NASHVILLE — The Tennessee Titans are having serious trouble protecting their quarterback.
After being sacked 24 times all of last season, Ryan Tannehill has been taken down 17 times this season — most in the NFL through four games. The only quarterbacks who have been hit more than Tannehill's 32 times so far are Carson Wentz of the Indianapolis Colts (35) and New England Patriots rookie Mac Jones (34).
Not only is Tannehill taking a beating, it's a big reason why the Titans are off to a 2-2 start. And there's plenty of blame to go around.
"It's been everyone," Tannehill said Wednesday. "I don't think you can pin it on any one group or any one person. I think everyone has played a part, and as a group we just have to clean it up. We've had opportunities and we're this far away for a lot of reasons on different plays."
The Titans are moving the ball well on offense, having averaged 394.5 yards per game to rank ninth in the league. They're third in first downs per game and fifth in time of possession.
But after scoring touchdowns on 75% of their trips inside an opponent's 20-yard line last season, Tennessee has converted only 50% of its opportunities in the red zone this season. The Titans were just 2-of-5 in that regard in this past Sunday's 27-24 overtime road loss to the previously winless New York Jets.
"We're moving the ball well. We're getting first downs, we're sustaining drives, but we've got to be able to score in the red zone," Tannehill said. "So it's going to be key for us not only this week but as we move forward, just being able to put sevens up when we get down there."
The easiest finger to point when a quarterback is sacked is at the offensive line. Coach Mike Vrabel said there are three keys to throwing the ball, though: Wide receivers have to get open, run the right routes and recognize when defenses are playing man or zone coverage; pass protection has to hold up; and the quarterback has to get rid of the ball.
When a quarterback starts to get hit frequently, he wants to get rid of the ball quickly — perhaps too quickly for receivers to get open.
"Hopefully we can tie that all into the pass game and not get our quarterback hit and be able to make some plays there," Vrabel said.
Protecting Tannehill should be easier Sunday when Tennessee returns to AFC South Division play by visiting the Jacksonville Jaguars (0-4). Jacksonville has just five sacks, fewest in the NFL.
Three of the Titans' starting offensive linemen were on Wednesday's injury report. Left tackle Taylor Lewan did not practice because of an injured toe, while center Ben Jones (neck) and left guard Rodger Saffold (concussion protocol) were limited.
The only difference on the offensive line compared to last season is a new starter at right tackle in David Quessenberry. The Titans played the Jets with their top two wide receivers, A.J. Brown and Julio Jones, out due to hamstring injuries. Brown returned to practice Wednesday but was limited.
Lewan — among eight Titans who did not practice Wednesday on a lengthy injury report with a total of 21 players listed — said he has made a mistake whenever someone beats him and gets into the backfield. Giving up a season-high seven sacks to the Jets made very clear the Titans must play better.
"We have a large responsibility to protect Tannehill, and we obviously didn't do a good enough job of that this past week ...," Lewan said. "We've just got to clean up a couple of things."