NASHVILLE — Defensive coordinator Jerry Gray knows the Tennessee Titans have a big problem and is hoping they're embarrassed enough to fix it.
The Titans have given up an NFL-worst 151 points through the first month, 20 more than the next closest team. They are giving up an average of 37.7 points, putting them on pace to allow 604 this season, which would shatter the league record of 533 by the 1981 Baltimore Colts.
"Big thing is we can't give up touchdowns as soon as we get off the bus," Gray said Thursday. "I think that's what we're doing. You can't do that. We didn't do that last year. You don't know if it's a pride thing or anything like that, but I think guys [have] got to understand you can't give up touchdowns in the first quarter and expect to get sacks, expect to get turnovers."
The Titans have been outscored 41-13 in the first quarters, and each opponent has scored on either the first or second possession.
"I don't coach a defense like this," Gray said. "I don't think they intend to play a defense like that. When it happens, what do you do to fix it? That's our job. We've got 12 weeks to fix it."
The next challenge comes Sunday when the Titans (1-3) visit Minnesota (3-1), featuring running back Adrian Peterson.
The Titans did a pretty good job limiting points in Gray's first season as coordinator in 2011, ranking eighth in the NFL and allowing only 317 points. This defense was supposed to improve after an entire offseason to learn all of Gray's schemes.
The struggles can be blamed on a list of challenges.
Middle linebacker Colin McCarthy, a defensive captain, sprained his right ankle in the first half of the season opener. The Titans hope he can return against the Vikings. Starting tackle Sen'Derrick Marks missed the first two games with a right knee injury and has been working back from that. Tackle Jurrell Casey hurt his right elbow in the preseason, which limited him early.
McCarthy did not practice Thursday after working a day earlier. Head coach Mike Munchak said the rest was planned and they still expect the linebacker who helps call the formations to play Sunday.
The Titans also are very young on defense. Seven starters are in their fourth season or less. Linebacker Akeem Ayers, Casey and McCarthy are in their second season. Cornerback Alterraun Verner is in his third. Marks played a full 16-game season for the first time in 2011.
"I don't know if it's young players or whatever getting a little antsy," safety Michael Griffin said. "A lot of times once they score on us, they get a couple plays, good things of that nature we finally get settled down. ... We may be a little too excited getting out there."
Griffin also said Gray reminded the Titans that each player picks up only one paycheck per week -- he wants players to quit trying to do too much and do their own job.s Griffin defended the defense, pointing out the Texans scored 14 points by returning two interceptions for touchdowns.
Tennessee also is spending more time on the field than any other defense with the offense holding the ball a mere 24 minutes, 20 seconds each game.
"Both sides of the ball need to step it up," Griffin said.
The defense has taken the field only once this season protecting a lead.
The Titans opened against New England with a field goal, and Gray is curious to see how his defense plays once they get another chance at that. He said he's trying to make sure his young players understand teams change their offensive approach once they get a lead, making it tougher to get sacks or turnovers. Tennessee has one interception and six sacks.
Defensive end Derrick Morgan said the Titans did seem to get a bit rattled on the early series. He wants to see more urgency from the whole defense at kickoff to help set a tone, and he expects the Titans to do a better job starting Sunday.
He also says the NFL record is safe.
"We're not going to shatter any league record as far as points," Morgan said. "We're going to get everything back on track."