Titans looking more like team coach Munchak wants

By TERESA M. WALKER - AP Sports Writer
    2013-08-25 17:17

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - The Tennessee Titans feel better about themselves after Saturday's preseason win over Atlanta.

Quarterback Jake Locker showed how effective he can be both throwing and running the ball, and with a defense that sacked Matt Ryan five times.

Every little bit helps for a franchise trying to bounce back from a 6-10 season.

``We're a lot more physical football team,'' coach Mike Munchak said Sunday.

``We talked about accomplishing that back in January. I think we've shown we are accomplishing that. We still have a ways to go, but we're a more physical team in a lot of areas and I think it's showing in how we're playing and how we're running the football.''

The Titans ran for 171 yards with Chris Johnson getting 65 in Saturday night's 27-16 win over Atlanta.

Locker had his best game yet, throwing for 133 yards and his first touchdown this preseason. And the Titans' ability to run made their play action much more effective.

Locker connected on five passes of 16 yards or longer. He showed off his legs running three times for 22 yards, though he did lose the ball at the end of his first run to end Tennessee's first drive.

But Locker also scrambled for 13 yards to kick off a drive that started with 1:04 left at the Titans 20 and was capped by a 53-yard field goal by Rob Bironas just before halftime.

The third-year quarterback was sacked three times, but both Munchak and Johnson like the decisions Locker is making.

``Just real poised and making great decisions,'' Johnson said after the game of Locker. ``When he was looking downfield and saw it wasn't there, he was using his legs.

``That's something I know that the coaching staff wants out of him instead of making crazy decisions if it's not there. He's athletic enough to run the field and try and get the first down.''

Munchak agreed after having watched the film. He said pass blocking keeps improving each game, which has helped the quarterback too.

The coach also said Locker didn't force balls or ``do something stupid'' trying to avoid a sack.

``So far so good,'' Munchak said. ``I think you see him getting better each week, that's all you can ask for. Hopefully that means we get to Pittsburgh he'll be better, and we'll go from there.''

The defense has been criticized for missing too many tackles and allowing opponents to drive the field too easily this preseason. That has resembled where Tennessee had picked up where it left off last season in allowing a franchise-worst 471 points.

The Titans showed resiliency against Atlanta, a team that had an NFC-best 13-3 record last season before hosting the NFC championship game.

They held the Falcons to field goals the three times Atlanta got inside the Tennessee 20, and Ryan was sacked three times on third down allowing the defense to head to the sideline.

``If we can get to the point where we are not giving up the yardage and they are not getting in scoring position, it makes us even better,'' safety Michael Griffin said. ``It takes time. We've still got two weeks ahead of us to prepare for our season opener in Pittsburgh.''

The Titans led 13-6 when the starters headed to the bench, and end Derrick Morgan calls it a step in the right direction, especially for a defense that had four starters resting injuries preparing for that opener Sept. 8. But Morgan also said they can't become overconfident after only a half of work.

``We've got to learn to start fast and finish games,'' Morgan said.

``(Saturday) was a good step forward in the right direction and something that we look to build off of.''

Notes: Munchak said they haven't made a decision yet on the starters at cornerback or center. Alterraun Verner started at cornerback against Atlanta and was beaten for a 42-yard pass along with two penalties. ... Rob Turner got his second start at center this preseason. ... LB Colin McCarthy is expected to make his preseason debut in Thursday night's preseason finale at Minnesota.


AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org

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