Arizona Cardinals at Tennessee Titans – Stop Me If You’ve Heard this Before Edition

The 8-5 Arizona Cardinals traveled to Nashville, Tennessee to take on the 5-8 Tennessee Titans Sunday. The Cardinals are rolling but still needed to win out to have a shot at the playoffs, and just lost fantastic young defensive back Tyrann Mathieu to an ACL injury. The Titans were mathematically still alive for the playoffs but needed to win out plus receive a lot of help. So how did the game go? Let’s take a look.

The Titans defense is better than it was in 2012 but still needs a lot of work. The safety position in particular has improved as I have discussed before in my game recaps. Strong safety Bernard Pollard has been a big boost to the defense the penalties not withstanding. I have written about how terrible some of those penalties have been especially in the past few games. Pollard leads the team in tackles with 70 solo and 18 assists. A few other stats:

Michael Griffin is also having a much better year and his three forced fumbles are tied at second in the league among safeties. The entire secondary has been a strength of the team. Alterraun Verner, Jason McCourty and Coty Sensabaugh held the Cardinals wide receivers in check. Larry Fitzgerald finished with 6 catches for 49 yards while Michael Floyd caught 2 passes for 33 yards. The only receiving touchdown in the game was to tight end Jake Ballard and that was credited to rookie linebacker Zaviar Gooden.

Gooden by the way had a pretty good game despite that touchdown. In the past 2 games, he has garnered 75 defensive snaps, replacing Will linebacker Zach Brown. Brown isn’t happy and the move has created a bit of a stir but if you look at Brown’s season you understand it. I still think Brown is the Titans best linebacker he isn’t playing like it however. Mental lapses have caused him to give up big plays primarily to running backs. Brown has given up 2 touchdowns this year, one to Antonio Gates and another one to Raiders fullback Marcel Reese.

One defensive player who is playing lights out is defensive tackle Jurrell Casey. Clearly the team’s most valuable player on defense, despite strong arguments for secondary players, Casey is having a monster year. He has racked up 55 tackles, 10.5 sacks (leading all defensive tackles in the league in that category), with 2 passes defensed and 1 forced fumble. Casey is having an All Pro year and deserves recognition for it. Against the Cardinals, he had 9 tackles (5 solo), 2 tackles for a loss, and 1.5 sacks.

Derrick Morgan’s impact didn’t show up too well in the stats though he did finish with 2 tackles, 1 tackle for a loss and 2 quarterback hits. Kam Wimbley played a lot more this week and split snaps almost evenly with Ropati Pitoitua. Wimbley got a bit victimized by this call for roughing the  passer.

Wimbley would be credited with 1 quarterback hit, 2 quarterback hurries and 2 tackles. Pitoitua was credited with 1 tackle. Rookie defensive lineman Lavar Edwards has struggled with injuries this year and hasn’t made that leap yet. He played only 4 snaps Sunday on defense though he does play a lot on special teams. Curious that defensive tackle Mike Martin has been inactive the past 2 games. He was playing nicely in rotation.

As good as the passing defense has been, the run defense remains an issue. The Titans preference to bulk up along the defensive line wasn’t one of my favorite offseason moves and thus far it hasn’t translated to a better defensive line. The Titans have 1561 total rushing yards this season while their opponents have 1667 rushing yards against them. They rank 23rd in the league aginst the run and are allowing 119.1 rushing yards per game. They allowed 2 rushing touchdowns against Arizona and have allowed 7 multiple touchdown games against them on the season.

Titans defense rushing TDs

The defensive line simply isn’t making the stops in the run game they need to make. A perusal of the tackling stats tells the story here. in the Arizona game in particular rookie sensational running back Andre Ellington put up 158 all purpose  yards on the Titans defense while Rashard Mendall scored twice on the ground.

Titans tackling stats

Certainly other issues remain particularly with linebacker play at times but the defensive line overall must get better. I will say I thought middle linebacker Moise Fokou had one of his better games against the Cardinals. The Titans sacked Palmer twice and got good pressure but he was very efficient with the football. The Cardinals did not turn the ball over.

Turning to the offense, it was once again a tale of two quarterbacks. Ryan Fitzpatrick remains an enigma to me. As good as he can play sometimes, the turnovers have been devastating. Fitzpatrick was 36 of 58 for 402 yards and 4 touchdowns. He can done a nice job for the most part moving the offense despite the inconsistency in the run game. If I repeat myself it’s only because it’s true but the turnovers are bone crushing. There were 2 in this game including a pick 6 at 6:13 in the fourth quarter when the score was 27-17 in favor of the Cardinals. The second, not entirely Fitzpatrick’s fault, occurred after he led them back in spectacular fashion to take the game into overtime.

Overall, I believe the playcalling has been well done but I do wonder why they have moved away from the no huddle so much. The Titans operated out of the shotgun 24 times but only ran the no huddle offense twice before they began their comeback in the 4th quarter. More on that below.

 

they were in no huddle 7 times from the 6:13 mark on. only twice did they run it not in the shotgun. they were in shotgun 20 times

 

That’s not to say this is all on Fitzpatrick. There was a bad drop by Kendall Wright in the first drive to start the 4th quarter. Also, if Kenny Britt is able to get any yards after the catch they convert that series and perhaps the game is different. Or even if Rob Bironas converts a 50 yard field goal on that drive. Also, The Titans didn’t score at all in the 2nd quarter.

The Titans run game remains inconsistent at best and terrible at worst. Chris Johnson rushed for 40 yards on 13 carries for a 3.1 yards per carry average. Shonn Greene carried the ball 3 times for 4 yards. Johnson at least made an impact in the passing game with 3 catches for 51 yards and a touchdown. It’s no secret Johnson is likely gone after this year and I think it’s a real possibility the Titans have an entirely new backfield in 2014.

Speaking of special teams, Brett Kern had another good game after struggling a bit early on in the year. Leon Washington has been a real gem in the return game as well. The big news on special teams is that the Titans finally (!!!) converted an onside kick that allowed them to score late in the 4th quarter to take the game into overtime.

Finally, I really have to speak on the question of whether to go for 2 on that final drive in the 4th quarter or to kick the higher percentage extra point to take the game into overtime. I don’t have a problem with the decision for a variety of reasons. First, I agree with Mike Munchak that taking the sure point and letting  your offense have multiple opportunities to win the game just makes sense. The plan was working too and likely would have if Fitzpatrick and young wide receiver Michael Preston are on the same page on the interception in overtime. Let’s not forget that Mike Shanahan made the opposite decision Sunday and it failed leading to a Redskins loss.

Another sad truth is that the coaching staff was going to be criticized here regardless of what decision they made. Having lost so many games this year, the coaches are in the unenviable position of having their every decision scrutinized and picked apart. It’s the nature of the profession anymore particularly when there is a vocal segment who want the coaching staff fired.

One final note and it was really great to see the Titans stick together as a team and fight to the very end. This is an easy team to like since they show toughness and for the most part mental fortitude. There is no quit here and it’s a great change from the 2012 team. I know this team hasn’t won enough this year but I still believe they are building something special. They just aren’t quite there yet.

Final score:

Cardinals 37

Titans 34

Box score:

Arizona Cardinals (9-5-0) Tennessee Titans (5-9-0)
Passing CP/AT YDS TD INT
C. Palmer 20/30 231 1 0
Rushing ATT YDS TD LG
A. Ellington 10 71 0 22
R. Mendenhall 21 69 2 15
S. Taylor 3 6 0 3
C. Palmer 2 -1 0 0
Receiving REC YDS TD LG
A. Ellington 4 87 0 38
L. Fitzgerald 6 49 0 18
M. Floyd 2 33 0 20
B. Golden 1 16 0 16
A. Roberts 2 15 0 12
J. Ballard 3 13 1 7
J. Dray 1 9 0 9
R. Mendenhall 1 9 0 9
Fumbles FUM LOST REC YDS
L. Sendlein 1 0 0 -7
M. Benard 0 0 0 0
A. Cason 0 0 1 0
C. Palmer 0 0 1 0
Kicking FG LG XP PTS
J. Feely 3/3 47 4/4 13
Punting NO AVG I20 LG
D. Zastudil 4 43.5 1 58
Kickoff Returns NO AVG TD LG
J. Arenas 3 24 0 28
Punt Returns NO AVG TD LG
P. Peterson 0 0 0 0
Defense T-A SCK INT FF
D. Washington 8-1 0.0 0 0
P. Peterson 7-0 0.0 0 0
K. Dansby 5-1 0.5 0 0
R. Johnson 5-2 0.0 0 0
D. Dockett 4-2 0.0 0 0
Y. Bell 3-3 0.0 0 0
J. Powers 3-0 0.0 0 0
M. Benard 2-0 1.0 0 1
C. Campbell 2-1 0.0 0 0
A. Cason 2-2 0.0 2 0
M. Shaughnessy 2-1 1.0 0 0
J. Abraham 1-2 0.5 0 0
F. Rucker 1-0 0.0 0 0
J. Arenas 0-1 0.0 0 0
Passing CP/AT YDS TD INT
R. Fitzpatrick 36/58 402 4 2
Rushing ATT YDS TD LG
C. Johnson 13 40 0 15
R. Fitzpatrick 3 22 0 17
S. Greene 3 4 0 6
Receiving REC YDS TD LG
K. Wright 12 150 0 26
N. Washington 7 92 0 33
D. Walker 8 53 1 22
C. Johnson 3 51 1 25T
K. Britt 3 29 0 13
M. Preston 3 27 2 10T
Fumbles FUM LOST REC YDS
P. Bailey 1 1 0 0
R. Fitzpatrick 1 0 0 0
L. Washington 1 0 1 0
B. Schwenke 0 0 1 2
Kicking FG LG XP PTS
R. Bironas 2/3 45 4/4 10
Punting NO AVG I20 LG
B. Kern 3 48.3 2 51
Kickoff Returns NO AVG TD LG
L. Washington 6 23 0 33
P. Bailey 1 0 0 0
Punt Returns NO AVG TD LG
L. Washington 2 9 0 9
Defense T-A SCK INT FF
M. Fokou 7-0 0.0 0 0
J. Casey 5-4 1.5 0 0
M. Griffin 5-2 0.0 0 0
B. Pollard 5-2 0.5 0 0
Z. Gooden 3-3 0.0 0 0
C. Sensabaugh 3-2 0.0 0 0
Z. Brown 2-0 0.0 0 0
S. Hill 2-1 0.0 0 0
J. McCourty 2-3 0.0 0 0
D. Morgan 2-0 0.0 0 0
B. Wreh-Wilson 2-1 0.0 0 0
A. Ayers 1-2 0.0 0 0
A. Verner 1-1 0.0 0 0
K. Wimbley 1-0 0.0 0 0
R. Pitoitua 0-1 0.0 0 0
Total First Downs 24 Total First Downs 32
By Rushing 11 By Rushing 3
By Passing 12 By Passing 23
By Penalty By Penalty
Third Down Efficiency 6/12 – 50% Third Down Efficiency 7/14 – 50%
Fourth Down Efficiency 0/0 – 0% Fourth Down Efficiency 0/0 – 0%
Total Net Yards 360 Total Net Yards 460
Total Rushing/Passing Plays (includes Sacks) 68 Total Rushing/Passing Plays (includes Sacks) 80
Average Gain per Offensive Play 5.3 Average Gain per Offensive Play 5.8
Net Yards Rushing 145 Net Yards Rushing 66
Total Rushing Plays 36 Total Rushing Plays 19
Average Gain per Rushing Play 4.0 Average Gain per Rushing Play 3.5
Tackled for a Loss (Number-Yards) 3–4 Tackled for a Loss (Number-Yards) 3–8
Net Yards Passing 215 Net Yards Passing 394
Times Sacked (Number-Yards) 2 – 16 Times Sacked (Number-Yards) 3 – 8
Gross Yards Passing 231 Gross Yards Passing 402
Pass Comp-Att-Int 20 – 30 – 0 Pass Comp-Att-Int 36 – 58 – 2
Average Gain per Passing Play (includes Sacks) 6.7 Average Gain per Passing Play (includes Sacks) 6.5
Kickoffs (Number-In End Zone-Touchbacks) 8 – 3 – 1 Kickoffs (Number-In End Zone-Touchbacks) 7 – 3 – 2
Punts (Number-Average) 4 – 53.0 Punts (Number-Average) 3 – 48.3
Blocked 0 Blocked 0
Net Punting Average 43.5 Net Punting Average 48.3
FGs Blocked – PATs Blocked 0 – 0 FGs Blocked – PATs Blocked 0 – 0
Total Return Yardage (excludes Kickoffs) 36 Total Return Yardage (excludes Kickoffs) 18
Punt Returns (Number-Yards) 0 – 0 Punt Returns (Number-Yards) 2 – 18
Kickoff Returns (Number-Yards) 3 – 72 Kickoff Returns (Number-Yards) 7 – 140
Interception Returns (Number-Yards) 2 – 36 Interception Returns (Number-Yards) 0 – 0
Penalties (Number-Yards) 9 – 69 Penalties (Number-Yards) 3 – 16
Fumbles (Number-Lost) 1 – 0 Fumbles (Number-Lost) 3 – 1
Touchdowns 4 Touchdowns 4
Rushing 2 Rushing 0
Passing 1 Passing 4
Interceptions 1 Interceptions 0
Kickoff Returns 0 Kickoff Returns 0
Fumble Returns 0 Fumble Returns 0
Punt Returns 0 Punt Returns 0
Extra Points (Made-Attempted) 4 – 4 Extra Points (Made-Attempted) 4 – 4
Kicking (Made-Attempted) 4 – 4 Kicking (Made-Attempted) 4 – 4
Two Point Conversions (Made-Attempted) 0 – 0 Two Point Conversions (Made-Attempted) 0 – 0
Field Goals (Made-Attempted) 3 – 3 Field Goals (Made-Attempted) 2 – 3
Red Zone Efficiency 3/4 – 75% Red Zone Efficiency 3/4 – 75%
Goal To Go Efficiency 3/3 – 100% Goal To Go Efficiency 3/3 – 100%
Safeties 0 Safeties 0
Final Score 37 Final Score 34
Time of Possession 30:58 Time of Possession 33:44
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