NASHVILLE -- Tennessee Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt 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 locker room at halftime, 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 upset," Whisenhunt said. "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 allowed touchdowns on the opening drive in each of the three preseason games this season.
"We have to adjust. We have to be better," said safety Bernard Pollard. "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 (mad) 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, 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."