Titans' shaky kicking game could cost them a playoff spot

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Tennessee Titans have a serious problem on special teams.

Since he was activated from injured reserve on Nov. 2, Ryan Succop has made one of six field goal attempts. Given the limited margin for error in December games with playoff implications, the Titans have to figure out a solution to their kicking issues quickly.

The latest mistake came Sunday, when the Titans had a chance to take an early lead over the Houston Texans with 7:08 left in the first quarter, but Succop's 45-yard field goal attempt was blocked. The Titans lost not only the game by three points, but the opportunity to control their path to the playoffs.

Titans coach Mike Vrabel said Succop's kick was low and the protection was knocked back, which led to the block by Texans defensive tackle Angelo Blackson. Those factors aren't things that can be solved easily in a two-week window.

"We need to tighten some things up going forward," Vrabel said. "Fine-tune is difficult when you talk about the protection because of where we are in the season. There may not be a lot of padded practices, and that's a physical, violent football play. We have to be able to work on our pad level, getting our foot in the ground and the technique that is involved with that play in protection. And have a kicker that can help us out, too. It works both ways."

Succop made 86.7% of his field goal attempts last season. His 16.7% field goal average is among the lowest in the NFL. There has been an overall decline in field goal kicking, which has dropped 3.9 percentage-points from last season.

There's a strong possibility Succop isn't fully healthy. He activated from IR after recovering from offseason knee surgery on his kicking leg.

"I am out here battling," Succop said. "I am doing everything that I can. Unfortunately, it just hasn't been as good as it needs to, obviously."

Punter Brett Kern, Succop and long-snapper Beau Brinkley have been together since 2014. There's a level of familiarity between them that helps the relay from long-snapper to holder to kicker be a seamless one. Having spent so much time together, Kern knows exactly how Succop wants the ball tilted and laces facing during field goal attempts in different elements.

"He's one of the most accurate kickers in under 50 yards in NFL history. He has what it takes between the ears. That's why he's so good at kicking field goals," Kern said. "When he misses it, he can block it out. Right now, he's just working through some things and probably doesn't feel so good, but he's doing the best that he can."

The Titans trail the Texans by one game in the AFC South race with two games left. Tennessee needs the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to beat the Texans, which would set up a season-ending showdown in Houston for the AFC South title if Tennessee can beat the New Orleans Saints this week. A wild-card bid could also be in play if the Pittsburgh Steelers lose road games to either the New York Jets next week or the Baltimore Ravens in the season finale.