With yet another offensive lineman down on the ground, Tennessee Titans coach Mike Munchak was running out of options.
So he summoned the injured to replace the injured. For one play, Munchak asked veteran left guard Steve Hutchinson to play hurt – affecting four different line positions.
That’s how desperate Munchak was as he tried to piece together five blockers on Sunday. His solutions didn't solve the problems the Houston Texans’ aggressive defensive front presented throughout the Titans' 24-10 loss at LP Field.
“I was like, ‘What else is going to go wrong here?’” Munchak said. “It doesn't matter. Teams have to deal with this on a Sunday. That's why we have 53 guys. We have to go in there and find a way. They were depleted in the secondary, they were getting injuries too. So they had their issues. We had ours, and they found a way to make plays.”
The protection headaches began early for Munchak and the Titans (4-8).
Just four minutes into the game, right tackle David Stewart fractured his right leg when linebacker Barrett Ruud accidentally rolled into him. Stewart was carted off the field and was pronounced out for the season.
Mike Otto, a backup left tackle, came in as Stewart’s replacement.
“It’s difficult but it comes with the territory,” center Fernando Velasco said. “As linemen in this league, you have to be able to play more than one position.”
Things got a little trickier later. Hutchinson went out with an injury before halftime, brining backup Kevin Matthews off the bench. Then left tackle Michael Roos went down in the third quarter, also with a knee injury.
Roos’ injury wasn’t severe but he needed a play before he could go back in. So Munchak and offensive line coach Bruce Matthews scrambled to put together a makeshift unit. Hutchinson, whose injury will be evaluated later this week, came back in to play left guard. Kevin Matthews moved from left guard to center. Velasco went from center to right tackle. Otto jumped from right tackle to left tackle.
“That made it hard. That made it sloppy,” Munchak said. “That made it a little ugly at times because you are transitioning different guys in, especially when Roos gets hurt but luckily
he was able to come back.”
The Titans obviously struggled with a decimated offensive line, which had already lost right guard Leroy Harris to a knee injury last month and started the season without center Eugene Amano, who went on injured reserve in training camp with an arm injury.
The Texans (11-1) pounced on the weakness. They repeatedly harassed quarterback Jake Locker, who threw three interceptions and lost two fumbles. Along with six forced turnovers, Houston also broke up 16 passes, collected six sacks and recorded eight quarterback hurries.
“We are always going to take that on our shoulders,” Otto said. “Our job is to keep the quarterback clean when we pass the ball. We did not to do a good enough job of that. We knew the guys who went in where going to have to step up. The game is not going to stop. We got to fill in the spots with whoever we possibly can and go out there, make plays and try to win the game.”