The Titans take on the Cardinals at LP field, hoping desperately for a win. Arizona, coming off a win in St. Louis is looking to solidify their chances at a playoff spot while the Titans are looking simply to end the year on a positive note after three weeks on the road, and losses in four of the past five.
Quarterback / Wide Receiver
Ryan Fitzpatrick will need to have a big day against a swarming Cardinals defense that buried St. Louis a week ago. The backup Titans QB will need to look to the short-intermediate routes early to build momentum, as he seems to be a very streaky passer week to week who tends to finish games just how he started them. Cardinals HC Bruce Arians had plenty to say about this cast of Titan wideouts:
"Well, evaluating him (Justin Hunter) coming out last year you saw a ton of talent, a bunch of possibilities. He has been a great player, and it looks like he is working hard and getting there. They’ve got a slew of game breakers at receiver, Nate Washington, who I've coached for a long time, Kendall Wright, but it all starts with Chris Johnson."
Indeed, Justin Hunter is coming along nicely. In fact, on passes his way, Hunter produced a 135.4 QB rating. Advice: throw the ball to him more often. He might need a big day again, as he is likely to draw the attention of Jerraud Powers who has played well of late. Kendall Wright and Nate Washington will have a tough task as well, matching up with Patrick Peterson, who shut down his receiver all game last week with no catches recorded. However, with safety/corner Tyrann Mathieu lost for the season with a knee injury, the Titans will have favorable match-ups with Javier Arenas or Antoine Cason up in the slot with either Washington, Walker, and Wright frequenting the inside.
Getting Delanie Walker back this week will be huge for the Titans, as this offense has missed his steady play in both the running and passing game. Walker has a good rapport with Fitzpatrick, so look for the Titans to get him involved early if he is indeed good to go for the game.
Offensive Line / Running Back
Ryan Fitzpatrick is also going to need more help from his line. Oddly, Chance Warmack was the best of the Titans offensive linemen last week. Levitre was solid as well, but the entire unit will need to come together to open lanes in the running game. They also need to do a better job of protecting Fitz in the pocket, enough so that Titans fans don't need to see him doing his best Michael Vick impression every other down. They will be facing a stacked line comprised of Calais Campbell (+5.4 last week per PFF), John Abraham (three sacks last week), and Darnell Docket. Alameda Ta'Amu played at a high level last week and deserves mention.
Chris Johnson and Shonn Greene will need to carry the offense if Fitz is off target early. Generating steady first downs is a major task this game, especially one week removed from a demolishing in Denver that saw the defense thrown onto the field for an absurd number of snaps. The backs will need to get past Karlos Dansby, who continues to play well at linebacker.
Jurrell Casey is coming off, by far, his worst game of the season. He was consistently walled off against the Broncos, resulting in big interior runs by Knowshon Moreno and company. He will have an easier task this week, but will need to make sure he doesn't lose positioning on run downs. Morgan and Pitoitua will also need to up their game this week and get after Carson Palmer early and often, lest the Titans be scorched by Larry Fitzgerald. Palmer is a very different QB when you put him under pressure, so it will be interesting to see if the Titans' front four can generate it.
On top of that base four pressure, I will be watching to see how many blitzes Gray/Williams throw at the Cardinals. Blitzing Palmer isn't exactly the same as blitzing Manning, and I think the Titans need to turn up the heat. That will be up to Zach Brown and Akeem Ayers, who have played solid, if unspectacular football of late. Beyond the obvious need for a destabilizing pass rush, the backers need to remain composed and retain their positioning, something that has been a concern for the Titans almost all year long, and has resulted in the unit being gashed by opposing run games, especially counter and draw plays. Fokou and McCarthy are a wash at MLB, and Fokou didn't exactly give a good performance against Denver. The need for a premier player in the middle is glaring for this football team, both to line up the players correctly, make the right adjustment calls, and to play downhill against the run.
In the secondary, Verner and McCourty, coming off their worst games of the year, will have their hands full with the likes of Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd, and Andre Roberts, who are thriving in Bruce Arians' vertical passing scheme. When Palmer has had time to throw, they have done plenty of damage, so I think the game may very well come down to how this Titans secondary can respond after giving up a big play or two.
Oh, and for the record, Bernard Pollard was told over the past week by officials that he was flagged erroneously for his hit on Denver wideout Eric Decker in the third quarter of last week's game, and that his shoulder-to-shoulder hit was perfectly legal.
“They said the ref made a bad call. It doesn’t help us on Wednesday,” Pollard said. “During the game, the head of officiating stepped up and said that was a bad call, and then they came back and said the refs made a bad call. For us, if we make a bad decision during a competitive game when we don’t mean to but is off of a straight reaction, we’re fined … but refs are making bad calls and nothing is happening..."
The Broncos went on to score two plays later, so thanks again for the referees coming to the Titans' defense AFTER it matters...
I have confidence that Leon Washington will continue to illuminate just how bad things were at the returner prior to his arrival. The kick coverage units will need have to diligent with Patrick Peterson returning kicks for the Cardinals, as he has shown as ability to score from anywhere. Likewise Brett Kern and Rob Bironas will need to play at their best and make the Titan's drives count for something.
With the Titans staring at a legitimately possible 0-5 finish in the face, they will need come together to overcome a rising Cardinals squad. Mike Munchak has spoken about the team not giving up, and about how they will play their hardest to close out the year. Is that enough for the Titans to notch a win at LP Sunday? The game will come down to Fitzpatrick's ability to move the ball down the field with the intermediate routes, and whether Justin Hunter or Chris Johnson can make a big play happen to take pressure off the defense. I think the Titans will put up a strong fight early, but an opportunistic Arizona defense will make the team pay dearly for committing turnovers. Yet again, it will be paramount for the Titans staff to respond after the half, and right now, I don't have any evidence to lean on for me to say that they will.