, AP Sports Writer

Titans hope bye provides chance for stretch run

Tennessee Titans quarterback Jake Locker passes against the San Francisco 49ers in the fourth quarter of an NFL football game on Sunday, Oct. 20, 2013, in Nashville, Tenn. The 49ers won 31-17. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)

NASHVILLE — Bud Adams wanted his Tennessee Titans turned back into winners, and he approved spending more than $100 million this offseason to make that happen.

Now coach Mike Munchak must figure out how to stop a three-game skid while dealing with the owner's death Monday at the start of the bye week. Munchak and his Titans need to win when they return to prove all that money was spent wisely — and make a good impression on whoever Adams' family puts in charge of this franchise.

Munchak gave the Titans (3-4) the week off to regroup both physically and mentally so they're ready for a run when they return.

"We feel we still have the pieces in place to do all of that, and we have to go out and do it," Munchak said.

The franchise hasn't reached the playoffs since 2008, and Adams agreed after going 6-10 in 2012 to restocking the roster with 13 free agents and seven rookies. He also signed off on adding Gregg Williams as a defensive assistant after coming off a league suspension for his role in the Saints' bounty scandal.

The owner also made it very clear he didn't spend that money for nothing, even if Munchak has one more year left on his contract.

Yet even with the heavy investment, the Titans are exactly where they were a year ago at 3-4.

The Titans rank both 10th in total yards allowed per game and 10th in points per game, a drastic improvement from last season, when they were last in the NFL, allowing a franchise-worst 471 points. The defense also is third in third-down efficiency and tied for fifth in the NFL with a plus-6 turnover margin.

"We still have a lot of games to play, and we need to make sure we come out and have the mindset to win," defensive tackle Jurrell Casey said. "If we've got that going, I know big things can happen for the rest of the season."

Much of the money and attention went to revamping the offensive line, signing left guard Andy Levitre to a $46.8 million deal, and drafting right guard Chance Warmack out of Alabama at No. 10 overall. Munchak made the final move last week, promoting rookie Brian Schwenke to starting center.

They also signed Shonn Greene to back up Chris Johnson, but the running back has only five carries this season after hurting his right knee in the opener. He is expected to be healthier when they play at St. Louis on Nov. 3.

Jake Locker has shown signs of growth in his third season, completing 61.8 percent of his passes with eight touchdowns and only one interception. His 97.1 passer rating puts him third in the AFC. With the Titans off to a 3-1 start, Locker sprained his right knee and hip Sept. 29 and missed two straight games.

He returned in last week's 31-17 loss to San Francisco with an uneven performance that featured his first interception. Munchak expects Locker to be more comfortable after the bye.

The Titans must get much more out of their offense. They rank 28th with 311.6 yards per game and 30th in first downs per game. They've taken turns missing blocks and botching assignments, and Johnson is averaging only 3.2 yards per carry. Kendall Wright leads the NFL with 17 catches on third down and is leading the team with 40 receptions. That hasn't stopped him from the occasional drop.

"We just have to eliminate those things and stay detailed and we'll finish the season off right," Wright said.

The Titans also have to decide what to do with talented but inconsistent receiver Kenny Britt. His playing time has nearly disappeared, and he drew a penalty by getting upset with a physical defender in the last game. Trading Britt could erase the risks of playing the receiver who has only eight catches for 67 yards, but Munchak said Britt will remain — as far as the coach knows.

Tennessee's best hope comes in an easier schedule.

The three straight losses came to the Chiefs, at Seattle and to San Francisco, teams with a combined 18-3 record. Of the remaining nine games, only Indianapolis and Denver currently have winning records. The Titans trail the Colts (5-2) by two games in the AFC South and host Indianapolis on Nov. 14, with a return game Dec. 1.

"We've got our quarterback back now," Munchak said. "We're getting healthy. I think we'll have most of our guys back, and let's find out where we're at. To me, if your quarterback's back, there's no excuse. We should have all our running backs intact, our defensive line should be intact. We should be ready to play, so we'll find out what we are when we line up in St. Louis."

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