HEADLINE

Week 14 Game Scout: Titans at Cardinals

Sports Xchange

December 07, 2017 at 2:26 am.

TENNESSEE TITANS (8-4) AT ARIZONA CARDINALS (5-7)

KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:05 p.m. ET, University of Phoenix Stadium. TV: CBS,
Andrew Catalon, James Lofton, Jay Feely (field reporter).

SERIES HISTORY: 11th regular-season meeting. Cardinals lead series, 6-4). These teams don’t meet very often, but they had a memorable game in 2009 when Vince Young engineered a 99-yard winning drive as time expired.

KEYS TO THE GAME: The Titans’ running game has been inconsistent but has risen to seventh overall in the league. The Titans will need to stay with it, even when things don’t exactly work out.

DeMarco Murray did better last week, averaging six yards a carry, and the offense seems to have figured out its problems from earlier in the season. A solid ground attack with Murray and Derrick Henry should make life easier for Marcus Mariota, who was turnover-free Sunday after tossing six interceptions in the previous two games.

The Cardinals know they must stop the run and also be wary of Mariota, who has rushed for 213 yards and five touchdowns. Sealing the edge will be of the utmost importance. So will trying to force more turnovers, something Arizona’s defense has long been known for doing but hasn’t had much success at this season.

Linebacker Josh Bynes has been particularly active around the ball when he gets a chance to play. He started last week in place of the injured Deone Bucannon and led the team in tackles. Bucannon is expected to play vs. Tennessee, but Bynes will get plenty of snaps.

The Titans’ defenders have to beware of Larry Fitzgerald, but it starts with stopping the run and Adrian Peterson, who is still capable of an occasional big spurt.

Peterson might not play because of a neck injury, so the Cardinals could turn to more of a running back-by-committee approach. Kerwynn Williams managed to run for 97 yards last week in a loss to the Rams, but he did it while playing with two cracked ribs and he might not be up for a second straight heavy workload. Look for D.J. Foster and Elijhaa Penny to get more snaps.

Blaine Gabbert threw to Fitzgerald far more times last week than he did in his first two starts for the Cardinals. That trend figures to continue, and Gabbert also will keep throwing to rookie tight end Ricky Seals-Jones, with whom he established a strong chemistry on the practice squad. Look for the Cardinals to use more max protection, especially if left tackle Jared Veldheer can’t go because of an elbow injury.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH:

–Cardinals QB Blaine Gabbert vs. Titans coach Mike Mularkey. Mularkey and Gabbert were together in Jacksonville in 2012 as coach and quarterback. The results were bad, as Gabbert went 1-9 as a starter before an injury thrust Chad Henne into the lineup. The Jags finished 2-14, Mularkey was fired and Gabbert began his odyssey as an NFL journeyman a couple of years after that. Gabbert has played better since those days, but still is prone to turnovers, which the Titans must get.

–Titans WR Rishard Matthews vs. Cardinals CB Patrick Peterson. Matthews leads Tennessee’s wide receivers with 41 receptions for 646 yards and three touchdowns. Nobody’s No. 1 wideout has had any type of success this season against Peterson, who will shadow Matthews for the entire game. Peterson has been dealing with a hamstring issue this week, however, which could flip the odds in Matthews’ favor as he comes back from his own hamstring injury.

PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Titans RB Derrick Henry. His two best games came with game-clinching touchdown runs, including one last week against Houston. Henry will need to be a major part of the running game going forward, as he looks much fresher than DeMarco Murray at this juncture of the season. Henry is averaging 5.0 yards per carry, the 29-year-old Murray just 3.7.

FAST FACTS: Tennessee QB Marcus Mariota has run for three TDs in his past four road games. He has 20 TDs and three INTs in eight games vs. NFC teams. … RB Derrick Henry rushed for 109 yards, including a career-best 75-yard TD, last week. He aims for a third straight game with at least 85 scrimmage yards. … TE Delanie Walker caught a TD throw in the last game vs. Arizona and is looking for a third straight game with a TD. Since 2013, he leads all NFL tight ends with 340 catches. … LB Derrick Morgan has 2.5 sacks in his past three games. He has 5.5 sacks in his past six road contests, including a sack in three straight. … S Kevin Byard leads the NFL with six interceptions. He has four interceptions, two fumble recoveries and six passes defensed in his past five road contests. … LB Brian Orakpo had a sack last week and has 3.5 sacks in his past four games. … Rookie CB Adoree’ Jackson has two forced fumbles in his past four road games. Jackson (54 tackles, 12 passes defensed) and CB Logan Ryan (52, 11) are the only AFC cornerbacks with 50 tackles and 10 passes defensed. … Arizona RB Adrian Peterson needs one rushing TD to become the ninth player in NFL history with 100. He also needs 37 rushing yards to surpass Jim Brown (12,312) for 10th all-time. … WR Larry Fitzgerald leads the NFC with 82 receptions. He has 1,207 receptions, making him the third player in NFL history with 1,200 (Jerry Rice had 1,549, Tony Gonzalez 1,325). Fitzgerald needs 26 receiving yards to surpass Randy Moss (15,292) for third-most all-time. … LB Chandler Jones ranks second in the NFL with 13 sacks, tied for the most through 12 games in franchise history (Simeon Rice, 1999). Jones has six sacks in his past four home games and is looking for a fifth straight home performance with a sack.

PREDICTION: The Cardinals have one win over a team with a plus-.500 record, but it came just two weeks ago against an NFC South team (Jacksonville). And the Titans aren’t as good as the Jags.

OUR PICK: Cardinals, 26-23.

–Chris Cluff