HOUSTON —Here's a look at six things that stood out for the Titans in Sunday's 20-6 loss at the Texans.
Offensive line woes**
Sure, there were times when quarterback Zach Mettenberger held the ball too long. If he gets the ball out quicker on some of his drop backs, maybe he doesn't absorb so many hits. But let's be honest here. The Titans offensive line got beat up front against the Texans, either because guys were overpowered, they weren't quick enough off the snap, or because they used poor technique. Right tackle Jeremiah Poutasi struggled, but left tackle Taylor Lewan's shaky performance was just as noticeable. The Titans had issues in between them as well. The Texans sacked Mettenberger seven times, and they were credited with 14 hits on the quarterback on Sunday.
Second-year running back Bishop Sankey became an afterthought in the running game after Week 2. After getting 12 carries against both the Buccaneers and Browns, Sankey has carried the ball just 15 times in the five games since. The Titans kept him involved in the return game, but Sankey's now lost that job as well as a result of his miscues on Sunday. Sankey fumbled one kickoff, and he failed to field another one cleanly, which resulted in poor starting field position. Coach Ken Whisenhunt acknowledged Sankey's lost the spot, and it's hard to make a case for the second round pick from 2014 right now.
Being one-dimensional hurt**
For nearly three quarters of Sunday's game, the Titans actually protected Mettenberger pretty well. Mettenberger was sacked just once in the first half, and twice in the game's first 44:42. When the Titans fell behind 17-6 late in the third and had to start throwing it pretty much every down, that's when the Texans teed off on Mettenberger. The Texans recorded sack No. 3 with 18 seconds left in the third quarter, and then sacked Mettenberger four times in the fourth quarter when things started to get out of hand. Without the real threat of a run, the Texans pounced.
Defense is solid
The offense is a mess right now, there's no disputing that here. The Titans have scored just three touchdowns in the last four games combined, after scoring four touchdowns in a 35-33 loss to the Colts in Week 3. But the Titans continued to perform well enough to win on the defensive side of the ball. The Titans held the Texans to 270 yards on Sunday, when Houston was 4-of-15 on third down. The Titans are ranked 5th in the NFL in total defense, including 4th against the pass. The team is 4th in sacks per play, with 18 on the season. But some solid efforts are getting wasted right now.
Third down is killing Titans on O**
The Titans can't get anything going on offense, in large part because they can't make it past third down. The Titans went 1-of-12 (8%) against the Texans, and in the last three games the team is just 4-of-31 (10.8%) on third down. In the season opening win at Tampa, the Titans were 44% on third down, and the team was over 38% in three of the first four games. It's hard to win when drives aren't extended. The Titans have faced long down-and-distance situations because of sacks and penalties, and they simply haven't executed when it matters most.
Kern's big day
It's oftentimes a bad sign when team's punter stands out. Teams would much rather use their field goal kicker to kick extra points. But Titans punter Brett Kern had a heck of a day on Sunday. He had punts of 55, 59, 59 and 60 yards, and he averaged a whopping 45.9-yard net. Kern put three punts down inside the 12-yard line, and he forced the Texans to start at their own 7, 10 and 11. Six of his seven punts went at least 50 yards or pinned the Texans inside the 20. Kern's 45.9 net average was the 13th best single-game performance on record for the team and gave Kern 11 of the franchise's top 15 net punting games.