Behind Enemy Lines: Tennessee Titans make their way to the Valley
University of Phoenix Stadium has served as the home of the Arizona Cardinals for 12 seasons, yet the Tennessee Titans have never played there.
That will change Sunday as the AFC South-leading Titans (8-4) visit the Cardinals (5-7) in a Week 14 matchup in Glendale.
The Titans come in red-hot, having won six of their last seven games, including a 24-13 decision over the Houston Texans in Week 13. Marcus Mariota threw for 150 yards and a touchdown and ran for another and Derrick Henry iced it for Tennessee with a 75-yard touchdown run in the game’s final minute.
But the strength of the Titans’ team is its defense. Tennessee ranks 11th in total defense, allowing 328.5 yards per game, but really excels in stopping the run. Opponents are getting on average only 86.2 yards on the ground against Tennessee, a mark that trails Philadelphia and Minnesota in league rankings.
All week long, we’ll take you to Nashville to give you a glimpse of what’s going on with the Titans as they prepare for their first trip to the desert since 2005.
It’s Behind Enemy Lines.
Sunday, December 10
Larry Fitzgerald has become the most popular athlete in Arizona history because of his talents, his personality, and his loyalty to the franchise. He knows how to connect with fans, he cares about the community and he never says the wrong thing on camera.
• Titans promote LB Carraway, Release FB Fowler (TitansOnline.com)
Carraway, a seventh-round draft pick from Texas Christian, gives the team additional depth at outside linebacker. On Friday, Titans coach Mike Mularkey ruled out veteran linebacker Derrick Morgan for Sunday’s game with the Cardinals because of a knee injury.
Tennessee Titans tight end Delanie Walker is the latest NFL player to use his platform to affect change.
• Tennessee Titans: Important Player Matchups to Watch in Week 14 (Titan Sized)
Both are two recent playoff teams who have fallen out of the playoff race due to key injuries to their biggest stars and are currently playing backup quarterbacks. Both teams also have feared defenses of yesteryear that have not been able to carry their respective teams this season.
Saturday, December 9
A rare combination of size, speed, physicality and savviness, Fitzgerald has 82 catches for 878 yards and five touchdowns in 12 games, catching passes this season from Carson Palmer, Drew Stanton and Blaine Gabbert.
• Three Quick Hits from Friday’s Practice (TitansOnline.com)
Cornerback Logan Ryan is out of the concussion protocol, and he practiced in full on Friday. He’s been cleared by doctors to play on Sunday.
Receiver Rishard Matthews (hamstring) practiced again on Friday and is expected to return to action after missing the previous two games.
• Should Titans ‘ugly’ wins spoil joy of their franchise turnaround? (ESPN NFL Nation)
Several Titans mentioned avoiding trouble and too many late nights around the lively Arizona State scene. I’m sure the team will have some team-bonding activities planned, too. Marcus Mariota wants to make at least one trip to In-N-Out.
• Titans sack leader Derrick Morgan to miss Cardinals game with knee injury (The Tennessean)
The Titans will be without outside linebacker Derrick Morgan, who leads the team with 7½ sacks, when they face the Cardinals on Sunday at University of Phoenix Stadium.
Erik Walden will start in place of Morgan, who has missed practice all week with a knee injury. Walden has 22 tackles and three sacks this season.
• Marcus Mariota, Derrick Henry share Heisman bond, responsibility (ESPN NFL Nation)
You’d be hard-pressed to find a more humble duo, but they compete. It’s back and forth, even in a meaningless golf game. That competitiveness is a shared trait that led them both to win the Heisman Trophy and embark upon successful NFL careers.
Friday, December 8
• Titans keys to victory vs. Cardinals: Marcus Mariota must play it safe (The Tennessean)
Three keys to victory for the Titans (8-4) against the Cardinals (5-7) on Sunday (3:05 p.m. CT, CBS) at University of Phoenix Stadium.
“It’s going to be tough. It’s a challenge,” Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota said about facing Peterson. “We’ve just got to go out there and do the best that we can. We can’t be afraid to throw against him, but at the same time we understand where he’s at, and we do know that he can make a bunch of plays and can change the game.”
• Titans’ plan for Larry Fitzgerald draped in respect, not fear (ESPN NFL Nation)
The 6-foot-3, 218 pound Fitzgerald is a 10-time Pro Bowler who is fourth all-time in receiving yards. He’s on pace for his ninth NFL season with at least 1,000 receiving yards and six touchdowns. His consistency and ability to take over a game even at 34 is rare.
• Three Quick Hits from Thursday’s Practice (TitansOnline.com)
Cornerback Logan Ryan practiced on Thursday after missing the previous day.
Ryan remains in the concussion protocol after being injured in Sunday’s game, but his return to the practice field was viewed as a positive sign.
• Titans’ Mariota returns to scene of Fiesta Bowl triumph (Associated Press)
As a redshirt freshman at Oregon, Marcus Mariota threw for two touchdowns and ran for another in the Ducks’ 35-17 victory over Kansas State in the 2013 Fiesta Bowl.
Thursday, December 7
“It’s a dream come true to come back to Tennessee and be able to play pro football,” Stocker said.
• Titans’ defense concerned about end zone, not ‘garbage yards’ (The Tennessean)
“A lot of garbage yards,” linebacker Brian Orakpo said after the Titans’ 24-13 victory. “We’re not really concerned with the numbers per se. Keep them out of the end zone, number one objective. They scored 13 points, and three points in the second half. I’ll take that any day.”
• Marcus Mariota dangerous as a runner even as he works on passing mechanics (ESPN NFL Nation)
Mariota isn’t sure if his speed has returned to the same level it was before the injury or if he still has a 4.5 40-yard dash in him, like he did coming into the NFL. But he loves seeing green grass in front of him.
• If winning matters most, Mike Mularkey should get more love (ESPN NFL Nation)
Why all that negativity for an 8-4 division leader? The most likely reasons are because the Titans are boring with an offense predicated on an inconsistent ground-and-pound game, they often struggle to get past sub-.500 teams that other contenders blow out and they have a minus-16 point differential. Each of those are valid reasons. The Titans aren’t scaring anybody come playoff time.
• Search firm could leave Tennessee Titans without Terry Robiskie (Titan Sized)
Well, one search firm is pushing Terry Robiskie as a guy that other teams should look at as a head coach.
Wednesday, December 6
• The Titans’ 8-4 record is a total mirage (Washington Post)
Tennessee would be the only playoff team with a negative point differential (minus-16 through the first 12 games). In fact, since 2002, the year the league expanded to 32 teams, only one 8-4 team through the first 12 games of the season, the 2012 Indianapolis Colts, has had a lower point differential (minus-41) than the Titans do in 2017.
• Titans tight end Delanie Walker — double-covered, ailing, underrated (The Tennessean)
“Man, I’m always open. Can’t nobody cover me,” Walker said after he had five catches for 63 yards and the winning touchdown.
• Titans place DaQuan Jones on IR, sign Luke Stocker (The Tennessean)
The Titans’ stout defensive front took a significant blow Sunday, losing lineman DaQuan Jones to a season-ending torn biceps in a 24-13 victory against the Texans.
• Titans ink blocking TE Luke Stocker to two-year deal (ESPN NFL Nation)
The Titans signed Luke Stocker to upgrade the blocking tight end spot. It’ll be a two-year contract, a source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter. Stocker was released by the Buccaneers in November after spending the better part of seven seasons with the team.
• Five Key Questions for Titans Looking Ahead (TitansOnline.com)
Three quarters of the way through the season, the Titans are in first place in the AFC South. They’ll seek to maintain their divisional lead when they travel to Arizona for the first of two games out West.
Tuesday, December 5
“This is not a Corvette. This is a dump truck,” Dungy, the two-time Super Bowl champion and Hall of Fame coach, said Sunday when asked whether the Titans “had another gear” during a segment with Dan Patrick and Rodney Harrison on NBC’s “Football Night in America.” “This is all they have got. Ugly, but they are winning.”
• Marcus Mariota: Titans’ 8-4 record ‘not satisfying – that’s just the start’ (The Tennessean)
The Titans improved to 9-1 in their last 10 home games dating to last season, and moved a step closer to their first playoff berth in nearly a decade with a 24-17 victory against the Texans on Sunday at Nissan Stadium.
• Titans aren’t pretty, but they’re worth a look (The Tennessean)
The answer has to be that the Titans look so average, week after week. So boring. So unlikely to actually do anything if they do earn January football. The answer back is this: The Titans are 8-4 and gearing up for their first playoff appearance since 2008, maybe their first AFC South title since then as well.
• Titans’ Delanie Walker calls out league for disrespecting him (ESPN NFL Nation)
“I’m very disrespected in the league,” Walker said. “Commentators, announcers don’t talk about me. I get double and triple coverage. I’m still making plays. Nobody talks about that. That drives me. Don’t talk about me. That makes me hungry. They talk about Gronk, Kelce, but not me. I do it every week. They don’t talk about Delanie Walker.”
• Titans show what they are: resilient, flawed and likely a playoff team (ESPN NFL Nation)
Sunday looked like most Tennessee Titans wins this season. It was an inconsistent offensive performance littered with mistakes and way too many excruciating roller-coaster loops for a game against a sub-.500 opponent. The defense played the familiar role of the hero, saving the day when the Titans needed it most.
• Now 5-1 at home, Titans face regular season’s last road trip (Herald-Whig)
They’re turning back-to-back road games into one trip. The Titans leave Friday for Sunday’s game against the Arizona Cardinals, and they won’t return to Tennessee until after playing the 49ers in San Francisco on Dec. 17.