Tennessee Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt had preached for two weeks that the team's defense had to get better at the start of preseason games, though he said the slow starts were no big deal.
But after being shredded by quarterback Matt Ryan for two touchdowns and a field goal in the first half of Saturday night's game against Atlanta, Whisenhunt exploded in the halftime locker room with his wrath directed at the Titans' lackluster defense.
The punishment - in addition to the tongue-lashing - was to have to play three series in the third quarters, whereas the offense retired to the sideline after one series in the third quarter.
"I was pissed," Whisenhunt said after the game of making the defense play longer. "I was upset. I was asked this question earlier about how long they were going to play. I said some of it was performance based. We started off again playing too tentative and not stopping them on third downs and letting them run all the way down the field. That's not what we do. We don't do that in practice. I was upset about that, but they responded."
Asked Sunday to rate his locker-room tirade from the night before, Whisenhunt said it was "probably a 7 or 8."
No matter what the rate-a-rant number, Whisenhunt hopes his players will heed his words and begin to play better. Tennessee has allowed touchdowns on the opening drive in each of the three preseason games this season.
Said safety Bernard Pollard, "We have to adjust. We have to be better. It's preseason and this is going to happen. We want to get it out of our system. This is obviously not what we want to put on film. You can't be any more mad and angry than I am. I'm pissed off at myself."
Part of the problem might be that the Titans are still learning the 3-4 scheme and are still putting some square pegs from the 4-3 into defensive coordinator Ray Horton's 3-4. And the truth of the matter is that Tennessee, with a couple of exceptions (they added linebacker Wesley Woodyard and lost cornerback Alterraun Verner), has starters that are largely the same cast of characters that didn't play all that well in 2013. The Titans basically rearranged the pieces, but haven't added much in the way of difference-makers.
Nonetheless, the players are OK with the coach's reaction to missed tackles, blown coverages and poor techniques and gap control.
"He had every right. We've got to go out there and get things right and get on the same page," safety Michael Griffin said.
Whisenhunt said he simply wants the problem fixed before the regular season starts Sept. 7 in Kansas City.
"I think they got the message after that," Whisenhunt said. "I don't really care about it being three weeks in a row. I don't really care about that. What I care about is we get better."
--Defensive end Ropati Pitoitua suffered a broken hand in the Titans' 24-17 preseason win over Atlanta Saturday night. Pitoitua won't play this Thursday when the Titans host the Minnesota Vikings, but should be able to go when the Titans open the regular season in Kansas City on Sept. 7.
Pitoitua stayed in the game and played for about two quarters after suffering the break Saturday. He played last year with a cast on his other hand for several weeks after breaking it in 2013.
--Quarterback Jake Locker enjoyed another solid performance in the preseason, giving him two good weeks in a row as he readies for the regular season. Locker's work in the preseason opener was largely moot because of torrential rains that limited him to two pass attempts. But he has had two good outings, including going 12 of 17 for 188 yards and a touchdown Saturday to further fortify Whisenhunt's faith in him as the starter.
"I thought Jake played well. We didn't start out well and ran the wrong routes, but overall, I thought he did well," Whisenhunt said.
As for Locker, he said that the Titans need to make sure they communicate better, as he was sacked twice and took a few other hits as well from the Falcons defense.
"We just need to mentally focus on the task at hand. It was just some mental things that got us tonight," Locker said. "We have two more weeks (before the regular season), and that'll be two more weeks where we'll have a good opportunity to clean some things up that we need to clean up. I'm thankful that we've got two more weeks."
BATTLE OF THE WEEK: The Titans' kicking competition between Maikon Bonani and Travis Coons looks like it will go right down to the wire. Bonani made two field goals Saturday night after he had struggled earlier in the preseason. There is still the possibility the Titans could sift through the cuts of other teams to find a superior option, if one exists. Neither Bonani nor Coons have ever kicked in a regular-season game and both have had issues - Bonani with consistency and Coons with leg strength - at times in preseason.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Defensive tackle Jurrell Casey signed a four-year, $36 million contract extension with the Tennessee Titans on Wednesday.
Casey's agent, Drew Rosenhaus, confirmed the deal and said $20.5 million is guaranteed.
The new contract makes Casey the highest-paid Titans player and the second-highest 3-4 defensive end on the pay scale.
The 24-year-old finished last season with career bests of 55 tackles and 10.5 sacks. In three NFL seasons with the Titans, Casey has 161 tackles and 16 sacks.
--FB Jackie Battle left the game Saturday night with a stinger, and while he seemed OK after the game, the Titans will continue to evaluate him to make sure there are no lingering effects.
--QB Charlie Whitehurst sat out with a pinkie injury on his throwing hand, but his status as the No. 2 quarterback is safe despite the play of rookie Zach Mettenberger.
--QB Zach Mettenberger has been impressive in preseason and leads the NFL in passing yards through three games. Mettenberger will stay the third quarterback as the season starts, but had another solid game Saturday night, leading a second-half comeback for the second time in three games, and benefiting from extra work with Charlie Whitehurst sidelined.
--RB Bishop Sankey had only 44 yards on 16 carries Saturday, but he had the go-ahead touchdown and a two-point conversion run that showed the Titans that he can get the tough yards when needed.
--C Gabe Ikard will be out for the season and is scheduled to undergo surgery on Tuesday.
--RB Dexter McCluster got some work as a punt returner, but was swarmed on one return Saturday night when he should have called for a fair catch. That ended McCluster's night as the return man as the Titans want to save him for the season.
--CB Tommie Campbell left the game against Atlanta with what looked like concussion symptoms. However, Campbell checked out OK and should be good to practice this week and play against the Vikings.
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