Ray Horton cautioned anyone who would listen that getting comfortable with the new 3-4 defensive scheme would take Tennessee some time. Now 10 games in counting the preseason, the defensive coordinator is starting to see the Titans playing more than thinking.
Horton said Thursday the Titans have done a lot of good things over the past couple weeks, and his players agree.
"It's coming together slowly but surely," defensive tackle Sammie Hill said of the Titans' comfort level. "But hopefully this week it'll really show up opposed to having that feeling again like we had last week."
The Titans shut down Cleveland early in building a 28-3 lead, then let that slip away in the second half in a 29-28 loss. Wreh-Wilson sat out that game recovering from a concussion, and his replacement Coty Sensabaugh hurt his right knee. They also lost safety Bernard Pollard to a torn Achilles tendon at the end.
Against Jacksonville, the Titans came up with six sacks and forced two turnovers before allowing an 83-yard drive for a touchdown late for a chance at a last second field goal the Jaguars missed.
"We can play a little bit better down the stretch," cornerback Jason McCourty said.
The Titans (2-4) face one of their toughest offensive challenges yet going to Washington on Sunday. The Redskins may be 1-5, but Horton notes their offense is probably the highest-ranked unit they've played yet.
Washington is ranked seventh in the NFL rolling up 395.8 yards per game in total offense with a big chunk coming through the air. Kirk Cousins has been intercepted eight times, but Washington is tied with Pittsburgh for the most pass completions of 25 yards or longer in the NFL with 16 with DeSean Jackson averaging 20.8 yards per catch himself.
The Titans have allowed only eight such pass plays and are tied for sixth fewest allowed in the league.
Their biggest counter remains pressuring the quarterback, and their outside linebackers finally got two sacks last week. That helps Casey, who is the only defensive tackle in the league with multiple sacks in more than one game.
"Jurrell Casey up front is as good of an interior defensive lineman as there is," Cousins said on a conference call. "He's very, very disruptive. That'll be a challenge for us. On the back end, they've got a great safety, Michael Griffin. They've got players, they've got playmakers."
The defensive transition also has been complicated by injuries leading to young Titans getting more playing time.
Rookie Avery Williamson has started the last two games at inside linebacker with Zach Brown out for the season with a torn pectoral muscle. Pollard's injury has Daimion Stafford, a seventh-round draft pick out of Nebraska, playing while rookie cornerback Marqueston Huff also is getting on the field more.
Wreh-Wilson, in just his second season, earned his starting job in training camp. His interception was a big play for the cornerback who is the Titans' most penalized player this season, and Horton hopes that helps boost Wreh-Wilson's confidence.
"I have never lost confidence in him," Horton said. "I told you guys we're going to play with young cornerbacks. We understand that. ... I hope they go, 'Wow, I can play in this league.'"
Notes: Jake Locker was limited again Thursday, and Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt said they have to see how the quarterback's injured right thumb progresses daily. If Locker can't start at Washington, Charlie Whitehurst would be making his third start in four games. That would be a career-high for starts in a season for the nine-year veteran. Whisenhunt said the Titans have to see if DL Ropati Pitoitua can play with a cast after breaking a finger. Pitoitua did not practice along with Sensabaugh (right knee), TE Taylor Thompson (right knee), RB Shonn Greene (hamstring) and TE Craig Stevens (quad). S George Wilson (calf) was limited.
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