Glennon's Take: Titans Seek to Better Themselves During Bye

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CLEVELAND —** The Titans could be happy about at least a couple of things as they walked off the field following Sunday's overtime victory in Cleveland.

The first was that despite struggling against the winless Browns, they did indeed come up with an important victory, one that counts in the standings just as much as the shellacking of Jacksonville and the streak-ender against Indianapolis.

Tennessee remained tied with Jacksonville atop the AFC South at 4-3. That's one win better than the Titans were a year ago at this point before going 6-3 over their last nine games.

A second positive is that the Titans are headed for a bye week, a much-needed pit stop for a team that needs to re-discover some of the strengths that made the 2016 club the best in the NFL not to make the playoffs.

One of the more obvious dips from a year ago is in a Titans' offense that dominated opposition in the red zone.

The Titans were the only team in the NFL last season to top the 70-percent success mark, finishing the season with a 72 percent touchdown success rate when inside opponents' 20-yard lines.

They entered this game 24th in the league at 47 percent, and then failed to score on their only two red-zone chances against the Browns. The opportunity that would have haunted them for who-knows-how-long if they'd lost occurred early in the second half, when the Titans failed to score on four straight plays that began with a first-and-goal at the 1-yard line.

The most stunning of those plays occurred when Mariota – who's been one of the NFL's best red-zone quarterbacks since entering the league – missed an open Delanie Walker in the end zone.

"The opportunities in the red zone, we have to do a better job," Titans coach Mike Mularkey said. "We have to clean it up. We have to figure out what we're doing wrong. It starts with the coaching and the scheme, and then we look at the players doing it.

"We'll look at all of it, just like we do in the offseason. We'll look at all of that in this bye week."

The Titans have also slipped in their third-down rate from last year, when their 46 percent success rate was fourth-best in the NFL. Tennessee began the Cleveland game with a 36 percent third-down success rate (ranked 26th in the league), and fell to 35 percent after going five-for-17 against the Browns.

Too many drives have stalled in recent weeks, especially in the games' first two quarters.

"I thought third down was okay," Mariota said. "It wasn't where we wanted it to be, but when we get down in the red zone we can't keep kicking field goals. We have to score touchdowns and make the most of every drive. We'll have a week to correct those things and make sure we're going in the right direction."

But if we're being critical of the Titans' offense following the Cleveland contest, we need to recognize another strong defensive Tennessee effort as well.

It was less than a month ago that the Titans' defense took a serious blow to the midsection, when Houston quarterback DeShuan Watson guided the Texans to a 57-14 victory.

In the three games since the Dolphins' contest, however, the Titans have given up just two offensive touchdowns – one to Miami and one to Indianapolis.

When the Titans most desperately needed three-and-outs against the Browns, they got them. Tennessee didn't allow Cleveland a first down in its two overtime possessions, limiting the Browns to negative 10 yards by putting all kinds of pressure on quarterback Cody Kessler.

Then there was second-year safety Kevin Byard, who is is looking more and more like the ballhawk he was at Middle Tennessee State, when Byard set a school record with 19 interceptions. Byard grabbed three picks against the Browns – two off DeShone Kizer and one off Kessler – to up his season total to four in three games.

Heading into Sunday, only one other player – Buffalo's Micah Hyde – had picked off four passes this year.

"That was a great game by (Byard)," Mularkey said. "He was around the ball. (But) it's one thing to be where you're supposed to be. The second thing is making the play. His time was coming. I didn't know he was going to get three. But he's always around the ball."

So even if there is some frustration on the part of Titans' fans after a narrow victory in Cleveland, there's also reason to feel good about where Tennessee stands at this point.

The Titans will have an extra week to allow players to get healthy, meaning we should see a fully mobile Mariota two Sundays from now against Baltimore. The likely return of the read option – not to mention Mariota's scrambling ability – should diversify the Titans' offense.

In addition, the fifth overall pick of the draft, Corey Davis, is getting closer and closer to making a return from his hamstring injury. He will eventually be a difference maker, as evidenced by the six catches he made for 69 yards in his only full game of the season.

It's worth noting the Titans appear to have a reasonable schedule for the remainder of the season as well.

The Titans will play two straight home games – against Baltimore and Cincinnati – coming out of the break, a good way to build momentum. In addition, only three of the Titans' remaining nine opponents – Pittsburgh, the Los Angeles Rams and Jacksonville – currently have winning records.

Tennessee needs to do some serious self-analysis during the break, figuring out a way to get that formerly smooth-running offense clicking the way it did last year.

But if the Titans can find a way to better themselves in that regard over the next two weeks, the possibilities of winning the division and returning to the playoffs are still very much in reach.

-- Reach John Glennon at glennonsports@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @glennonsports.

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The Tennessee Titans take on the Cleveland Browns in Week 7 at FirstEnergy Stadium. (Photos: Donn Jones, AP)

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