NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The winless Tennessee Titans can only hope their recipe for success against NFC teams is strong enough to help them break out of their season-opening funk.
With Detroit and a loaded defensive line led by Ndamukong Suh coming to town Sunday, coach Mike Munchak knows one thing for sure: It could get ugly real fast if his Titans aren't ready.
"I think that's exactly what we need right now," Munchak said Wednesday. "As an offensive line, we need to be challenged by a bunch of guys that can embarrass you if you're not ready to play football."
Playing the NFC has been a way for Tennessee to stack up lots of wins since realignment in 2002, going 28-12. Only the Patriots (35-6) and Steelers (28-11-1) have been better at inter-conference games. The Titans went 4-0 against the NFC North in 2008, a year the Lions went 0-16 and Tennessee was an NFL-best 13-3. They are 6-2 overall against the NFC North.
Munchak credits past success to studying a little harder to learn personnel and tendencies, which is crucial against Detroit (1-1).
Left tackle Michael Roos knows Detroit defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch after practicing against him for five seasons, while left guard Steve Hutchinson joined the Titans from Minnesota where he faced the Lions twice a year.
"This organization has done well, and that's a good thing," Munchak said of the success against the NFC. "I hope we can keep that going. They present a great challenge. This is a good football team. Like I said, if we're not ready to play, it could get ugly real fast."
The challenge is these Titans (0-2) have been outscored 72-23, have yet to score a rushing touchdown and have scored the fewest points in the league. Jake Locker is the leading rusher, not Chris Johnson, the man who came into this season leading the NFL in yards rushing since 2008.
Vanden Bosch said on a conference call with Tennessee reporters he's surprised especially at how Johnson has struggled after watching him break all kinds of records.
"That's the type of player I know he's capable of being and the type of performance that we're trying to prevent," Vanden Bosch said. "He's a special player and a unique athlete. What you can't do is look at his stats and think of him as anything other than the guy he was and the guy he is capable of being.
The good news for the Titans is they seem to be healing up. Wednesday marked the first practice in about a year with both Kenny Britt and Nate Washington healthy enough that neither was on the injury report. Britt was limited to only 19 snaps in last week's 38-10 loss at San Diego, a game Washington also was limited by a bruised leg.
Munchak said there are no more limitations for Britt, who tore his right anterior cruciate ligament Sept. 25, 2011, setting up the first of three different knee surgeries.
"So he'll get to play more and start making a difference that we think he can make," Munchak said.
Johnson isn't sure yet how much a healthy receiving corps can help him. Frustrated after the loss in San Diego where he ran eight times for 17 yards, Johnson said the Titans didn't look like an NFL team. He told Detroit reporters Wednesday that everybody has to do their job and execute for the offense to work.
He also said it doesn't matter what his teammates thought of his comments.
"Hopefully they take it as a positive," Johnson said. "I'm not trying to bash anybody, but hopefully it will help and we can go out this weekend and turn it around."
This will be Locker's first start against an NFC team. Coming off the bench last season, he threw for three touchdowns with no interceptions and a 97.7 passer rating. Not falling behind would be a big key to staying balanced and keeping the Lions' line from targeting Locker each play.
"There's a fine line between having the opportunity to make a play and trying to create a play," Locker said. "That's just something you've got to recognize and be willing to take what they're giving you, and once you get that opportunity to capitalize on it."
Notes: Munchak said MLB Colin McCarthy likely will be questionable Sunday, though the linebacker quit wearing a walking boot on his right ankle Monday. He did not practice Wednesday along with RG Leroy Harris (right knee). LB Zach Brown (knee), DT Sen'Derrick Marks (right knee), OT Mike Otto (finger, knee) and RB Javon Ringer (left elbow) all practiced fully. DT Mike Martin (foot) was limited.