NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Titans face the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday in Glendale, Arizona.
Here's a look at six things to watch:
Mariota vs NFC**
Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota returns to Glendale for the first time since his redshirt freshman year at Oregon, when he threw two touchdown passes and ran for another in the 2013 Fiesta Bowl. Mariota is coming off a solid game against the Texans, and he's been phenomenal against NFC opponents in his career. In eight career games vs the NFC, Mariota has thrown for 20 touchdowns and just three interceptions, with a 119.0 rating. He'll be aiming for his 5th in a row vs. the NFC with two TDs and a 100-plus rating.
Henry and Murray**
The carries are close – DeMarco Murray leads the Titans with 140, while Derrick Henry has 125 on the season. Last week against the Texans, the running backs had 11 carries each. Moving forward, look for the Titans to continue using both backs. The team, of course, hopes the success in the running game will continue. The Titans ran for a season-high 198 yards last week, with Henry leading the way with 109 yards. The Cardinals, ranked 9th in the NFL in run defense, have been solid vs the run so it won't be easy.
Slowing down Jones**
The Titans put a fire extinguisher on Texans pass rusher Jadeveon Clowney, cooling him off after a red-hot stretch. Next up is Cardinals linebacker Chandler Jones, who is ranked 2nd in the NFL with 13 sacks. Jones has six sacks and a forced fumble in the past four home games, and he'll be aiming for his fifth game in a row at home with a sack. The Titans offensive line will need to communicate, and use good technique to slow him down.
Secondary vs. Fitzgerald**
The Titans have done a solid job against top receivers in recent weeks. The secondary put a blanket over Colts receiver T.Y. Hilton (two catches, 15 yards) on November 26, and last week the Titans kept Texans receiver DeAndre Hopkins from beating them. Sure, Hopkins had eight catches, but he didn't reach the end zone and he was held to a 10.0-yard average (down from his average of 14.1). Well, the challenge this week is a big one: Larry Fitzgerald. The big and physical veteran has 82 catches on the year for 878 yards and five scores.
Defense minus Jones, Morgan**
The Titans will be without two starters on defense on Sunday. Coach Mike Mularkey on Friday ruled out linebacker Derrick Morgan, who leads the team with 7.5 sacks. Erik Walden will start in his place, and linebacker Kevin Dodd will also see more snaps. Earlier in the week the team ruled out defensive lineman DaQuan Jones for the season. Jones, who had 3.5 sacks in the past two games, will be replaced by defense lineman Austin Johnson. One key on Sunday for the Titans will be stopping the run, an area where the team has improved. The Titans are now ranked 3rd overall vs. the run. In the past seven games, the Titans have held opponents under 90 yards on the ground.
Rishard Matthews returned to practice this week, and he's expected to play on Sunday after missing the past two weeks. Rookie Corey Davis is improving, and Eric Decker and Taywan Taylor remain options in the offense as well. Walker continues to be the team's most consistent threat, however, and he plays with an attitude that's fun to watch. Walker will be aiming for his third straight game with a TD catch. Plus, his celebrations are cool. A week after performing CPR on the footall in Indianapolis, he burped the football like a baby last week.
TitansOnline.com looks back at the all-time series against the Arizona Cardinals. (AP Photos, Donn Jones)