Despite beefed-up line, Titans' running game is a mess

Friday, October 11, 2013, Vol. 37, No. 41

Tennessee Titans running back Jackie Battle (22) is stuffed at the 1-yard line by Kansas City.

-- Ap Photo/Wade Payne

This was supposed to be fixed by now.

But Sunday’s four downs inside the 1-yard line showed definitively that the Tennessee Titans running game is still very much in flux.

Four times – two Jackie Battle runs, a Ryan Fitzpatrick scramble and a batted pass that Fitzpatrick caught himself – yielded no yards and plenty of questions about the Titans supposed built-to-dominate offensive line.

“There’s no excuse for that. From the 1-yard line, we’ve got to punch it in,” left tackle Michael Roos said matter-of-factly.

The stat sheet from Sunday is very deceiving. It showed Tennessee rushed 22 times for a respectable 105 yards. But there are a couple of flaws with those numbers.

First off, backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick was brought in to be a capable backup to Jake Locker (and whether he was or not Sunday is certainly open for debate). He was not, however, brought in to be the team’s leading rusher, which he was in the Titans’ loss to the Chiefs.

Second, save for one 37-yard burst by Battle that helped to set up the ill-fated drive, the Titans running backs – Battle and Chris Johnson – gained 18 yards on the other 15 carries they shared Sunday.

Early in the season, when CJ was running for 70, 96 and 90 yards, the offensive line wasn’t a big issue. Johnson hadn’t hit the home run many had come to expect, but he was getting plenty of five- and six-yard gains.

More importantly, he seemed to have gotten away from the negative runs and no gains that have plagued Tennessee’s run game the previous two or three seasons.

It was thought that games like Johnson had against the New York Jets (21 yards on 15 carries) and the one he had Sunday (17 on 10 rushes) were a thing of the past.

The Titans had taken measures to assure that this would be the case. They signed Andy Levitre, widely regarded as the best guard on the market, to a $46 million package in free agency. They spent a first-round pick on Chance Warmack, who by nearly all accounts was a can’t-miss prospect from the University of Alabama.

And they brought in three new linemen to compete for the center spot with Rob Turner winning the fight with Brian Schwenkie and veteran Chris Spencer.

They even jettisoned any guard or center who had anything to do with the debacle of the past couple of years, ridding themselves of Fernando Velasco, Leroy Harris, Eugene Amano and Deuce Lutui.

But after a promising start, things look remarkably like they did during last year’s struggles. And with a Hall of Fame lineman in Mike Munchak as head coach, and a Hall of Fame lineman in Bruce Matthews as the line coach, it remains baffling as to why the offensive line and the running backs can’t stay on the same page.

Frankly, it is more imperative that the Titans find some sort of cohesion sooner rather than later, because Fitzpatrick showed Sunday he is far less a playmaker and focal point of the offense than Locker.

Johnson said there is plenty of blame to spread around.

“I don’t think it was them,” Johnson said. “I think it was us. A lot of mistakes were made on our behalf. This is just a work on progress. We need to get better. If we want to be the type of team that we want to be and make it to the playoffs, we have to get the running game corrected.

“It’s everybody – the running backs, the line, everybody.”

Offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains knows trying to right the wrongs of the run game won’t get any easier with Seattle and San Francisco on the horizon.

“Right now, my concern is fixing the problem and we need to figure out why we’re not running the football, and we need to figure that out ASAP. We’ve played some good defenses, but that’s no excuse. We have a lot of talent on the line and we need to do a better job,” he said.

And while there are new faces in new places along the offensive front, it seems to be the same old song.

Terry McCormick covers the Titans for and is a blogger for National Football Post.