NASHVILLE -- The Titans lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers 27-24 on Sunday at Nissan Stadium.
Here's a look at six things that stood out from the game as the team begins to turn its attention to Sunday's game against the Cincinnati Bengals:
Third Down Defense Woes
This continues to be a problem for the Titans on defense, and on Sunday it came back to bite them. The Steelers converted 13-of-18 (72.2 percent) on third down, including some long ones. While the Titans got some stops late, plenty of damage was done here early as the Steelers built a lead. On the season, the Titans are allowing opponents to convert 61 percent of the time. It's an area that has to improve. "It starts everywhere, honestly," Titans safety Kevin Byard said of how the teams needs to improve. "It starts with communication, it starts with the coverage, the rush. Everything has to be coordinated, because I don't think that we're really – we're not as detailed as we need to be, whether it's third-and-short, third-and-medium, or third-and-long, we're giving up all the varieties. …It comes down to pride, honestly, I think it comes down to pride and taking pride that we have to be better on third down."
In the first half, and into the third quarter, the Titans looked dead in the water. They trailed 24-7 at the half, and 27-7 in the third quarter as the Steelers kept the football and set the tone. But the Titans showed their resiliency by battling back on a day when plenty went wrong, and they gave themselves a chance to win it late. The defense got some big stops when it mattered, and the offense made a lot of big plays in crunch time. But on this day, it wasn't enough. "We just can't give a team like that that big of a lead in the beginning," Titans running back Derrick Henry said. "You can't question the heart of this team, the way we fight back."
Special Teams Breakdowns
Titans kicker Stephen Gostkowski missed a 45-yard field goal that would have sent the game into overtime. The Titans botched a punt (which resulted in an incomplete pass by punter Brett Kern) that gave the Steelers good field position, returner Kalif Raymond mishandled a kickoff that backed up the Titans, and Steelers return man Ray-Ray McCloud returned one for 57 yards. The Titans also hurt themselves with a penalty here. While there was some good – Kern averaged 60.5 yards, and Gostkowski made a 51-yard kick – the bad hurt. "We weren't very good in all three phases, special teams, too many mistakes," Titans Coach Mike Vrabel said. "Uncharacteristic of our team in all three phases."
Dynamic A.J. Brown
Receiver A.J. Brown is as special a talent as the Titans have had at receiver. On Sunday, he changed the game with a 73-yard catch and go for a touchdown. Brown was targeted eight times against the Steelers, and he finished the game with six catches for 153 yards and the score. When the Titans needed big plays late, time and again quarterback Ryan Tannehill looked to Brown, who delivered. Brown joined Kenny Britt (two) and Nate Washington (two) as the only players in the franchise's "Titans era" (since 1999) with multiple career touchdown receptions of at least 73 yards. His 153 receiving yards tied for the 10th-highest total by a player in the franchise's "Titans era" (since 1999).
Still Creating Turnovers
The Titans continue win the takeaway-giveaway battle. While the defense struggled to get off the field on third down, the team picked off three of Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's passes. Linebacker Jayon Brown got one on a ball that was tipped by big defensive lineman Jeffery Simmons, and defensive back Amani Hooker got one in the end zone in the closing minutes to give the Titans a chance. Safety Dane Cruikshank had a pick at the end of the first half. On the season, the Titans are now a plus-nine in the takeaway/giveaway category. But as the Titans found out on Sunday, it's not a stat that guarantees a W.
Pass Protection Mostly Solid
The Titans began life without left tackle Taylor Lewan on Sunday, and for the most part the offensive line held up well. Tannehill was sacked just twice in the contest, and while he was also hit several times, it wasn't the onslaught the Steelers produced in previous weeks. Pittsburgh, keep in mind, entered the game with 24 sacks in five games. After the game, Tannehill gave credit to left tackle Ty Sambrailo and others. "I think Ty stepped in and did a good job for us," Tannehill said. "Obviously, we'll have to go back and look at the tape, but it wasn't like I was getting consistent pressure from my left side or anything like that. So I have a lot of confidence in Ty and look forward to having him in the lineup and continuing to come through."
The Tennessee Titans take on the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 7 at Nissan Stadium. (Photos: Donald Page)