Titans @ Cardinals: Can Tennessee win in the desert?

Larry Fitzgerald
Photo Credit Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports

Tennessee hasn’t played in Arizona since 2005. The last time the Titans faced the Cardinals, a field goal was the difference in a 37-34 Arizona road win in 2013. Can Tennessee win on the road?

Headed Out West

The Tennessee Titans will stay on the West Coast for the next few weeks. The gritty Cardinals will be their first test. Tennessee has one win against the NFC West, having beating the surging Seattle Seahawks that had the entire Legion of Boom available.

Three of the next four games will be against NFC West teams. The Titans playoff aspirations will be affected by how they do against Arizona, San Francisco and Los Angeles (Rams).

Arizona has the edge in the all-time series, boasting a 6-4 record. Head coach Mike Mularkey is 1-0 against Arizona, while Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians is 1-0 against Tennessee.

One coach will walk away .500.

Mariota vs Gabbert

Quarterback Marcus Mariota hasn’t had the year many anticipated, but he has the Titans in control of their destiny and on the right path to the post season.

The offensive line hasn’t been providing the same kind of protection as last season, and Mariota is still visibly overcoming the mental hurdles associated with a player returning from an injury the likes of which he went through. His presence in the pocket is shaken but should continue to improve as the season progresses.

It will most certainly improve if the interior offensive line can correct their play upfront.

Gabbert

Blaine Gabbert received his first start as an Arizona Cardinal against a Houston Texans team he was familiar with. Gabbert lost by 10 and had three touchdowns, but tossed two picks. He knocked off the team that made him the 10th overall pick in 2011, the Jacksonville Jaguars, the following week. Gabbert threw two touchdowns to one interception. In his third consecutive start, he lost to the division rival LA Rams. He threw one touchdown to two interceptions.

Gabbert only faced the Titans once during his time with Jacksonville. He sat behind Luke McCown in week one of his rookie season, but got the start against Tennessee on Christmas Eve 2011. Gabbert went 21/42, zero touchdowns and one interception in a 23-17 loss.

What helps Gabbert is the fact that he has the legend, Larry Fitzgerald, at his disposal. Fitzgerald is one of the best to ever do it, and the Titans secondary will have their hands full with the crafty, experienced receiver who can still defy father time.

Mariota

Mariota will face the Cardinals for the first time. He’s 3-2 on the road this season.

What do Mariota’s statistics look like on the road? He has a 63% completion percentage. Mariota is 81/129 for 1,004 yards. He has three touchdowns to nine interceptions and has been sacked eight times.

Although Mariota has struggled in the passing game on the road, he’s done a solid job contributing as a ball carrier. He’s carried the ball 16 times for 82 yards and has found the end zone four times. Four of his five rush touchdowns have occurred outside of Nissan Stadium.

Mariota needs to find a way to get the offense flowing on the road. His record away from Nashville is 9-12, something he’ll need to improve on throughout his career. Winning on the road is critical to being successful, becoming a habitual playoff team and a being considered a serious contender for a Super Bowl title.

Rishard Matthews should return this week, which will help Mariota in the passing game.

Feed Henry

Derrick Henry’s monstrous carry drove the final nail in Houston’s coffin Sunday. The Titans need that explosiveness during their road trip through Arizona and San Francisco.

Arizona has the 9th ranked run defense in yards allowed. The Cardinals rank 6th in yards per attempt. However, the achilles heel of their run defense is the fact that they rank 26th in rush touchdowns allowed. Tennessee is 2nd in the league, behind only New Orleans, in rushing touchdowns. The Titans offense has 16 rushing touchdowns on the season.

The Titans must hope DeMarco Murray has the same spark he displayed last week. Also, Henry has to eat. If the Titans can produce “Thunder-Thunder”, while occasionally sprinkling in some lighting via Mariota or Adoree’ Jackson, the rushing attack could result in touchdowns over field goals.

The running game success, or lack of, will be the difference in a road win or a road loss.

Titans Defense

The Titans defense has come through big in critical moments as of late.

The Cardinals are dead last in the league in rushing offense. It would be an understatement to proclaim it will be an arduous task for Arizona to have success running the football against a Titans defense ranked 3rd against the run. The Cardinals will be forced to throw the football.

Arizona ranks 10th in passing offense. Tennessee ranks 25th against the pass. For the Cardinals to be successful, they have to put the football in the air.

Despite ranking 25th on passing defense, Titans safety Kevin Byard leads the league in interceptions and overall turnovers, add two fumble recoveries to his stat sheet. Gabbert has thrown at least one interception in his past three games. There is a good chance Byard extends his league leading total of six interceptions if Arians rolls out a pass heavy attack.

A big reason why the Titans rank 25th in passing is due to opposing teams inability to run the football. Adoree’ Jackson is having a strong season and is developing into the first round corner the Titans needed. He’s grown throughout the year, and his numbers prove it. Logan Ryan’s status is unknown. He’s come on strong in recent weeks. If Ryan can’t go, LeShaun Sims will have to step up and have a solid game covering one of the league best in Fitzgerald.

The Titans run defense suffered a huge blow with the loss of DaQuan Jones. Austin Johnson must prove he can be plugged in without causing a defensive hiccup in run defense.

Arians Pass-Happy Approach

Dick LeBeau will be preparing his team for an Arians air-assault.

The Cardinals have no choice but to throw the ball, especially with Ryan possibly sitting out. Entrusting in Gabbert to deliver is a high-risk, high-reward. It helps having the sure-handed Fitzgerald catching the football.

The Titans faced arguably the best receiver in football, DeAndre Hopkins, who led the league in receiving touchdowns and receiving yards prior to Antonio Brown surpassing him on Monday night. Tennessee held Hopkins to 80 yards on eight receptions with no touchdown being allowed.

Tennessee will show respect to Fitzgerald, but the Titans aren’t going to Arizona to lose. Delanie Walker highlighted the continued disrespect the Titans face on a weekly basis.

It’s time for Tennessee to have a breakout game offensively, both in the passing game and running game. It’s time for the offensive line to regain some of the nastiness that contributed to their 2016 success.

It’s time.


Stats referenced at NFL.com and ESPN.com

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About Brandon Morales 111 Articles

Brandon Morales is the State Manager for both Kentucky and Tennessee Sports. Despite being a New Mexico Native, he is a diehard Tennessee Titans fan. He’s followed the team since the Houston Oilers days and continues to support the Two-Tone Blue. He covered High School football, basketball, volleyball, and track for a local New Mexico newspaper after his playing days in were ended due to injuries. His love for journalism was inspired by English Teacher, Sara Ball. In 2010, he earned his Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from New Mexico State University. His contributions to the site include in-depth analysis on the Tennessee Titans, coverage on the Tennessee Vols and other SEC teams. He prides himself on being a supporting husband and loving father. This New Mexico family is a Titans household that loves cheering on their team each and every Sunday.

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