NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP)The Tennessee Titans have a stingy defense and two-time NFL rushing champ Derrick Henry on his way toward leading the league for the third time in four seasons.
They also have a comfortable lead at the halfway point of the season, looking for a third straight AFC South title.
”There’s no room for cushions,” coach Mike Vrabel said Monday.
Well, they have one despite snapping a five-game winning streak with a 20-17 overtime loss in Kansas City on Sunday night. The Titans (5-3) still control their division with Indianapolis (3-5-1) the closest team having just fired its coach Monday.
That’s despite serious second-half offensive issues and a quarterback in Ryan Tannehill who has missed two straight games with a sprained right ankle. That’s just part of the injury woes that have hit this franchise hard for a second straight season.
Yet the Titans already have swept Indianapolis and are 3-0 in the division. They’ve already won at Houston (1-6-1) with two left against the Jaguars (3-6), including the regular-season finale in Jacksonville. Tennessee also is 4-2 in the AFC.
The defense. Losing Pro Bowl outside linebacker Harold Landry III just before the season didn’t help with him coming off a career-best 12-sack performance. They’re the NFL’s stingiest unit on third down, allowing a mere 28.5% conversions and have the second-best run defense, allowing 87.6 yards per game.
They’ve allowed more than 22 points only once all season.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
The offense. More specifically after halftime where Tennessee has been outscored 96-33, not counting the game-winning field goal in overtime to Kansas City. The Titans are still looking for their first touchdown in the fourth quarter where they’ve been outscored 35-9.
Tennessee has only 51 catches for 658 yards with one touchdown combined from its receivers after trading A.J. Brown to Philadelphia during the April draft. Treylon Burks, drafted with the selection received in that deal, ranks fifth on the Titans with 10 catches for 129 yards. He’s missed four games on injured reserve.
Henry has proven he’s healthy and recovered from the broken foot that kept him from a chance at threepeating last season. He leads the NFL once again with 870 yards rushing and is second with nine rushing touchdowns entering Monday. But he had only seven carries for 22 yards in the second half in Kansas City.
He has become the franchise’s top scorer in rushing TDs, passing Earl Campbell with two TDs in Kansas City, giving him 74 in 94 games. Henry set the franchise mark for combined TDs rushing and receiving a week ago in Houston, topping the mark previously held by Eddie George.
Henry is just the fifth NFL running back since 1950 with 17 or more games with at least 100 yards rushing and two or more rushing TDs in his first seven seasons, joining LaDainian Tomlinson, Jim Brown, Emmitt Smith and Shaun Alexander.
CB Caleb Farley. The first-round pick of 2021 appeared recovered from the ACL injury that ended his rookie season after three games, but the starting job that was his for the taking belongs to rookie Roger McCreary. What appeared to be a surprise draft pick at No. 35 overall in the second round wound up filling a big need.
Tannehill’s sprained right ankle has cost him two straight starts, snapping a 49-game start streak for this franchise. Burks is among 13 Titans currently on injured reserve along with fellow rookie receiver Kyle Philips. They also lost three-time Pro Bowl left tackle Taylor Lewan one snap into their second game.
Burks is eligible to be activated this week, or at least open a 21-day window to return. Vrabel praised the rookie for how hard the rookie’s worked to be ready for his return.
9 – The points scored in the fourth quarter, which would be higher if not for a missed field goal in the opener. Two field goals came in the Oct. 23 win against the Colts. At some point, Tennessee will have to score more to reach the postseason for a fourth straight season.
Take advantage of a home schedule that features five of the final nine at home after five of the first eight, including the overtime loss to the Chiefs, came on the road. It won’t be easy with a pair of Thursday night games, including a trip to Green Bay on Nov. 17 and a visit from Dallas on Dec. 29.
Follow Teresa M. Walker at www.twitter.com/teresamwalker
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