PHOENIX, Ariz. — Here's a look at six things that stood out for the Titans after Sunday's 12-7 loss to Cardinals:
While speaking at the podium after the game, Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota seemed as down as I'd ever seen him following a loss. Mariota blamed the offense's failures on himself, including the two interceptions. But receiver Rishard Matthews and coach Mike Mularkey shifted the blame off Mariota on one of the two. Mariota didn't play well on Sunday, and he's now up to 14 picks on the year. But he's going to need more help around him if the Titans are going to get on track on offense. There's no question Mariota will put the work in.
Non-existent running game**
After running for a season-high 198 yards the previous week against the Texans, I expected the Titans to lower the boom in the running game again despite the fact the Cardinals entered the game ranked ninth in run defense. But the Titans managed a measly 65 yards on the ground, and there was little room to run. DeMarco Murray ran for 34 yards on 11 carries (3.1-yard average) and Derrick Henry picked up 20 on eight carries (2.5 avg). The Titans were just 4-of-12 in third down, and that was a killer. The running game needs more consistency.
A bad loss? Yes. Devastating? No.**
The Titans had no business losing to the Cardinals on Sunday. Especially on a day when the defense turned in another winning performance against an Arizona offense that's not real scary at this point. But it didn't happen. The loss was a bad one, and it dropped the Titans to 8-5 – a game behind the Jaguars in the AFC South. But all hope is not lost, despite the reaction on Twitter. The Titans still control their own fate for the division title, and a playoff spot. This much, however, is also true: the Titans are going to have to play better down the stretch or they're going to be on the outside looking in come January.
Cyprien missed six games earlier this season with a hamstring injury, but he's quickly making up for lost time. On Sunday, Cyprien was a tone-setter on defense early, racking up four tackles and a sack in the first quarter. But he didn't stop there. Cyprien finished with a game-high 10 tackles and the sack. Since returning on November 5 against the Ravens, Cyprien has 38 tackles, including games with eight (Houston), nine (Pittsburgh) and now 10 (Arizona) tackles. He's a pretty good partner alongside ball-hawking safety Kevin Byard.
The Titans played without two starters on defense in linebacker Derrick Morgan and defensive lineman DaQuan Jones, who is out for the season. But the front seven still got after it, racking up eight sacks on the day. Defensive lineman Jurrell Casey led the way with two sacks, and Brian Orakpo, Erik Walden, David King, Wesley Woodyard, Avery Williamson and Cyprien all got into the action as well. The Titans now have 20 sacks in the last three games after tallying just 17 in the first 10 games. And the Titans are suddenly 11th in the NFL in sacks.
Mariota was sacked three times on Sunday, and the official game book listed the Cardinals with five quarterback hits. According to Pro Football Focus, the Titans offensive line allowed 10 pressures on Sunday. It didn't help that starting left tackle Taylor Lewan left the game after just 18 snaps because of an ailing back. Lewan will have an MRI today, and the team hopes he'll be OK moving forward. The Titans need to clean some things up in protection. According to PFF, the Titans have now allowed 10 or more pressures in five games; the Titans own a 1-4 record in those contests.
The Tennessee Titans take on the Arizona Cardinals in Week 14 at University of Phoenix Stadium. (Photos: Donn Jones, AP)