NASHVILLE – Three preseason games down, one to go for the Tennessee Titans.
On Sunday night, the Titans didn't exactly look regular season ready in a spotty showing against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Pass protection was shaky, there were breakdowns on defense, and the overall performance failed to provide many sparks in an 18-6 loss at Nissan Stadium.
"Not the way we wanted to come out to play," said Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota, whose night ended quicker than initially planned. "A lot to learn from, but at the same time you have to continue to build. You can't hang your head, you just have to learn from it and move on."
There were reasons to avoid hitting the panic button, starting with the fact Mariota played just two series, running back Derrick Henry didn't suit up at all once again, and most of the first team defense was out of the contest midway through the first quarter.
Mariota was 0-of-3 in two series before leaving the contest. Titans coach Mike Vrabel indicated the team had planned to play Mariota more, but with problems protecting him, he made the decision to pull his starting quarterback.
Pass protection was an issue all night, as the Titans allowed seven sacks.
"We have to clean some stuff up so we can be ready for Week One," center Ben Jones said. "We have to execute better. We never want to get our quarterback hit, no matter who is in there. We have to be better as an offensive line."
Mariota is now 10-of-20 for 87 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions in three preseason games. Mariota was sacked in the end zone for a safety, which gave the Steelers a 2-0 lead, and one of his passes was dropped. Backup quarterback Ryan Tannehill took the field in place of Mariota with 4:25 left in the first quarter and he played until halftime.
Tannehill completed 6-of-9 passes for 62 yards, but like Mariota early, he was faced with pressure. Tannehill was sacked three times in the first half, after the Steelers decked Mariota in the end zone.
"We want to make sure that we can protect our quarterback -- that's important," Vrabel said. "It's imperative that we do that as a staff and we do that as an offensive group. … I wanted to see how the game was going, and at that point in time I thought it was in the team's best interest and in everybody's best interest that we get (Marcus) out of the game at that point in time."
Among the positives for the Titans: Brett Kern averaged 68.5 yards on a pair of punts, rookie safety Amani Hooker had an interception, running back Jeremy McNichols continued to rip off some nice runs, rookie receiver A.J. Brown made his first NFL catch (full disclosure: he fumbled after making the catch, and recovered it), and outside linebacker Cameron Wake suited up for the first time for the Titans. Receiver Kalif Raymond flashed once again and led the team with five catches for 58 receiving yards.
But there were way too many breakdowns on a night when the Steelers took control of the game early with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger leading the way in his first action of the preseason in 2019.
Roethlisberger connected with receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster for a 17-yard touchdown to give Pittsburgh an 8-0 lead, and then Steelers backup quarterback Mason Rudolph found James Washington open for a 41-yard score. Two different Titans cornerbacks were beaten for the scores.
"We have to get better," Titans safety Kevin Byard said. "There are certain things you don't ever want to put on film as a total defense. I don't really think about it as 1s, 2s and 3s. I think about as all of us. Every game and every play is a teaching moment for everybody and you can't give up big plays, can't have missed tackles, can't not get pressure on the quarterback. Those are things you have to learn from."
Titans kicker Ryan Succop provided another positive by making field goals of 22 and 24 yards in his first kicks of the preseason. Succop was taken off the team's Physically Unable to Perform list last week. The Titans sandwiched two field goals in between a Steelers kick but trailed 18-6 late in the third quarter.
Quarterback Logan Woodside started the second half for the Titans and played the rest of the way as rain fell from the Nashville sky. Let's hope it wiped away some of the Titans sins on Sunday night.
The Titans, now 1-2 in the preseason, wrap up the preseason on Thursday night in Chicago.
The regular season opener is now less than two weeks away.
"We're building, you know, and it's not perfect," cornerback Logan Ryan said. "Tonight wasn't perfect, for sure. … At the end of the day, I think we are building and building towards our first game of the season in Cleveland. That's the goal, we're taking our steps there. Obviously, there is stuff to learn from tonight, but I think we are trending in the right direction."