Ti­tans strug­gling to score in 1st quar­ter

Mis­takes, penal­ties have Ten­nessee start­ing slow

The Garden Island - - Morning Briefing - Teresa M. Walker

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Ten­nessee coach Mike Mu­larkey opened the sea­son with an on­side kick, try­ing to get his Ti­tans an ex­tra of­fen­sive pos­ses­sion.

He won the toss last week­end and chose to re­ceive, look­ing for a quick start.

So far, all the at­tempts to get the Ti­tans go­ing from the open­ing kick just aren’t work­ing.

The Ti­tans have scored 10 points com­bined in the first quar­ter of their first five games, and their lone touch­down in the first 15 min­utes came on their open­ing pos­ses­sion of the sea­son in a 2616 loss to Oakland.

With the Ti­tans (2-3) stuck in a two-game skid, it’s be­com­ing even more cru­cial to get the of­fense scor­ing quicker.

“I’d like to hope­fully get a fast start and put some points on the board early,” Mu­larkey said of want­ing the ball to start last week’s 16-10 loss to Mi­ami. “Put them more on their heels than us.”

Ac­cord­ing to Spor­tradar, only seven NFL teams have scored fewer points in the first quar­ter than Ten­nessee. The Ti­tans are be­ing outscored 34-10 in the first quar­ter de­spite be­ing tied for 14th in the league while scor­ing 22 points per game.

Blame mis­takes and penal­ties. The Ti­tans also have re­gressed from last sea­son in a cou­ple of key cat­e­gories: scor­ing touch­downs in­side an op­po­nent’s 20 and third­down con­ver­sions. Last sea­son, the Ti­tans led the NFL while scor­ing TDs on 72 per­cent of their drives in the red zone, and they ranked third con­vert­ing 46.1 per­cent of third downs.

Now the Ti­tans are strug­gling in both cat­e­gories.

Mar­cus Mar­i­ota, who has a league-best passer rat­ing of 111.3 in the red zone since en­ter­ing the league, has yet to throw a TD pass in that area of the field. The Ti­tans also are con­vert­ing 33.9 per­cent (21 of 62) on third downs.

“Re­ally, it’s on us,” Mar­i­ota said. “There’s sev­eral in­stances, even in the last few games, we’re try­ing to do too much as a unit in­stead of just trust­ing what the coaches have laid out for us, trust­ing the game plan. We’re go­ing to get back to it. We were re­ally good on third down last sea­son and we’ve got to be a lot bet­ter this year.”

Last week, the Ti­tans thought they had a touch­down in the first quar­ter with a 59-yard catch-and-run from Matt Cassel to De­lanie Walker, only to have the play erased by an of­fen­sive pass in­ter­fer­ence penalty. They also had two turnovers in the first 15 min­utes in Mi­ami.

“We know where we’ve got to get bet­ter,” Mu­larkey said. “We know why we’re not op­er­at­ing at a high level. We do know the an­swer, and we’re try­ing to fix that.”

In the loss to Mi­ami, the Ti­tans played with­out Mar­i­ota and Pro Bowl left tackle Tay­lor Le­wan missed most of the game with an in­jured left knee. The Ti­tans also have played the last three games with­out their top draft pick, wide re­ceiver Corey Davis. The fifth over­all se­lec­tion has been out with a ham­string ail­ment that’s ex­pected to keep him out of Mon­day night’s game with In­di­anapo­lis (2-3) as well.

His even­tual re­turn should help.

“I think it would help us in a lot of ar­eas, all of our downs,” Mu­larkey said.

The Ti­tans may not be able to wait that long.

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