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.