(image credit: Art Foxall / UPI)
Written by: Joseph Yun
The Tennessee Titans host the ascending Arizona Cardinals this Sunday in a battle of high-powered offenses and question mark pocked defenses.
Key Numbers + Info (2020 season)
Record: 8-8 (2-4 NFC West)
Points scored: 410
Points allowed: 367
Avg. yards per rush: 4.7
Avg. yards per rush allowed: 4.6
Avg. rush yards per game: 139.81
Avg. rush yards per game allowed: 125.5
Rushing TDs: 22 for, 13 against
Avg. pass yards per game: 244.75
Avg. pass yards per game allowed: 226.44
Passing TDs: 27 for, 26 against
Pass Completion Rate: 67%
Pass Completion Rate Against: 64%
Leading Rusher: Kenyan Drake (239 attempts for 955 yards and ten touchdowns)
Leading Receiver: DeAndre Hopkins (115 receptions for 1,407 yards and six touchdowns)
Leading Tackler: Budda Baker (118 tackles, seven tackles for loss, six passes defensed, two interceptions, two sacks, one forced fumble)
Key Additions: EDGE J.J. Watt, WR A.J. Green, K Matt Prater, C Rodney Hudson (trade), OT Kelvin Beachum, RB James Conner, OL Brian Winters, OL Max Garcia, LB Zaven Collins (rookie), WR Rondale Moore (rookie), DB Marco Wilson (rookie)
Key Losses: WR Larry Fitzgerald (retired?), CB Malcolm Butler (retired), CB Dre Kirkpatrick, EDGE Haason Reddick, CB Darqueze Dennard (IR), DL Jordan Phillips (IR), DL Jack Crawford (IR), DL Angelo Blackson, CB Patrick Peterson, LB De'vondre Campbell, TE Dan Arnold
Arizona leads 7-4
Keys to a Titans Victory
- Exploit the Cardinals secondary -
Let’s just say that Arizona’s secondary lost a few key pieces after longtime veteran Cardinals legend Patrick Peterson left in free agency and former Titan Malcolm Butler is away on personal leave. Cornerback Byron Murphy is talented and an ascending prospect but is he truly ready for CB1? Budda Baker is an emerging safety who could rule the league one day but he’s only one man. Robert Alford returns as an asset but with the big departures, he will have to step up into a role that he probably isn’t suited for. Not to mention that the Cardinals have lost 26% of their pass defensed, 55% of their interceptions, and two of their top tacklers in the secondary from last season via free agency. It just so happens that this guy named Julio Jones is a Titans receiver. He knows a thing or two about catching the pigskin. And oh, there’s Arthur Juan Brown on the other side and a spry Josh Reynolds in the slot. As long as the offensive line can keep Ryan Tannehill upright, he should have very little trouble against a game but weakened secondary unit.
- Establish. The. Run. -
Establish the heck out of it. It doesn’t hurt to have Derrick Henry roaming the backfield against a supposedly stout front seven that features J.J. Watt, Chandler Jones, and Isaiah Simmons. I would run it at the rookie Zaven Collins repeatedly to test if he’s ready for the show. Tannehill has annihilated defenses using the play action and the mere presence of Henry alleviates the pressure on the offensive line. It will be interesting to see if the Cardinals front can hold up for 60 minutes against the power run game while trying to hold off the receivers.
- Get off the field on third down -
The Titans’ third-down defense was good for last place in the entire league last season. Even third and a country mile snaps were hearts in throats moments for Titans fans to endure. Safe to say, that ranking has to be improved, especially against a team that features lethal Deandre Hopkins, a wily veteran AJ Green, and the electric Rondale Moore. Tennessee doesn’t need to give Murray any more reps to haunt them any more than they need to.
Keys to a Cardinals Victory
- Protect Kyler Murray -
The Cardinals have revamped their offensive line by adding two new starters with Rodney Hudson and Kelvin Beachum. Hudson is one of the best centers in the league and Beachum is a serviceable veteran right tackle. Murray isn’t the tallest guy so he will need to be rolled out more to see his receivers behind the big dudes so he’s more liable to get hits. If the Titans can hem him in the pocket, their odds of success are relatively even. The Cardinals allowed 27 sacks last season on Murray, which isn’t a bad total but when he was pressured, he was a top ten quarterback in terms of completion percentage. Still, Murray is a fun talent that needs to be protected in a scheme that is heavily dependent on him making the right read quickly. Denico Autry and Bud Dupree are new additions to the Titans defensive front along with emerging game wrecker Jeffery Simmons manning the middle. Look for Teair Tart to make an impact as well.
- Test the Titans “new” look tackles -
The Cardinals certainly have the pieces to stress the Titans’ offensive line that features virtually the same four of five starters. Right tackle is a question mark after the Isaiah Wilson experiment was a spectacular failure. The team brought in veteran Kendall Lamm to compete with the second-round selection Dillon Radunz but Radunz proved that he isn’t ready. So the competition is between Lamm and Ty Sambrailo. Not to mention that star left tackle Taylor Lewan is coming off an ACL injury and hasn’t played in real game action since last October.
- Make the Titans secondary prove it -
The cornerback room was completely revamped in Nashville as Jackrabbit “Janoris” Jenkins, rookies Caleb Farley and Elijah Molden were brought in to add to promising sophomore Kristian Fulton and Breon Borders. Kevin Byard had a down year last season and will be looking to improve. Amani Hooker has had some flashes and now is the starter opposite Byard. Can the veteran Cardinals receivers keep the Titans secondary off-kilter?
Prospects of the Week
1. Zaven Collins LB
- Collins goes from first-round selection straight into the starting lineup as a rookie with unlimited freak athleticism. He compares to The Freak, Jevon Kearse, actually. He was dominant in college but can he translate that production to the big league level? He’s definitely going to make an impact this season. Having another freak like Isaiah Simmons next to him along with veteran Chandler Jones and JJ Watt as mentors will only help him.
2. Kristian Fulton CB
- Fulton had so much promise entering his rookie year but an injury and a bout with COVID derailed his season before it ever began. He still has some of that promise left entering his sophomore campaign and played well in the preseason and in camp. The former LSU product will likely deliver on his immense potential this season.
(courtesy of tennesseetitans.com)
What are the odds?
(All odds are courtesy of vegasinsider.com)
BetMGM has the Titans as three-point favorites at -110 while the Cardinals are +110 dogs. The over/under has been set at 53 even. The money line is the Titans at -145 and Cardinals at +120.
Caesars has the Titans as three-point favorites at -105 while the Cardinals are +115 dogs. The over/under has been set at 53.5. The money line is the Titans at -160 and the Cardinals at +140.