Whatever the tonic, the Tennessee Titans have cured their red-zone ailment from a year ago.
In Tampa Bay Rays fashion, the Titans have gone from worst to first when it comes to scoring inside the opponent’s 20-yard line.
Tennessee has had 18 red-zone possessions thus far in 2008 and has scored points on all 18 tries. More importantly, the Titans have scored 13 touchdowns in those 18 trips, a mark of 72.2 percent touchdown efficiency.
How much of an improvement is that? Consider that last year, the Titans finished at league-worst 36.4 percent on scoring touchdowns from inside the opponent’s 20-yard line, meaning they have nearly doubled their efficiency in scoring there.
Last season, Tennessee had 55 trips into the red zone as a team, scoring 20 touchdowns and settling for 24 field goals and were one of four teams to have more field goals than touchdowns. The other three teams — Buffalo, Atlanta and the New York Jets — all finished with losing records.
So what has changed to make the Titans so successful a year later?
“Getting across the goal line is not as easy as it appears. Basically what you have to do is you have to have the threat of the passing game and the threat of the running game,” Titans coach Jeff Fisher said. “You have to be balanced in the plus territory. Some teams in the league are not, and as a result, they don’t get in as often.
“We’re very balanced down there in our play selection and what we’ve shown. So if you commit to the run, we’ll make a play to the tight ends or the receivers in the end zone. A lot of that credit, of course, goes to the offensive line too, because they’re playing very well.”
Titans center Kevin Mawae said it began with a commitment led by offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger, who replaced Norm Chow after last season.
“When ’Dinger came in, we looked at our red zone stats, and I think we were [good] in amount of times in the red zone and down at the bottom in production in the red zone,” Mawae said. “That was something we focused on through OTAs and in training camp. If we are going to get inside the 20-yard line, we want to put points on the board, not just settle for threes. We have a great field goal kicker in Rob [Bironas], and he can hit them, but when you get inside the 10 or 15-yard line, you want to get sevens. And it’s something we’ve been doing, whether it’s running or passing.”
LenDale White, who scored two of his three touchdowns from the red zone Sunday against Kansas City and has already surpassed his ’07 touchdown total with eight scores in six games, agreed that scoring touchdowns is a priority deep in the opponent’s territory.
“We try to eat the clock up more and score points when we’re in the red zone, instead of kicking field goals. I know Rob might be upset about that, but we’ve got to score more points,” White said.
Mission accomplished. Three times in six games, the Titans have scored 30 or more points thus far, after doing that only twice last year.
NOT LAUGHING: Titans coach Jeff Fisher reiterated that he was not amused with rookie Chris Johnson’s post-touchdown celebration of playing the bongo drums that belonged to the Chiefs' pep band. The act drew a 15-yard penalty and a fine from the NFL will surely be forthcoming.
The penalty meant the Titans would have to kick off from their own 15-yard line, something that gave Kansas City field position to assist them with their only touchdown of the day.
“Just a lot of different things that are involved there. I know he realizes now that hey, have fun but don’t penalize the team,” Fisher said.
And what if Johnson celebrates and gets a penalty again?
Fisher did have the last laugh there, joking, “I’ll cut him.”
INJURIES: Fisher indicated that removing Kyle Vanden Bosch from the game after the first three plays was the proper move to make, because Vanden Bosch was not 100 percent and there was no need to risk further issues with his strained groin.
“In retrospect, I think we did the right thing with Kyle,” Fisher said. “We wanted to see [if he could play]. It probably denied the opportunity for William Hayes to get 15 or 18 plays. That’s the only downside.”
Fisher said Vanden Bosch, Tony Brown (ankle), Justin McCareins (hamstring) and Justin Gage (knee) would all benefit from the extra day of rest caused by the Titans playing on Monday night against Indianapolis. He said all four would have a chance to practice this week.
PAUL’S TURN: Paul Williams saw action with the offense for the first time in his two-year career with the team, thanks to injuries to Gage and McCareins. Williams has only been active for one other game as a Titan, this year’s season opener, and played only on special teams that day.
He did not have a catch, and Fisher said the decision to play him as the third receiver ahead of the more experienced Chris Davis was a coaches’ decision.
“It was a coaches’ decision. I wanted to give Paul a chance,” Fisher said. “Paul is doing well on the practice field and it was time to give him a chance. It was nothing to do with what Chris did do or didn’t do. It was just Paul’s turn.”
CODE BLUE: The Titans will give away light blue t-shirts and are encouraging their fans to wear their Titans blue to the Monday Night game with the Colts.
The Titans will also have Hank Williams Jr., who does the Monday Night Football opening, sing the national anthem and Steve McNair will be Tennessee’s honorary captain.