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Titans get more comfortable in new offense, start to produce

November 14, 2018

Tennessee Titans tight end Jonnu Smith (81) celebrates with quarterback Marcus Mariota (8) after Smith caught a touchdown pass against the New England Patriots in the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/James Kenney)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Marcus Mariota and the Tennessee Titans finally are starting to show signs that some of their growing pains of learning a new offense may be easing.

The quarterback had to learn his third new scheme going into his fourth NFL season. The Titans are leaning on a lot of young receivers and coordinator Matt LaFleur’s experience calling plays grows with each game. The changes, along with the loss of three-time Pro Bowl tight end Delanie Walker in the opener, led to some early struggles on offense.

Now Mariota is feeling comfortable enough with the offense and LaFleur to speak up when the game plan features something he doesn’t like.

“I just feel as though I’ve gotten a better understanding of the offense, why we’re calling certain things,” Mariota said Wednesday. “Maybe why he wants a particular play against certain coverage, so having that understanding I think has allowed me to have confidence in going in and saying, ‘Hey, maybe I don’t really like that. I’m not feeling that.’”

Mariota said previously he might not have known how a play would look or work on the field.

“Having confidence in it, being in the offense a little longer has definitely helped that,” Mariota said.

The results might not show up in NFL rankings with the Titans (5-4) 30th in total offense and 18th averaging 18.7 points a game.

The offensive turnaround started Oct. 21 in London in a 20-19 loss to the Chargers and includes a 28-14 win in Dallas and last weekend’s 34-10 rout of the Patriots. In those three games, the Titans have converted 61 percent (25 of 41) of their third downs, which is best in the NFL in that span.

Mariota has posted his best passer ratings of the season in each of the past two games, and he has 542 total yards passing, running and catching with five touchdowns. His lone interception in the three-game stretch came in the second quarter against the Chargers

Corey Davis finished with seven catches for 125 yards against Dallas, his second 100-yard receiving game this season. Tight end Jonnu Smith had a career-high 45 yards receiving on three catches with a TD. Even rookie Cameron Batson, who spent three weeks on the practice squad earlier this season, has had four catches for 47 yards over the past two games.

Running back Dion Lewis believes everyone has gotten comfortable with each other.

“It’s a lot of bumps in the road when you’re learning,” Lewis said. “You make a mistake, and you try not to make the same mistake again. I think that’s what everybody’s trying to do knowing what the coaches expect from them. And if they messed up something in the past, just move on forward and not make that same mistake. I think if guys do that, we can keep building on that as an offense and keep getting better.”

The results are easy to see with the Titans, who went through an eight-quarter drought without scoring a touchdown during a three-game skid in October. They followed up a season-high 28 points in Dallas with the best first quarter (17) and first half (24) of scoring since Nov. 13, 2016, against Green Bay.

The Titans are 13th in the NFL holding the ball 30 minutes, 30 seconds per game. They’re also 10th converting third downs, and they’ll test their comfort level Sunday when they visit the Colts (4-5) in a key AFC South game.

“We’ve done a good job on third downs, definitely done a whole lot better in the red zone being able to score touchdowns,” Mariota said. “If we can continue that, I think we got a chance to be pretty good.”

Notes: LB Wesley Woodyard was named the AFC defensive player of the week after 1 ½ sacks against the Patriots. ... LB Derrick Morgan (shoulder) and RT Jack Conklin (concussion protocol) were limited Wednesday at practice along with S Dane Cruikshank (knee). LG Quinton Spain (ankle), WR Taywan Taylor (left foot), G/C Corey Levin (illness) and RB David Fluellen (knee) did not practice.

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Follow Teresa M. Walker at www.twitter.com/teresamwalker

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