Titans' defense being gashed both by pass, run
If the Tennessee Titans aren't careful they're going to get a reputation as a big-play defense. The kind offenses love to attack.
Only two NFL teams have allowed more points than Tennessee through two games, and the Titans already have given up 32 big plays of 10 yards or more in their winless start. It's made reviewing game film a bit like a horror show for the defense.
''It's very tough, and that's always a bad thing when you come up to film, especially when you already know,'' Titans cornerback Alterraun Verner said. ''Then to see it makes you not want to have that feeling again. It makes you step up and practice that much harder so it won't happen again next week.''
The Titans (0-2) have been sliced up first by Tom Brady and then Philip Rivers. Next up is Matthew Stafford and the Detroit Lions (1-1) on Sunday.
Cornerback Jason McCourty called the number of big plays just terrible, though pinning down just one issue is challenging.
''At times, it's communication,'' McCourty said. ''At times, one-on-one we may just get beat, a guy misses a tackle or a guy doesn't do a good job in coverage. It's a combination of things, and it's kind of not being on synch. It's a matter of knowing what the problem is and correcting it.''
The Titans came into this season expecting a stingier defense after their first year with Jerry Gray as defensive coordinator. They gave up yards in 2011, tying for 18th in total yards allowing 355.1 yards per game. But they were stingy on points, ranking eighth giving up 19.1 points per game.
Gone from that defense are cornerback Cortland Finnegan, now in St. Louis, along with ends Jason Jones and William Hayes and safety Chris Hope. This youthful unit features eight starters currently in their fourth season or younger with tackle Jurrell Casey, linebackers Akeem Ayers and Colin McCarthy and free safety Robert Johnson in their second years.
McCarthy, a defensive captain and the middle linebacker, sprained his right ankle in the first half of the opener and hasn't been on the field for the exception of a few plays when he tried to test his ankle against New England. That is why rookie Zach Brown got his first start in last week's 38-10 loss to San Diego.
''The loss of Colin is huge for us,'' McCourty said.
McCarthy is out of his walking boot, but Titans coach Mike Munchak said the linebacker is questionable to play against Detroit.
The Titans also have switched Michael Griffin, their franchise player given a five-year contract in June, from the free safety spot he has played most of his career to strong safety. Robert Johnson has started both games at free safety with both players still trying to get comfortable together in a combination the Titans plan to keep.
''If we feel there's a better way to do things, we'll do that,'' Munchak said. ''But for right now, obviously, we feel we're doing it the best way we should.''
The Titans have allowed 11 runs of 10 or more yards, most in the NFL, at an average of 14.9 yards per rush, according to STATS LLC. They also have given up 21 big pass plays averaging 17.9 yards per pass with three touchdowns, though nothing longer than 31 yards so far.
Cornerback Ryan Mouton said the key is getting back to the basics of knowing the defensive alignments, techniques and executing what is called.
''Of course, it's tough,'' he said. ''We don't want to give up big plays like that, and we've given up a lot.''
Munchak has been a bit easier on his defense, trying to note the four sacks on Rivers along with an interception as signs his defense has made plays. The Titans also missed some chances at forcing some big turnovers with Rivers fumbling twice on sacks only to see the Chargers recover both. Tennessee could have had an interception on San Diego's second play of the game.
''They have to be accountable for how we've been playing, how we've be coaching, and we have to clean it up on Sunday,'' Munchak said.
None of the Titans are pointing fingers right now, especially with the challenge of defending Calvin Johnson who led the NFL with 1,681 yards receiving last season.
''I've been looking forward to this since I saw this schedule,'' Verner said. ''It should be a good one.''
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