NASHVILLE, Tenn. -The Tennessee Titans have been criticized for being the NFL's worst at running the ball. Jake Locker is pretty happy about one thing they're doing better than almost any team in the league.
The Titans (1-2) have done a pretty good job keeping Locker upright, allowing only two sacks and none in two straight games. He was only hit twice last week by the Detroit Lions. Only the Buffalo Bills have allowed fewer sacks with just one.
Titans coach Mike Munchak said Wednesday the protection went unnoticed last week despite facing a good defensive line in Detroit.
"We all knew that coming in and we threw the ball 50 times, I think, and the quarterback got hit twice,'' Munchak said. "Not sacked, not harassed, he threw for almost 400 yards. That's a heck of an accomplishment for them, and I thought the run blocking, for the most part, was pretty good all game, for their part in this thing.''
Protecting quarterbacks is a mark of the Titans since Munchak first started coaching the offensive line in 1997. The franchise has ranked outside the top 10 only three times since 1997 and usually finds itself among the top six.
"That's been a strength of this team for a long time, and it continues to be,'' Locker said. "Those guys are professionals. They come out every weekend, and they play really good football games. It's a constant as far as I'm concerned.''
The Titans finished behind only Buffalo last season in fewest sacks allowed, tied with New Orleans in giving up 24 sacks. That came protecting veteran Matt Hasselbeck, who is not as fast with his legs as Locker. His ability to run was just one of the reasons Tennessee drafted Locker eighth overall in 2011, and he's led the team in rushing each of the first three games.
Locker picked up his first career victory last week in the wild 44-41 overtime win over Detroit. He also threw for a career-best 378 yards and was 29 of 42 with a passer rating of 113.0. It was the most yards passing by a Titans quarterback since Vince Young threw for 387 against Arizona on Nov. 29, 2009.
Munchak said the credit for protecting the quarterback can be shared by not only the offensive line, but by receivers getting open quickly along with added protection from the tight ends and running backs
Tight end Craig Stevens also praised Locker.
"Jake's doing a great job of getting the ball out,'' Stevens said. "That's definitely a big positive we can continue to grow on and work on.''
Now they face possibly their biggest test yet Sunday in Houston (3-0). J.J. Watt leads the AFC with 5.5 sacks and is second in the NFL. Houston coach Gary Kubiak complimented Titans offensive line coach Bruce Matthews, who worked for him before joining Munchak in Tennessee, of knowing how to protect the quarterback.
"You add the fact that Jake moves so well,'' Kubiak said. "Sacks, you look at numbers, how many do you have? Boy, you're doing this well or that well. A lot of sacks are tied to quarterbacks finding a way to get rid of the ball and not go down. ... You have to find a way sometimes to throw the ball away.''
While Kubiak also credits Locker for getting rid of the ball quickly, the Houston coach has had success attacking QBs by moving Watt to the side of the line where the tight end is lined up.
Titans left tackle Michael Roos said the key to protecting Locker will be trusting technique and not leaning into the 6-foot-5 Watt.
Tennessee gave up two sacks in the opener - one resulting in a fumble returned for a TD. The Titans have been ever so stingy since then and are trying to bring the rest of the offense up to that standard.
"We'd still like to run the ball better,'' Roos said. "But if it takes us throwing the ball 40 times a game to win, I'm all for that. As long as we win, that's all that matters.''
NOTES: TE Jared Cook (left shoulder), WR Kenny Britt (ankle), MLB Colin McCarthy (right ankle) and RG Leroy Harris did not practice. Munchak said they hope McCarthy might be able to practice Friday, while Cook has most of the range of motion back. ... DT Mike Martin (foot) was limited. ... Darius Reynaud was named the AFC special teams player of the week after he tossed a lateral to Tommie Campbell to set up a 65-yard punt return for a TD, and Reynaud also set a franchise record with his own 105-yard kickoff return against Detroit.