NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Titans head into Sunday's game in New Orleans with a new man in charge – interim head coach Mike Mularkey replaced Ken Whisenhunt earlier this week.
TitansOnline.com looks back at the all-time series between the Tennessee Titans and New Orleans Saints. (AP Photos)
Riding a six-game losing streak, the Titans (1-6) hope to snap it against the suddenly resurgent Saints (4-4), who have won three straight and are coming off a 52-49 win against the Giants.
This week I caught up with Mike Detillier, an NFL analyst at WWL 870 AM Radio in New Orleans for over two decades. Detillier is involved in the pre-game and post-game on the Saints radio network, and he also co-hosts a show with former Saints quarterback Bobby Heber. You can follow Mike on Twitter at @MikeDetillier.
Wyatt: Hey Mike, thanks for doing this. The Saints look like a different team compared to the start of the year. After a 0-3 start, they've won four of five games, and three in a row. What sparked the turnaround?
Detillier: The Saints have a lot of young kids, especially on the defensive side of the football. This is a team that had 26 players make the roster at the start of the season that were not with the team a year ago. When you have 26 new guys out of 53, that's not reload, that's rebuild. So it took a little while to piece that together. Coaching also makes a difference, and Sean Payton is a difference-maker. The team started out slow, and then got the bejeezus kicked out of them against the Eagles (in a 39-17 loss). But Payton didn't let the team let go, he kept trudging at it with a great attitude with the team. And he found a different way to win. The Saints have been known for their explosive offense, and for playing in the left-hand lane, scoring a ton of points. But up until last weekend the two recent wins they had were because of special teams, and because of a defense that created pressure and forced turnovers. I just think they've been able to find a way to win a little differently, and he kept confidence in the young players. I also think the team put confidence in Payton that he could work it out. I just think things merged together, and I think Payton found a new way to win. And listen, there's a certain element in the community here – because of his age and his salary – that will blame Drew Brees for everything. He was not an elite quarterback early in the season – he was getting hit a lot and under a lot of pressure, and he got that shoulder injury. Well, the last few weeks that shoulder injury has healed up pretty well and you see he's an elite quarterback. I just think the combination of Payton building the confidence of a young team and Drew Brees having the greatness that he has, it's put them in a position to have a good run.
Wyatt: Brees was incredible on Sunday. Those stats: 40-of-50 for 511 yards and seven touchdowns. What a day. Is he starting to get on a roll after struggling some early?
Detillier: I'll be honest with you: I've covered the Saints for over 25 years and that game against the Giants was the most exciting game I've ever seen. It was ping pong. It was actually like Madden, but in real life. Drew was magnificent with the ability to carve up a defense. Drew is back, you can see he is better with injury. And when you have that type of player at the game's most critical position, you are going to win a lot of games. Drew has done it without a real go-to receiver. Marques Colston is in the twilight of his career, and he dropped a lot of passes early in the season. Now he has regained some confidence of late, and he had one of his best games against the Giants he's had in several years. But the guy who has really emerged is (tight end) Ben Watson, at 34 years old. Drew and Ben have a great rapport, and Watson has emerged as his go-to talent on third down in the red zone. Drew loves him, and they make each other so much better. The story to me over the last few weeks has been how well Brees and Watson have connected. He's no Jimmy Graham, but Watson has really filled those moccasins pretty well.
Wyatt: Having a good running game always helps a quarterback, of course. It looks like Mark Ingram is settling in. He has some pretty good number – 118 carries, 530 yards and five touchdowns. How has the running game been?
Detillier: It's erratic, that's the best word to use. They ran the football well against Indianapolis, did not run it good against Atlanta, didn't run it well against the Giants in the first half and then Ingram did a real nice job in the second half. Part of the reason for the resurgence in the running game is because of the return of who I think may be the second-best football player in this team: Terron Armstead at left tackle. Take Drew Brees out and he's the best player on the team. He's elite as a pass protector and a run blocker. And I think the resurgence of the run game has a lot to do with Ingram, but also Armstead. He was hurt early, and now he's back and feeling good and I'll be honest: Armstead is the best left tackle who's played with the Saints since Willie Roaf.
Wyatt: Not many teams can give up 49 points and win like the Saints did last week. It sure looks like the offense bailed the defense out in that one. How has the D been this year? I see the Saints are ranked 31st overall.
Detillier: Cameron Jordan has been a big-time player up front for them, and he's made a lot of hay when they've moved him from defensive end to defensive tackle in pass situations. He's made a real big push inside. I think they still need a signature pass rusher. They've given up a lot of plays, and I think it's because of Jordan is not creating pressure, teams are getting time to throw the ball. You can only cover for so long. We've seen flashes from linebacker Hau'oli Kikaha, who has been a playmaker. But he has flashed. Stephone Anthony I think has played well as a middle linebacker, too, especially against the run. Those two rookies have played well. If I'm the Titans I'm going after cornerback Brandon Browner. He is a penalty machine – teams are picking on him. He leads the league in penalties as a defensive back. … The secondary has had some issues, but the bottom line in this league is if you can't rush the quarterback consistently, you are not going to win a lot of games. The Saints just have not gotten that consistent pressure, and that makes the secondary vulnerable.
Wyatt: The Titans come to town on Sunday with a new guy calling the shots in Mularkey. Also, quarterback Marcus Mariota is expected back after missing two games. What do you think concerns the Saints when they prepare for the Titans?
Detillier: I think No.1 – the Titans defense is legit. I think the Saints know that. But let's face it – you are not fooling anybody on offense when you are scoring just 13 points per game the last seven weeks like the Titans. If you can't score, you can't win. But it has been sort of the MO in the NFL that you get that initial bump when a coach gets fired and an interim guy comes in. So they have to be prepared for that. The Saints have to get the message to the young guys on the team that "Hey, this is the NFL, and you can get beat if you don't play well." The Titans are going to play great defense -- that is what they are noted for, so the bottom line is you don't want Mariota going off on you. One of the things I'll tell you is the Saints have had trouble with mobile quarterbacks in the past. One of the guys who has given them fits is Cam Newton. I'm not trying to compare Newton to Mariota, but movement quarterbacks have given them a lot of trouble in the past. It's a difficult game for Payton to get the team up for. If you look at the Titans record, I'm sure some guys are thinking, "We should beat this team." But this is the NFL, and you can get beat. I'll go back to the movement quarterbacks, whether it's been Newton or Robert Griffin III, those guys have given the Saints some difficulties. And I have the feeling Mariota's ability to improv plays is going to give the Saints some issues. The Saints are not all of a sudden going to be great on defense. Now I don't know if the Titans can score, but I think Mariota's ability will give the Titans the ability to make some plays.