- Associated Press
Thursday, October 12, 2017

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - 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 26-16 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 third-down 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.

NOTES: Both Mariota and Lewan were limited Thursday. Davis and S Johnathan Cyprien (hamstrings) did not practice. Mularkey said Mariota hasn’t even come close to a full sprint yet and the Titans will need to see how the quarterback responds to what he did in practice Thursday.

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