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Porous Titans' 'D' now one of stingiest in the NFL

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - The Tennessee defense was giving up more points than anyone else in the NFL earlier this season. The Titans were so bad they had nowhere to go but up.

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Over the past six weeks they've gotten better.

Much better.

The Titans head to Green Bay on Sunday ranked in the top five in six different categories, including fourth in scoring defense holding opponents to 17.6 points per game since Nov. 11. That may not seem like much, but Tennessee gave up an NFL-worst 181 points through the first five games and still rank 30th in that category for the season.

Coach Mike Munchak says defensive coordinator Jerry Gray has to be happy with how the Titans have weathered the early storm.

``We knew it wasn't all the defense,'' Munchak said. ``It was turnovers, it was the offense. It was a lot of things that were leading to statistically things looking worse than they were. We obviously weren't playing as well as we needed to play on either side of the ball.''

Starting with a 37-3 win at Miami on Nov. 11, the Titans rank third in total defense holding opponents to 286 yards per game, first averaging 3.4 sacks per game, second in interceptions (10), sixth in third-down percentage (32.4 percent), eighth against the run (104.6 yards per game) and second in opponent's passer rating (60.7).

That's despite not having defensive captain Colin McCarthy at middle linebacker the past three games as he recovers from concussion symptoms.

``There are a lot of good things developing here as we finish up,'' Munchak said.

Defensive end Derrick Morgan, the first-round draft pick in 2010, had been perceived as a bust tearing an ACL in his first month as a rookie. But Morgan leads the Titans with 16 quarterback pressures, and he's tied for second with 4 1/2 sacks, including one in the win against the Jets.

Second-year linebacker Akeem Ayers is tied with end Kamerion Wimbley for the team lead with five sacks, and Ayers is second with 96 tackles. Rookie linebacker Zach Brown, who has started 11 games this season, was marked down by some in the draft for not being physical. The second-round pick out of North Carolina has 4 1/2 sacks, 79 tackles and is fourth in tackles.

Munchak said the young linebackers are starting to show the type of plays they can make with their size and strength.

``They have a lot of growing left. These guys are going to be a lot better than they are now,'' Munchak said.

The Titans were at their best this season against the Jets forcing a season-high five turnovers and also had four sacks for a second straight game. Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers said the Titans played really good Monday night.

``I like to judge a team by kind of how they're playing lately, and I think they're playing really well,'' Rodgers said. ``They're an opportunistic defense. They have some guys with some ball skills in the secondary, they've got some athletic players. They're very young overall. I think it's a team that has a bright future.''

This streak started Nov. 11 when the Titans beat Miami 37-3 on the road. They also have played tough offenses in Houston and Indianapolis along with the struggling Jaguars and Jets.

The Packers (10-4) offer a stiffer challenge. Rodgers has been sacked 45 times this season, but he has a 104.7 passer rating throwing for 32 touchdowns with only eight interceptions. Only New England has had fewer passes intercepted this season.

Packers coach Mike McCarthy said they are spending extra time studying film of the Titans (5-9) since these teams haven't played since 2008.

``They fly around, they have excellent length. Their secondary, also, is making plays,'' McCarthy said.

Cornerback Jason McCourty said the biggest key is the Titans are just playing better even though wins haven't resulted. Now they want to create more stops, turnovers and sacks to help the offense score more points and get more wins.

``Even though we're playing better, we want to get wins,'' McCourty said.

Notes: The Titans went through a light 45-minute session Wednesday. Munchak said receiver Kendall Wright is very sore after hurting his ribs against the Jets and will have to improve a lot to play in Green Bay. McCarthy will practice Thursday with no restrictions to test the linebacker. WRs Kenny Britt (knee) and Damian Williams (hamstring) were limited, while C Kevin Matthews (right ankle), CB Ryan Mouton (hamstring) and DE Scott Solomon (knee) also did not practice.

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Follow Teresa M. Walker on Twitter: http://twitter.com/teresamwalker

Copyright 2018 by STATS LLC and Associated Press.
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