Sports, Thrill of Victory

Can Titans exploit porous Raiders’ defense?

Running back Derrick Henry played a big role in the Titans' win in Kansas City. PHOTO BY MATTHEW MAXEY

Last season the Oakland Raiders beat the Tennessee Titans 24-21. It was a come-from-behind win on a rainy day, in which Derek Carr threw a 12-yard touchdown pass to Seth Roberts with just 1:21 remaining in the fourth quarter.

The Titans are surely looking to avenge last season’s loss this Sunday, September 25, when the Raiders travel to Nissan Stadium for a Week 3 matchup at 12:00 PM CST.

Both teams currently have a 1-1 record and rank second in their respective division. However, the Titans come off a gritty 16-15 win over the Detroit Lions, while the Raiders come off a 35-28 loss to the Atlanta Falcons.

The following are matchups to consider for the game on Sunday.

Mariota versus the Raiders’ Defense

Oakland’s defense has mightily struggled this season. They gave up over 500 yards of offense to the New Orleans Saints in Week 1 and then over 500 more to the Falcons in Week 2.

Marcus Mariota didn't have his best performance in the Titans' Week 1 loss to the Vikings. PHOTO BY MATTHEW MAXEY

Can Marcus Mariota and the Titans take advantage of the Raiders’ defense on Sunday? PHOTO BY MATTHEW MAXEY

The poor performance is record-breaking. The 1,035 yards allowed by the Raiders is the most through two games in a season since the NFL merger in 1966.

In response, Raiders’ head coach Jack Del Rio is making roster changes in preparation for Sunday. Rookie safety Karl Joseph, the team’s 14th overall pick in the Draft, will start in place of Keith McGill. Also, rookie linebacker Corey James will take over for Ben Heeny.

Despite these changes, it would be surprising if the Raiders’ defense suddenly resolves their issues. They currently ranks 21st in the league against the rush (113.5 yards per game) and last in the league against the pass (404.0 yards per game).

This matchup therefore gives Marcus Mariota and the Titans’ receiving core of Delanie Walker, Tajae Sharpe, and Rishard Matthews a great opportunity to throw the ball deep. The Titans struggled with that facet of the offense in 2015, and they addressed it during the offseason with the hopes for improvement in 2016.

McCourty, Cox versus Cooper, Crabtree

Although the Raiders currently rank last in the league for total defense, they top the league for total offense, averaging 470 yards per game.

Most of this offensive firepower stems from Derek Carr and his receiving duo of Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree. In fact, the three players have accounted for 644 of Oakland’s 940 yards of total offense.

With these stats in consideration, cornerbacks Jason McCourty and Perrish Cox will be challenged on Sunday to contain the Raiders’ pass-centric offense.

Admittedly, McCourty and Cox have played well through two weeks. The Titans have allowed a single pass touchdown this season, and they currently rank 13th in the league for total pass defense (237.0 yards per game).

However, the Titans’ secondary has also been graced by opportune events. In Week 1 they faced backup quarterback Shaun Hill of the Minnesota Vikings instead of starting quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. And in Week 2 the Lions dropped seven passes. 

This early-season luck should not continue versus the Raiders. Derek Carr is a Pro-Bowl quarterback; the Raiders have one of the best offensive lines in the league; and neither Cooper nor Crabtree has dropped a single reception this season.

Right side of the Titans’ offensive line versus Khalil Mack

Khalil Mack, at left-side linebacker, is one of best pass rushers in league. Last season, his 2nd year as a pro, Mack tallied 15 total sacks. Only J.J. Watt of the Houston Texans recorded more at 17.5 sacks. 

Although Mack has yet to record a sack this season, that narrative may change against Tennessee since right guard Chance Warmack is questionable to play on Sunday and since right tackle Jack Conklin is a rookie.

Tennessee Titans defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau will likely devise a new strategy for the season opener after Bridgewater's injury.  PHOTO BY MATTHEW MAXEY

Dick LeBeau will be looking to slow down the Oakland offense in Week 3. PHOTO BY MATTHEW MAXEY

Last week, Warlock tore a tendon in his right finger versus the Lions. Whether he needs surgery is currently unknown. Titans’ head coach Mike Mularkey said that the team plans to practice Warmack on Wednesday before making a long-term decision about the surgery, which would sideline Warmack for two to four weeks.

Regardless of whether Warmack is present or absent, this matchup will be Conklin’s hardest-to-date in the NFL.

The rookie tackle has fared well through two weeks. In fact, in the past 11 years, only two rookie offensive tackles have graded better than Conklin through Week 2 according to Pro Football Focus — Jake Long and Joe Thomas.

To be mentioned among those names is noteworthy. However, in 2015 Mack ranked as the 13th overall player in the league among the likes of J.J. Watt, Aaron Donald, and Von Miller. This matchup will be a key to watch.

Prediction

Dick LeBeau and the Tennessee defense hold the Raiders’ offense in check, and Marcus Mariota and company take advantage of a porous Oakland defense. The Titans win 24-17.