Reasons to believe: Titans vs. Raiders

The Tennessee Titans had four straight home games earlier this season — and lost them all.

Sunday, they play the first of two straight at home when they host the Oakland Raiders (noon, CBS).

Both teams are 4-6, but the Raiders — after a fast start — have lost three in a row and have scored just 27 points combined the last two weeks. If ever the Titans (2-8) are going to win one in front of their fans this season, it best happen now.


Three reasons to believe the Titans will win Sunday

Rookie standout: Tennessee’s only two victories this season have come with Marcus Mariota at quarterback, and in the three games since he returned from a knee injury, he has completed 67.3 percent of his passes with four touchdowns and one interception. For the year, he is 12th in the NFL with a 65.3 percent completion percentage. Only two teams have allowed more touchdown passes than Oakland (23).

All or nothing: All four times the Raiders have won this season, they scored 27 points or more. In five of their six losses, they scored 20 points or fewer. Tennessee has held five opponents to 20 points or fewer but won just one of those games. The defense has shown it is capable of that type of performance — and if it does so in this contest it might actually be enough for a victory.

Favorable matchup: Tennessee has won the last three meetings in this series (2007, 2010 and 2013) and is 4-1 against the Raiders at Nissan Stadium. The franchise’s first game in Tennessee (Aug. 31, 1997 at the Liberty Bowl) was a 24-21 overtime victory over Oakland. The Raiders have not had a winning record since 2002 and they have lost three straight coming into this one. They are a team the Titans can — and have — beat.

Three reasons to believe the Titans won’t win Sunday

Rookie standout: Amari Cooper (pictured), the fourth overall pick in this year’s draft, leads all rookie receivers with 51 receptions, 736 yards and four touchdowns. He has 10 receptions of 20-plus yards and four that have gone for 40 yards or more. He is coming off his worst game (one catch, four yards). Before that, he had at least four receptions and 46 yards each time out so chances of a repeat performance are slim. And he is their second most productive pass catcher.

Get rid of it: The Titans are third in the NFL with 31 sacks and lead the league in sacks per pass play (9.54 percent). It will be difficult to approach that rate against Oakland quarterback Derek Carr, who has been sacked just 11 times (on 352 dropbacks this season). That is the fewest among the NFL’s top 20 in passing yards. Carr has just 53 rushing yards on 16 attempts, which means he’s not likely to run but he’s also not going to hold the ball long.

Kicking in: Oakland’s Sebastian Janikowski has 51 career field goals of 50 yards or longer, including one from 56 yards last week. He is 3-for-4 on attempts of 50 yards or more this season and 15-for-18 overall this season. He also is a perfect 27-for-27 on this season’s longer PATs. If it is a tight affair, he is still a difference-maker.

The bottom line

Interim coach Mike Mularkey admitted recently that he sounds like a broken record, talking about how close the Titans have been to winning games, yet lamenting their inability to do so. The Raiders have not won a ton this year but three of their four victories have been by a touchdown or less.

Until things change, there is no reason to think they will be any different. Expect a tight contest, but it's more likely that Oakland, which has more big-play threats on offense, will do something that turns things in its favor.

(Photo: Getty Images)

Nov 25, 2015 1:22 PM

Rio Grande De-Fence Briefing: Williamson establishes himself as constant presence for Titans

Less than two years into his NFL career, Avery Williamson has become an every-down linebacker. Literally.

The fifth-round pick in 2014 has been on the field for every Tennessee Titans’ defensive snap in each of the last three games and four of the last five. He was the only member of the defense who played all 76 snaps at New Orleans, one of two used on all 68 against Carolina and one of four (but the only linebacker) who played all 60 last Thursday at Jacksonville.

He has been a big part of the defense since he became a starter last October (he has played 92.9 percent of all defensive snaps this season) but it’s clear that he has become someone coaches feel they can’t do without.

A game-by-game look at the number of snaps Tennessee Titans linebacker Avery Williamson has played this season:

at Tampa Bay: 42 of 52 (60 percent)
at Cleveland: 43 of 49 (88 percent)
vs. Indianapolis: 52 of 59 (88 percent)
vs. Buffalo: 47 of 53 (89 percent)
vs. Miami: DNP
vs. Atlanta: 75 of 75 (100 percent)
at Houston: 54 of 64 (84 percent)
at New Orleans: 76 of 76 (100 percent)
vs. Carolina: 68 of 68 (100 percent)
at Jacksonville: 60 of 60 (100 percent)

It has not hurt that the Milan, Tenn. native has made the most of all the playing time he has gotten lately.

Against Carolina on Nov. 15 he set a career-high with 16 tackles, a number only six other players reached during the Tennessee Titans era (1999-present). Five days later at Jacksonville he tied a career-high with three tackles for loss. Last month against Atlanta he recorded his first career interception and with half a sack against the Panthers and one sack against the Jaguars he has gotten to the quarterback in consecutive contests for the first time in his career.

Even though he missed one game with an injury he leads Tennessee with 75 tackles. He is tied for second with seven tackles for loss and had two and a half sacks.

(Photo: Getty Images)

Nov 25, 2015 11:11 AM

Philadelphia Eagles' latest roster move reunites Vanderbilt duo

For many, Thanksgiving week is an opportunity for a family reunion.

In Philadelphia there is a Fly Boys reunion.

The Philadelphia Eagles promoted former Vanderbilt wide receiver Jonathan Krause from its practice squad on Tuesday and put him on the active roster with former college teammate Jordan Matthews.

The two were part of Bobby Johnson’s final recruiting class at Vanderbilt and developed into critical pieces of the three-year run of success under James Franklin. Krause had 42 receptions for 714 yards and three touchdowns as a senior in 2013, when Matthews became the Southeastern Conference’s all-time leading receiver.

They along with fellow wide receiver Chris Boyd, a member of the same signing class, earned the nickname “Fly Boys” because of their knack for big plays. Matthews and Boyd were each among the SEC’s top 10 receivers in 2012.

Boyd’s college career was cut short when he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor in connection with the high-profile rape charges against four former Vanderbilt football players.

Matthews, a second-round draft pick in 2014, is the Eagles’ leading receiver this season with 55 receptions for 565 yards.

Krause (pictured) was undrafted out of college but has spent time with the Cleveland Browns and New England Patriots. The Eagles signed him to their practice squad on Sept. 22.

He has not played in an NFL regular season game.

Nov 25, 2015 9:20 AM

Mawae a Hall of Fame semifinalist again; no other Titans make the cut

For the second straight year, former Tennessee Titans center Kevin Mawae is among 25 semifinalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

The eight-time Pro Bowler is one of six offensive linemen among this year’s semifinalists, released Tuesday night. Four of the other five are tackles.

He is the only one of five former Titans who made the cut. Quarterback Steve McNair, running back Eddie George, linebacker Keith Bulluck and kicker Gary Anderson all were among the 93 players considered.

The Seattle Seahawks drafted Mawae in the second round out of LSU in 1994. He played four seasons with Seattle, eight with the New York Jets and his final four with the Titans. He developed into a Pro Bowl and All-Pro player with the Jets and continued to play at a high level with Tennessee, where he earned the last of his three All-Pro honors (2008) and his final two Pro Bowl appearances (2008 and 2009).

The Hall of Fame committee will vote on the semifinalists by mail to determine a group of 15 finalists in early January. The committee will then debate those individuals at a meeting during Super Bowl week and the 2016 Hall of Fame Class will be revealed on the eve of Super Bowl 50.

Nov 25, 2015 7:17 AM

Mularkey coaching 'how I coach,' not doing extra to keep job

The general impression is that Mike Mularkey has made a difference as Tennessee Titans head coach.

In the three games since Ken Whisenhunt was fired there have been personnel and scheme adjustments. They even one won game and came from behind in the fourth quarter to do it.

Whether or not any of that is (or will be) enough to convince franchise ownership not to make another change during the offseason is decidedly unclear, and of no interest to Mularkey, whose every move is being studied.

“I’m coaching like I coach the tight ends or I’m an offensive coordinator,” he said Monday. “This is how I coach. I’m not trying to do anything more than my job, and my job is obviously now to have a little bit more control over other areas, but this is not for any other reason but ‘this is how I coach.’

“I’ve got plenty to do other than worry about what’s going to happen after the year. I’ve got to worry about the ‘now,’ right now.”

There were two major factors that led to the selection of Mularkey as interim coach instead of senior assistant/defense Dick Lebeau, who also has been an NFL head coach. One was the fact that management wanted to give Mularkey, a finalist for the job in 2011, a chance to audition. The other was that no one wanted to mess with the defense, which is sixth in yards allowed per game and third in sacks, among other positive signs, in the first year with LeBeau on hand to complement second-year coordinator Ray Horton.

Both work in in Mularkey’s favor, particularly the second. After all, if continuity on the defense was a concern now it likely will be no different six weeks from now.

“You see on both sides of the ball when guys are able to grow in a scheme and have some level of consistency throughout the years they get better and better,” linebacker Derrick Morgan said. “They get more comfortable. I think you’re seeing evidence of that with our defense being in the second year of our scheme and how we’re playing.

“If change occurs, you hope they don’t really touch the defense but that’s just part of the business. Guys, when they come in, like to bring in their own guys.”

As of now, though, players have embraced the switch from Whisenhunt to Mularkey.

“I think things have been real different,” wide receiver Kendall Wright said. “Coach Mularkey has a different attitude about he wants things (run) around here. We’re all trying to take on that attitude.

“He has a tough mentality and he wants things done a certain way. So that’s what we’re going to do.”

But for how long?

(Photo: Getty Images)


Nov 24, 2015 2:23 PM

Wright ready to return, add some fire to Titans offense

Kendall Wright has not enjoyed his time warming the bench.

The Tennessee Titans fourth-year wide receiver would much rather be “a spark.”

He figures he will get his chance Sunday when the Titans host the Oakland Raiders (noon, CBS). After three weeks out of action with a knee injury he is optimistic about the possibility to get back in the lineup.

“It’s looking real good for Sunday,” Wright said Monday. “It’s been frustrating sitting out, obviously. But I’ve been in the training room every day – more than I would like to be in the training room because that’s not a place to be – but I got healthy and I’m still getting healthy. It’s looking real good for this weekend.

“I just want to be a spark, just be out there helping my teammates.”

Evan having missed three games, Wright is still the Titans’ second-leading receiver with 28 receptions for 343 yards. He is tied with tight end Delanie Walker for the team lead in touchdown receptions with three.

Plus, more than one-third of his yards (129 of them, to be exact) have come after the catch. That’s an average of 4.61 yards per reception. Among Titans wide receivers, Justin Hunter is next in that regard with an average of 1.5 yards after the catch.

“He’s shown you that he has the ability to score when he has the ball in his hands,” interim coach Mike Mularkey said. “… We need that. We need some explosive plays that aren’t just wide open but maybe breaking a tackle or making somebody miss and Kendall has that ability.”

Wright missed two games late last season and had 73 yards on four receptions in his first game back.

Oakland has the AFC’s worst pass defense with an average of 290.5 yards per game allowed but has allowed just nine touchdown passes in 10 games.

The Titans have been held without a touchdown pass in three of the last four games. The exception was New Orleans, when they had four.

“As long as I’m out here with these guys I’m feeling pretty good,” Wright said.

(Photo: Getty Images)

Nov 23, 2015 1:23 PM

Titans explore possibilities for another offensive line shuffle

The Tennessee Titans already have used five different offensive line combinations this season.

Anyone ready for number six?

Interim coach Mike Mularkey said that coaches decided to use the extra preparation time afforded by the fact that they played last Thursday to look at possible alterations up front.

Rookies Quinton Spain and Jeremiah Poutasi (pictured) got some work at left guard Monday with Joe Looney at center. Looney started the previous three games at left guard and started one earlier contest at center. Poutasi, a third-round draft pick, started the first seven games at right tackle.

“[With] the extra day, seeing what they did when I go in there and look at the tape, we may do a little more of that Wednesday, when we put the pads on,” Mularkey said. “That will be another indicator for us if we need to do some things differently.”

Spain, who is 6-foot-4, 330 pounds, and Poutasi, who is 6-foot-5, 335 pounds, offer a little more size at left guard. Byron Bell (6-5, 340) started the season at that spot but moved to right tackle when coach Ken Whisenhunt was fired and Mularkey was elevated to interim coach.

Looney, at 6-foot-3, 315 pounds, has about 10 pounds on Andy Gallik, the rookie who has started four of the last five games at center but looks to be the odd man out in any potential shuffle this week.

“Andy … probably did not play his best game this last game, but Andy has really played well for us,” Mularkey said. “To be thrown into the situation he’s been thrown into as a rookie and –literally be the guy that’s making all the calls with a rookie quarterback, he’s done well. He just got beat a couple times this last game.

“We’re not trying to replace him, by any means. We’re trying to look at our best options against who we’re about the play, the Raiders.”

The Titans (2-8) host Oakland (4-6) noon Sunday at Nissan Stadium.

(Photo: Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)

Nov 23, 2015 12:40 PM

Titans' talk of playoff possibilities nothing more than wishful thinking

The Tennessee Titans can say it all they want. That doesn’t make it true.

They are not in the playoff race even if they are in the NFL’s worst division.

“We’re in no means of looking at this as it’s over, by any means,” interim coach Mike Mularkey said Friday. “Not in this division it’s not over. We have two wins, the first place team has four wins, and there are six games to go. So by no means are we thinking about altering the course.”

Thursday’s 19-13 loss at Jacksonville effectively wiped out whatever chances the Titans did have to end their current six-year playoff drought.

At 2-8, they’re at least two games behind the other three teams in the division. Even if they get on a roll and somehow manage to finish 7-9 or 8-8 they’re not going to win the division outright, which means they’re going to need to win a tiebreaker. And they’re not going to win a tiebreaker.

One look at the NFL’s criteria to break a tie among division teams shows just how deep a hole Tennessee really has dug for itself.

Head-to-head: The Titans already have lost to each of the other three AFC South teams. That means the best they can do is split with each and, thus, there is no chance to win this tiebreaker.

Record within the division: The losses to all three AFC South opponents constitute the whole of Tennessee’s division schedule thus far. Indianapolis is 3-0, Houston is 2-1 and Jacksonville is 1-2. In fact, the Titans are one of three AFC teams without a division win and one of the other two is San Diego, which still has four games against the AFC West.

Record against common opponents: If they can make it to this point the Titans actually have a shot. They went 2-2 against the NFC South. The other three teams in the division are a combined 1-6. If other games balance out, those are the ones that could tip the scales in Tennessee’s favor.

Record against the conference: Tennessee (0-6) is the only AFC team that does not have at least one win against another AFC team. Indianapolis (4-3), Houston (4-3) and Jacksonville (4-4) are all .500 or better. If it gets to this point, the Titans are done for sure.

As it stands right now, the Titans are one of three teams tied for the AFC’s worst record (Cleveland and San Diego are the others). If you were to break that tie (for purposes of draft order, perhaps), Tennessee is last and a possibility for the first overall pick in the draft (the NFC's worst teams are 3-7). It is a long way from there – too long, to be precise – from there to the postseason.

“We’re pretty darn good, we’ve proven that,” Mularkey said. “We’ve proven it through the whole year, not just the last three games. We’ve proven we have a chance, regardless of who’s playing. Where we are with our roster, where we are with injuries, that’s irrelevant. When we are efficient and playing with the effort that we’re playing with, we are a good football team.

“I’m not going to change the message that I’ve been passing. I never have in my 21 years of coaching, so that’s not changing. We do have proof that we are a good football team, and we have to just finish the games.”

Whatever his message, they also have to realize that their season will finish when they play the Indianapolis Colts on Jan. 3 – the final day of the regular season.

Nov 23, 2015 6:52 AM

Titans looked to unlikely target to be the hero Thursday night

Rico Richardson almost had quite a story to tell.

The Tennessee Titans wide receiver, who never has caught a pass in the NFL and has been cut four times by three teams in three years, was the primary target on the final play of Thursday’s 19-13 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars.

With no timeouts and 2:19 remaining, the Titans drove 62 yards to the Jacksonville 23, where they spiked the ball to stop the clock with five seconds remaining. That left them with one play to try to score the game-winning touchdown. Quarterback Marcus Mariota was sacked before he ever delivered a pass, which was designed to go to Richardson.

“We had inside receivers running through hopefully gathering a coverage for in-cuts in the end zone,” interim coach Mike Mularkey said. “It would have been to Rico.”

The Titans cut Richardson for the second time in September, just prior to the start of the regular season. He signed on to the practice squad and finally was promoted to the active roster on Oct. 25. He played sparingly in the previous four games. Similarly, he spent most of last season on the practice squad before he appeared in two late contests.

In six career appearances, the undrafted free agent out of Jackson State had five passes thrown his way, none of which resulted in receptions.

“It was the play we had and couldn’t change the personnel because of the clock,” Mularkey said.

What a coming out party it would have been had that last pass actually come to him and he caught it and scored the winning touchdown. For a franchise short on wide receivers and a fan base longing for something to celebrate, it would instantly have pulled him out of the anonymity in which he has toiled.

“Every single opportunity we have, we try to score,” Mariota said. “We had an opportunity at the end to just try to throw it up there and give the guys a chance. We were basically trying to get everybody out in the end zone.

“ … I have to do a better job of giving those guys a shot.”

Alas, Richardson never got his chance. There’s no telling if he’ll ever get another.

Nov 20, 2015 2:18 PM

Rio Grande De-Fence Briefing: Orakpo's sack streak reaches 'Freak'-ish length

Brian Orakpo is halfway there, which is farther than anyone else has gotten.

Since 1999, when Jevon Kearse registered a sack in eight straight games as a rookie, the only person who even came close to matching that run was Kearse himself. Until now.

Outside linebacker Brian Orakpo made it four straight games with a sack during Thursday’s 19-13 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars. That equals the third-longest stretch during the Titans era (1999-present) and exceeds those of any player other than Kearse. There have been eight three-game streaks, including from Kearse (2001), Kyle Vanden Bosch (2007) and Jurrell Casey (2013).

A look at the most consecutive games with a sack by a Tennessee Titans player (1999-present):

8 – Jevon Kearse (1999)

6 – Jevon Kearse (2003)

4 – Brian Orakpo (2015)
4 – Jevon Kearse (2000)

Four games matches the longest streak of Orakpo’s career. He had three and a half sacks during a four-game run as a rookie in 2009 and had five and a half sacks in a four-game stretch of 2013.

Thursday’s sack was his fifth in the last four games. He dropped Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles for a nine-yard loss in the final minute of the first half Thursday and forced Jacksonville to settle for a game-tying field goal.

Orakpo leads the Titans with seven sacks, which is half a sack more than Derrick Morgan had in 2014, when he was the Titans’ leader in that regard. In fact, only one player has finished with more in the past four seasons (Casey had 10 and a half in 2013).

(Photo: Getty Images)

Nov 20, 2015 10:02 AM