49ers-Titans Preview

While the San Francisco 49ers have played well on both sides of
the ball during their most successful stretch of the season, the
Tennessee Titans’ offense must improve if they are to end their
slide.

The visiting 49ers look for a fourth consecutive victory while
trying to hand the Titans, who are expected to start Jake Locker, a
third straight defeat Sunday.

San Francisco (4-2) was outscored 56-10 in consecutive losses to
Seattle and Indianapolis last month, but has since held a 101-34
scoring advantage while beating St. Louis, Houston and Arizona. The
49ers have won three in a row during a regular season for the first
time since taking the final three of 2011.

“There’s good things, there’s encouraging things and we’ll keep
striving to get better,” coach Jim Harbaugh said.

San Francisco has averaged 181.7 rushing yards during the
winning streak after gaining 215 in its two losses.

Frank Gore has run for 417 yards and averaged 5.7 per carry in
the last four games. He had 101 on 25 rushes during a 32-20 win
over Arizona on Sunday, the second time in three games he’s topped
the 100-yard mark.

“You want to open those holes for (Gore) because he runs so
hard,” guard Mike Iupati said.

Colin Kaepernick has thrown five touchdowns and one interception
over the last three contests after throwing four picks and no TDs
against the Seahawks and Colts.

Both touchdown passes last Sunday went to tight end Vernon
Davis, who made eight catches while matching a career high with 180
yards. Four of Davis’ six TDs have come during the winning
streak.

“I’m going to give Vernon his chances when I can,” said
Kaepernick, who engineered an 18-play, 89-yard touchdown drive that
covered 9:32 of the second half against the Cardinals. “He makes a
lot of great plays.”

The 49ers have forced four turnovers in each of the last two
games, and have 10 takeaways that they’ve turned into 54 points
over the past three. They forced three through the first three
contests.

“They’re definitely doing a great job,” Harbaugh said. “You
looked at (the Arizona) game, the game before, the game before
that, really, really outstanding in a lot of areas.”

That likely does not bode well for Tennessee (3-3), which did
not turn the ball over during a 3-1 start but has committed five in
losses to Kansas City and Seattle while Ryan Fitzpatrick has
started in place of the injured Locker.

“We are our own worst enemy,” safety Bernard Pollard said.
“We’re beating ourselves. We’ve gone out there we’ve played really
good football. The little things are beating us.”

Locker was expected to miss a few weeks due to a hip injury
suffered during a 38-13 win over the New York Jets on Sept. 29, and
Nov. 3 at St. Louis had been the game he was anticipated to
return.

However, Locker is expected to start this game after practicing
this week and taking on a slight majority of the work Friday.

Locker threw six touchdowns and no picks in 3 1/2 games, but
Fitzpatrick has been intercepted four times while throwing one TD
in the last two weeks.

Getting Locker back should provide a much-needed boost for the
Titans, whose offense ranks 29th with 302.2 yards per game and
scored two touchdowns with Fitzpatrick as the starter.

Chris Johnson hasn’t helped much by rushing 37 times for 71
yards in the last three games after he averaged 85.3 in the first
three. Johnson and Fitzpatrick each ran for a team-leading 33 yards
in a 20-13 loss at Seattle on Sunday.

Though the Titans have won the last two meetings between these
teams – coming in 2009 and ’05 – they’ve been outscored 156-47
during a four-game losing streak to NFC opponents.

San Francisco receiver Mario Manningham is back practicing for
the first time since suffering a knee injury during a 42-13 loss at
Seattle on Dec. 23. It’s uncertain when a return to game action
will come for Manningham, who had 42 receptions for 449 yards and
one touchdown in 12 games last season.

Injured rookie defensive linemen Tank Carradine and Quinton Dial
along with veteran defensive back Eric Wright also made their 2013
practice debuts this week. The timing of their returns is also
uncertain.