Titans run game makes big gains but comes up short in preseason

Sunday, August 19, 2012 at 6:47pm

There have been some big gains and a few short yardage failures.

The Tennessee Titans’ run game, a source of consternation throughout the 2011 regular season, is merely confusing halfway through the 2012 preseason.

Nearly every back found plenty of room to run at some point in Friday’s 30-7 victory against Tampa Bay. Of the Titans’ 341 total yards in that game, 216 came on the ground. Four of the five running backs averaged more than four and half yards per carry and had at least one run of more than 10 yards.

After a season in which Tennessee was next-to-last in rushing yards per game and 29th of 32 in yards per carry that’s a good sign, right?

Not necessarily. The Titans also were one of the best running teams last preseason when they finished eighth with an average of 123.2 yards per contest.

“That’s why we don’t weigh too much into anything,” coach Mike Munchak said. “You want to have success every time you step on the field, without a doubt, but you don’t want to read too much into any success you have because there’s a lot of factors that go into a preseason game.”

Then there’s the fact that they came up short a couple times when they needed only minimal gains.

Their opening drive ended after just three plays when Chris Johnson was stuffed on a third-and-1. The first possession of the second half ended when Jamie Harper was stopped on fourth-and-1 after he had moved the chains three times on consecutive carries earlier in the drive.

“You’d rather be successful on everything no doubt, so now you have something to improve upon,” Munchak said. “On the third-and-one and the fourth-and-one late in the game, we got stopped on downs in their territory. You don’t want to get stopped on that. It’s just like on the goal line you don’t want to be stopped. They made two plays on us. We have to clean that up.”

Overall, though, the good clearly has outweighed the bad halfway through the preseason.

Through Saturday’s games the Titans:

• Were fifth among all NFL teams in the preseason with an average of 150.5 yards per game.

• Were seventh in the league with an average of 5.0 yards per carry (only seven teams averaged five yards per carry or more).

• Were one of six teams with at least three rushing touchdowns.

• Had five runs of 20 yards or more, which was the most in the league.

The bulk of those numbers are the result of the game at Tampa, when Tennessee’s top three rushers had more yards than the Buccaneers’ most productive back. Darius Reynaud had seven carries for 75 yards, which included a 39-yard gain that matched the Titans’ longest play of the preseason. Jamie Harper added 41 yards on nine carries, and Chris Johnson had a pair of 14-yard touchdown runs among his nine carries for 41 yards.

In the preseason opener six days earlier at Seattle the offense managed just 85 yards on 23 carries (a 3.7-yard average) but flashed some big-play potential as Reynaud and Javon Ringer each had a run of 20 yards or more.

“You still want to have success,” Munchak said. “You want to see guys doing good things, which we saw in [Friday’s] game. You just take it for what it was – it was a positive night, we saw some good things. You’re hoping because of that it translates over to the beginning of the season, that we continue that on. It doesn’t mean we’re going to by any means.

“But it is a good sign.”

Briefly

• Linebacker Gerald McRath will undergo season-ending surgery this week to repair a damaged knee.

The fourth-year veteran sat out several days of practice last week and did not play at Tampa. He entered camp in a fight for playing time — and possibly a roster spot — after the Titans drafted Zach Brown in the second round in April.