NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) The Tennessee Titans are committed to running the ball as the center of coach Mike Mularkey’s ”exotic smash mouth” approach to offense.
Coming off the worst rushing performance in two seasons makes them only more determined to run even better.
The Titans ran for just 52 yards in a 40-17 loss at Pittsburgh on Nov. 16 , a total that was the worst since Mularkey was given the head coaching job for good in January 2016.
That helped drop Tennessee to 12th in the NFL averaging 117.5 yards rushing, a big change from last season when the Titans led the AFC and ranked third in the league.
”Well, I think we could run the ball better,” Mularkey said. ”We’ve played a lot of good defenses, I don’t want to take that away from them. We have played some stout guys, all the way to this last one. I’d like to, obviously, be better, especially when you’re not up to where you were a year ago, you’ve always got to say that.”
The Titans ran so well in 2016 that left tackle Taylor Lewan and running back DeMarco Murray both earned Pro Bowl berths. Right tackle Jack Conklin was an All-Pro as a rookie.
Now through 10 games, the Titans (6-4) have faced six of the NFL’s top 12 teams in total defense in the current rankings. Mularkey credits the opposing defenses for putting more bodies up front to help slow down Tennessee’s run game.
The Titans also have some new pieces on offense. Tight end Anthony Fasano now is playing in Miami, and the Titans are using Phillip Supernaw, rookie Jonnu Smith and even reserve offensive tackle Dennis Kelly to help block. They also can block better.
”I know if we block it better, we should’ve had bigger runs. We had opportunities for much bigger runs than we had (in Pittsburgh), if we block it better,” Mularkey said.
Conklin agrees, saying the Titans know they can hold their blocks longer. He also thinks they’re close to doing exactly what they want.
”We’re in position a lot of times, it just happens to be one person somewhere along the line that doesn’t finish, and that’s on us,” Conklin said.
”I think it could be any of us it’s happened to throughout the season. That’s the tough part. We just have to fight through and keep working together.”
Murray has just 443 yards on 117 carries and is averaging 3.8 yards per run. Backup Derrick Henry has nearly as many yards (441) on fewer carries (101). The Titans also have used cornerback Adoree Jackson, giving the rookie the ball five times for 55 yards.
”I’m always the first one to look in the mirror you know,” Murray said Thursday. ”I don’t point the finger at anyone. I point it right back at myself. We just got to be better.”
The Titans ran for 168 yards on Oct. 16 when they beat the Colts 36-22, and they will be heading to Indianapolis to face a defense ranked 15th in the NFL giving up 111.3 yards rushing per game.
Colts coach Chuck Pagano said they will have their hands full with the biggest challenge defending the Tennessee run game being ready for play after play.
Pagano noted the Titans use a variety of personnel groups, formations, shifts and motions to catch the opponent making a mistake lining up or not communicating.
”It’s hard enough when you get lined up and you’ve got to take guys on and take on blocks and get off,” Pagano said. ”They do a great job of scheming things up. They’re two great runners, great one-two punch, as good as there is in the league.”
NOTE: Titans WR Rishard Matthews was added to the injury report Thursday with a hamstring issue. He was limited in practice.
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