NASHVILLE, Tenn. – In late July, Mike Munchak wasn't talking about all the time the Tennessee Titans would need for their revamped offensive line to jell. He was not talking about the things the Titans needed to do to build Chris Johnson's yards per carry.
“If we're going to win,” Munchak said then, “it's going to be because our offensive line is a lot better than it was last year, and we're physical, and we're relentless, and we're going to move people around on both sides of the ball. And if we do that, which we're very capable of doing with the guys that we have, then we're going to win a lot of football games. If we don't do that, then it doesn't matter."
They did not do it Sunday at LP Field against the Kansas City Chiefs. The backbone of the team went jellyfish, and the Titans got 50 of their 105 rushing yards from scrambling quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick.
The Titans are a determined run team. But a determined run team with three new line starters and a couple new backs behind the starter should be better than this by Week 5.
And through Week 5 the Titans have a pricy running back who's average is down to a paltry 3.1 yards a carry.
The Titans are supposed to be a team that can get a tough yard. But facing first-and-1 from the Kansas City 1-yard line in the second quarter, this was the sequence:
Second down: Fitzpatrick pass batted at line, caught by Fitpatrick, no gain
Third down: Fitzpatrick scrambles, sacked for no yards
Fourth down: Battle up the middle, no gain, tackle by defensive tackle Dontari Poe and Toribio
On the second down play Fitzpatrick got tripped up as he backed out, and had Delanie Walker open but could not deliver it.
“Once we see it on tape, there are probably a lot of reasons why that isn't in the end zone,” left tackle Michael Roos said. “It's terrible on our part, to start with. As an offensive line being revamped like that, we have to get that in. You can't make excuses. …I'm sure there were multiple guys that had issues in it. We've just got to get it in.”
Part of the Titans talk about their run game at this stage has been about the difficult fronts they have faced. But five games should be a pretty reasonable simply on defense in general, and five games should be more than enough time to figure out runs that can work.
“Third-and-1, fourth-and-1 from the 1, you've got to punch that in, that's unacceptable,” offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said. “Right now my concern is fixing the problem. We've got to figure that out ASAP. We've played some good defenses, but that's no excuse. We have a lot of talent up front. We need to do a better job."
I've credited this staff for not being stubborn with game plans and determined to prove it was right in planning. But I think Loggains was guilty of some of that here.
The Titans ran it mostly inside, and Poe is an immovable force in there. They hardly tested the edge, though Battle had they team's big run to the outside late, a 37-yarder.
“We didn't have anything in the game plan going outside,” Roos said.
Said Loggains: “The strength of that defense is definitely the edge rushers and the linebackers are sideline to sideline players, (Derrick Johnson) can run, all those guys can run. The thing is we didn't do a good job inside getting those guys covered up. It's something we've got to continue to work on.”
Taking the ball inside to where center Rob Turner, the line's weakest link, was struggling with Poe even with help seems like an idea to work on as well.
Meanwhile the Chiefs had personnel issues with right tackle Eric Fisher out.
Kansas City was, nevertheless, what the Titans talk of being: A reliably effective run team riding a top back. Jamaal Charles took 22 carries 108 yards and scored a touchdown from, you guessed it, a yard out.