Titans' line dictated run-first offense in season opener
The Titans focused on the running game in their season-opening win over the Steelers.
By GREG POGUEFS Tennessee
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — In its 16-9 win Sunday at Pittsburgh to open the season, the
Titans’ offense had more than a 2-to-1 ratio of run plays to pass plays.
But that wasn’t necessarily the game plan, according to head coach Mike Munchak, whose team travels to AFC South rival Houston on Sunday.
“We thought we’d stay balanced like we started," Munchak said of the 62 offensive plays that included 42 rushes and 20 passes. "I think we started passing more than we did running early in the game, but I think it was just to stay balanced.”
As the game progressed, it appeared the revamped offensive line was controlling the line of scrimmage, allowing for lead back Chris Johnson and backups Shonn Greene and Jackie Battle to set up favorable down and distance situations with solid first-down runs.
Although they would rush for only 112 yards, led by Johnson with 70 yards on 25 carries, the Titans dominated time of possession at 34:01 compared to Pittsburgh’s 25:59. And this coming after Tennessee ranked last in the NFL in time of possession last season.
Greene posted 18 yards on four carries, while Battle had 21 yards on eight carries, including a 3-yard scoring run that capped off a 12-play drive (11 running plays) in the second quarter.
“Those were hard-earned yards,” Munchak said of the team’s only sustained drive for a touchdown. “There wasn’t any big runs. I think the biggest run may have been eight or seven or six (yards). We felt that was our time. We spent about seven minutes of the clock and finished it with a nice touchdown run by Jackie (Battle), and I think that’s where the game turned for us for the whole sideline.”
Third-year quarterback Jake Locker completed 11 of his 20 passes for only 125 yards, but Munchak said the run-to-pass ratio could flip from game to game, depending upon certain circumstances.
“It’s another way of winning football games, but obviously we know we’re not going to be able to win week in and week out running the ball 40 times,” Munchak said. “We’d love to, and if that’s what it takes, we’ll do that. We feel we’re not one-dimensional.
“We feel that we have a quarterback and receivers that can do the same thing throwing the ball, if that’s the direction we needed to go depending on how the game falls out.”
Safety was the correct call
It only took Pittsburgh three seconds to score Sunday. Or, you could make that it only took three seconds for the Titans to give the Steelers a 2-0 lead, thanks to Titans returner Darius Reynaud fielding the opening kickoff outside the end zone and then backing up slightly to kneel down in it for a safety.
“I think it’s probably the fastest anyone’s scored in the history of the league,” Munchak said. “I guess that’s probably a record with just three seconds off the clock.”
Obviously, Reynaud was upset with the gaffe, but he did return five punts for an average of 11.6 yards, including one for 27 yards.
“That was sitting in my head for a little bit,” Reynaud said. “Then when we went into the second quarter and the score was still 2-0, and I was still very upset. The guys kept telling me they were going to bail me out. After that our defense made some big plays, the fumble on their goal line for example. Things started to go our way after that.”
Munchak was impressed with the way Reynaud bounced back from the opening safety.
“The good thing for him is he made a play like that and came to the sideline (and) the rest of the game he caught every punt we had,” Munchak said. “After that, he obviously did a really nice job. So, the good thing is he came back from making a mistake and helped us win that football game.”
Good call on Verner
All through training camp, fourth-year Alterraun Verner and third-year Tommie Campbell battled to start at right cornerback. It wasn’t until the Monday before the season opener that Munchak released the final depth chart that showed Verner as the starter.
On Sunday against the Steelers, Verner came up with the game’s only interception, picking off a pass from Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger intended for receiver Emmanuel Sanders with a diving play. It helped set up the Titans’ only scoring drive for a touchdown. Verner also broke up two other pass plays.
“We always brag on how competition brings out the best in everybody,” Munchak said. “No doubt (Verner) responded well to it and he handled himself well. He had a great week in practice last week. He picked off quite a few balls in practice, and that interception wasn’t an everyday interception. That was a heck of a football play.”
Although Jason McCourty continues to emerge as one of the top cornerbacks in the league, Munchak said there are no plans to rotate the cornerbacks to have McCourty match up with the opponent’s top receiver, like this coming Sunday against Houston’s Andre Johnson.
“When you have talented guys in the building, you feel there’s ways you can use them,” Munchak said. “You’re always going to be open to, ‘Hey, this week maybe we’ll do this.’ But, I think no.”
-- Titans running back Shonn Greene departed Sunday’s game with a slight knee injury, but was seen at the team’s facility on Monday moving without crutches. Munchak said he expects the backup to practice this week and be ready to play Sunday.
-- Right tackle David Stewart (calf) is not expected to practice Wednesday or Thursday, but will start Sunday.
-- Veteran offensive lineman Fernando Velasco entered training camp listed No. 1 on the depth chart at center and battled for the position all through training camp. But after free agent acquisition Rob Turner won the job and rookie Brian Schwenke was named the backup, Velasco was released when the team established the 53-man roster.
On Monday, the Steelers signed Velasco to help fill the void left by center Maurkice Pouncey, who injured his knee in Sunday’s game and is out for the season. Velasco started all 16 games last season for the Titans.