The Tennessee Titans’ offensive meltdown Sunday at Houston was not the result of issues that suddenly, unexpectedly flared.
It was more like a block of ice left out in the sun suddenly reduced to water. The same issues had existed for weeks.
“We have quarterbacks revolving through the door and injuries, and we’re just having difficulties converting third downs and getting the run game going,” coach Jeff Fisher said Monday.
Ever since a 37-19 victory over Philadelphia on Oct. 24, the offense has been in a steady decline. It has scored fewer and fewer points each game since as three different quarterbacks have started the four games.
If there’s any good news, it’s tough to imagine that things can get any worse than they were in the 20-0 loss to the Texans, when Tennessee managed just 162 total yards, nine first downs and 24 net rushing yards – all season-lows – in rookie quarterback Rusty Smith’s first career start.
The same was true for the point total as the Titans were held scoreless for the first time since a 59-0 loss to New England in Week 6 of last season. The offense, however, has not scored a touchdown since a 14-yard reception by Nate Washington with 1:13 to go in the third quarter Nov. 15 at Miami.
“Clearly our plan going in was to get the run game going and get Chris (Johnson) going to take the pressure off the rookie quarterback,” Fisher said. “…We had a number of negative plays on first down, whether it was a penalty or not, we had a lot of situations where we had third-and-longs. I think we had eight third-and-10 plusses out of 12 third-down attempts, and those are difficult to overcome.”
Johnson finished with a career-low five yards on seven carries. Smith completed 17 of 31 passes but was intercepted three times. Penalties (10 for 79 yards) contributed to the struggles.
“(Smith) took a little longer at the line of scrimmage to make some checks,” Fisher said. “He was very aware with what was going on, he was just a little unsettled with the noise and that was one of the reasons for the false starts. He made some good decisions, he had four drops or something like that, he made some good throws and of course he had a couple where he went to the wrong place. That’s going to happen.”
The question is whether it’s going to happen again.
Veteran quarterback Kerry Collins, who missed the last two games with a calf injury, was the backup on Sunday and might be able to play this Sunday against Jacksonville.
Fisher said he will name a starter later in the week rather than wait until gameday as he did several times earlier in the year when it was a choice between Collins and Vince Young.
“There is a competitive difference between Kerry and Vince obviously,” Fisher said. “There is not a competitive difference between Rusty’s (Smith) style and Kerry’s style, so when we know if (Collins) can go we’ll let you know.”
They can only hope things start to get better.
• Fisher praised cornerback Cortland Finnegan for his behavior in an altercation with Houston wide receiver Andre Johnson, which resulted in both players being ejected.
Both players were fined $25,000 Monday but neither was suspended.
“(Finnegan) was not going to hurt the football team, and by that he didn’t fight back,” Fisher said. “From that standpoint you have to say he kept his composure.
“…You have two very talented, talented, good football players competing and it’s just very unfortunate. It’s not good for our game, and I’m just disappointed that that type of thing happens on the playing field.”
That doesn’t mean he was disappointed in his player.
• Young underwent surgery Monday afternoon to repair a torn ligament in the thumb on his right (throwing) hand. It was the injury that ended his season – he was placed on injured reserve on Nov. 23, two days after he was hurt in the overtime loss to Washington.
“The thumb will be immobilized, that’s the nature of the surgery, just to immobilize the thumb so they can reattach the tendons,” Fisher said. “We were told (it requires) somewhere in the five-to-eight week range (of rehabilitation).”