NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Tennessee Titans have a serious issue when the down marker flips to the number 3.
The Titans started 0-for-9 on third down in last week's loss to Oakland, though they rallied to take a late lead by converting three straight third downs. They are converting only 31.8 percent of their third downs, an inept efficiency near the bottom of the league (ahead of only San Francisco, Miami and St. Louis).
For a team that has won only once in the past 10 games, keeping drives alive certainly would be a step toward that elusive victory.
Interim coach Mike Mularkey said Thursday the Titans had several issues on third down in their 24-21 loss to Oakland despite having some good opportunities to convert.
"The coverage did it a little bit, anticipating one thing and making another, which was good, ... a little bit of a scheme," Mularkey said. "That, and really executing a little bit, and that's everybody across the board, and winning some one-on-ones outside and even our backs and tight ends involved as well. That's just one-on-one routes."
The Titans (2-9) will see Sunday if playing a team for the second time in three weeks helps. They converted 5 of 13 third downs in a 19-13 loss at Jacksonville on Nov. 19, and this will be rookie quarterback Marcus Mariota's first chance to play an opponent for the second time in a season.
"It is a benefit, but obviously they might change some things up," Mariota said. "For the most part, it's good to kind of have it so fresh in your memory and go out there and practice and know the looks."
Mularkey said everyone on the offense has to play better. Linemen need to keep defenders out of Mariota's face with running backs making sure they block better too. Receivers need to create separation.
"It all kind of works together, the whole thing has to work together for that to work," Mularkey said. "It's not just one position or one player that's not making this function correctly, it's everybody on third down."
Against Oakland, the Titans threw passes on eight of the first nine third downs they failed to convert. Mariota was sacked on one third down, and the rookie was intercepted on third-and-19. They faced third downs with 4 yards or fewer only three times.
Offensive coordinator Jason Michael said they need to run better to give themselves more options on third down. The Titans are averaging just 93.2 yards rushing per game, though they are getting 3.9 yards per carry.
"Third down is a direct reflection of the early downs, and we've got to do a better job getting production out of the run game on first and second down to get in those manageable thirds to help us in that situation in which we haven't been as strong as we want to be," Michael said. "There is an emphasis of that, and that's our approach going into each week."
Notes: Country star Tim McGraw watched some of practice Thursday and talked with Mularkey, Mariota and some of the Titans. ... The Titans added DT Mike Martin (knee) and S Marqueston Huff (hamstring) to the injury report Thurday, and neither practiced. Mularkey said they might need an MRI on Martin's knee but he expects Huff back Friday. RB Dexter McCluster (right knee) also did not practice. LB Derrick Morgan (shoulder) was limited, while TE Anthony Fasano (shoulder), NT Sammie Hill (right knee) and NT Al Woods (ankle) practiced fully.