Titans need more out of all those running backs

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) The Tennessee Titans are literally running into a problem with their offense.

So far, they haven't been able to run the ball effectively, and the offense hasn't stayed on the field long enough for any of the rushers in their running back-by-committee to really produce.

The Titans have only four touchdowns rushing with running backs scoring two of those. They have topped 100 yards rushing as a team in only three games and are coming off their worst rushing performance of the season.

Now Tennessee (2-6) visits Baltimore (5-4) on Sunday with the Ravens one of the NFL's stingier defenses against the run, and Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt said Thursday they obviously have to work hard to get more out of their run game. Limiting turnovers, not falling behind early and fewer penalties would help.

''I think we've had success with situations where we've been effective at running the football, we just haven't had enough of those,'' Whisenhunt said. ''Hopefully we can do a better job managing this game and playing better early, which will give us chances to do that.''

Being on the field longer as an offense would help. The Titans are averaging 27 minutes, 35 seconds of possession per game.

But the last Titans running back to run for 100 yards or more was Chris Johnson in the season finale last season. Tennessee cut him in April, preferring to use veteran Shonn Greene, Dexter McCluster and Leon Washington. The Titans drafted Bishop Sankey out of Washington in the second round to round out the group.

The Titans started the season off looking like this group approach to running could work very well. Greene ran for 71 yards, and they finished with 162 yards rushing in beating Kansas City. Since then, the Titans topped 100 yards rushing only once and lost both games.

They ran for a season-worst 36 yards in a 30-16 loss to Houston before their bye, not exactly helping out rookie quarterback Zach Mettenberger in his first start. The Titans also fell behind early in that game, and trailing usually leads to Greene getting very few chances to run with Sankey going on the field as Tennessee throws to catch up.

''And in those games, he's going to get less carries because he's not as big a part of that package,'' Whisenhunt said of Greene.

The Titans like the quality of their runs. Both Greene and Sankey have broken off runs of 20 yards or longer, while both McCluster and Washington have had carries of 16 yards themselves.

''The volume's not there in the run game,'' offensive coordinator Jason Michael said.

The Titans are trying to help themselves stay on the field longer by cleaning up their penalties. That's why Whisenhunt has officials throwing flags in practice this week to cut back holds that have erased plays.

The running backs also have been working to be more consistent themselves, and McCluster said they can help themselves by reading blocks better to find the open hole. They see themselves on film being close to breaking off bigger runs, which would keep an offense that is the NFL's worst at converting third downs on the field longer.

''It's a game of inches,'' McCluster said. ''You never know what play is going to be the one that changes the game, gives you momentum or deflates you. It's just a matter of minimizing mistakes.''

Notes: WR Nate Washington (shoulder) and DT Sammie Hill (hamstring) were limited Thursday, and CB Coty Sensabaugh practiced fully for a second straight day.

---

Online:

AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

---

Follow Teresa M. Walker at www.twitter.com/teresamwalker

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide—from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Andy Staples, Grant Wahl, and more—delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.