NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Marcus Mariota is throwing the ball effectively. DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry are running so well that fans already are tossing out nickname possibilities on social media, even if it just preseason.
Defensively, the Titans have a few issues they need to clean up.
Tennessee (2-1) has allowed opponents to drive for a touchdown on the first possession of each of the first three preseason games, a worrisome trend for a franchise trying to turn around after winning a combined five games the past two seasons and with Dick LeBeau now in charge as coordinator.
Coach Mike Mularkey said Sunday that the return of cornerback Perrish Cox, who has yet to play this preseason because of an injured ankle, should help the defense.
“When we settle down and take away the big play, I think that’ll have a big part in stopping some of these drives,” Mularkey said. “To me, it’s not when the drives are but the big plays that helps these drives score points.”
The Titans ranked 27th in the NFL last season giving up more than 26 points per game despite 12th in fewest yards allowed.
In Tennessee’s 27-14 win at Oakland, the Titans gave up a handful of big plays including a 42-yard kickoff return. Derek Carr also threw a 29-yard TD pass to Amari Cooper and a 41-yard pass to Michael Crabtree. That’s on top of the 44-yard TD pass to the Chargers in the preseason opener and a 61-yard TD pass to Cam Newton and the Panthers in the second exhibition.
That’s too many for Mularkey.
“Obviously, we’re concerned about that,” Mularkey said. “We’ve got to make some plays. Again I watch a lot of tape on these guys. Those big throws are some of the best throws that they make, some of the best throws by Derek Carr. … That’s a tough pass to defend the way they throw it, and they’re good at it.”
The Titans made some big plays themselves against Oakland. Jurrell Casey sacked Carr, and David Bass picked up a fumble forced by Sean Spence that he returned 47 yards for a touchdown. They got the win despite giving up 440 yards.
Casey said the Titans just need to clean up some things, including communicating better.
“We’re letting too many plays get away, and we’re letting too many plays go and get over our head and up the middle of our defense,” Casey said. “We have to find a way to make this happen. A lot of times we come back and bounce from it, but I think we have to do a better job of getting the game started off.”
Cox is expected to return to practice this week, though he likely won’t play in the preseason finale Thursday night at Miami (2-1). Mularkey said Mariota will play at best a series in that game with the Titans looking ahead to the season opener Sept. 11 against Minnesota.
Notes: Quinton Spain, the undrafted free agent out of West Virginia in 2015, has won the starting job at left guard at least for the opener. Plans to rotate Sebastian Tretola with the starters on the offensive line fell through when the Titans put together a 14-play drive that took up more than 8 minutes of the second quarter. … The Titans waived 12 players Sunday and still have a couple more moves to make before Tuesday’s deadline to be at 75.
Follow Teresa M. Walker at www.twitter.com/teresamwalker