NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee coach Jeff Fisher knows one thing for sure about his offense: The Titans should be well rested by the time they visit Jacksonville on Monday night.
The Titans improved to 3-2 and forged a four-way tie in the AFC South with a big 34-27 road win over Dallas. But Tennessee needs to figure out how to hold onto the ball a little longer, especially in the second half, if they want to rest a defense that spends most of the game on the field trying not to break.
The defense was on the field for 36 minutes, 44 seconds in Dallas with the offense holding the ball a season-low 23:16. This wasn't a one-time problem. Only four NFL teams hold the ball less per game than Tennessee, and the Titans had the ball only eight minutes, 52 seconds in the second half in Dallas. That's even less than in last week's loss.
Fisher credits defense and special teams with giving the offense a short field.
"We had a first-and-goal at the 1 and a first-and-goal at the 6," Fisher said Monday. "You score two plays later, you put the offense back on the field. Plus, ... we weren't as good defensively on third down. They converted 50 percent of their third downs, and that keeps you on the field. Clearly our offense should be well rested by Monday night."
The Titans did score 17 points in the second half with the longest drive lasting 1:53 before Rob Bironas kicked a 40-yard field goal. That came after Vince Young opened the drive with a 52-yard pass deep down the middle to Kenny Britt.
On the other drives, Tennessee went three-and-out twice. Chris Johnson opened a third possession with a 42-yard run up the middle, then the Titans punted four plays later. The lack of offense was eerily similar to last week's 26-20 loss to Denver when the Titans managed 46 yards offense and couldn't protect a lead.
Left tackle Michael Roos said he didn't know if the Titans were coming out flat for the second half. He said it looks worse than it is and that they will correct the little things that have been stopping drives.
"We have to stick with it, stay calm and do our part and it'll come to us," Roos said.
Tennessee did allow Dallas to convert 7-of-14 third downs, yet the Titans still rank second in third down defense to only the Cowboys holding opponents to 30 percent.
Fisher said he's disappointed in his defense giving up 511 yards offense, including 406 yards passing. Tennessee also gave up 308 yards losing to Denver and 364 to the Giants in recent weeks.
"Fortunately for us we have a lot of things to fix from this ballgame. It's going to be a great experience for this club to get things corrected and to take advantage of the extra day after a win," Fisher said.
The Titans did improve their discipline a week after being penalized a season-high 111 yards. Against Dallas, they were flagged four times for 40 yards — both season lows. Fisher said he thought a hold on Fernando Velasco should not have been called as he made his first NFL start for the injured Leroy Harris (ankle).
Reducing the penalties was emphasized throughout preparation, and Fisher noted only one neutral zone infraction was called on the defense. That was erased by offsetting penalties, a nice show of discipline by the Titans even as they sacked Tony Romo six times and hit him repeatedly.
Playing keepaway has been a hallmark of Fisher's teams. The Titans rank third in the NFL with an average time of possession of 31:17 through his first 15 full seasons behind only Pittsburgh (31:57) and Denver (31:23).
The Titans' average time of possession has dropped each of the past three seasons and now is an average 26:45. That coincides with the team drafting the speedy Johnson in 2008. The league average for time of possession is 30 minutes flat.
Roos thinks the Titans are close to putting up the kind of drive that puts away a victory.
"It's a matter of somebody making a play instead of 10, 11 guys hoping somebody makes a play," he said.