By Sam McPherson
If seven losses is enough to eliminate a team from playoff contention, both the visiting Tennessee Titans (4-6) and the host Oakland Raiders (4-6) will be fighting for their postseason threads come Sunday when they play each other at the O.co Coliseum.
The Raiders are coming off their first road victory of the season, a 28-23 win in Houston, while the Titans are reeling from two close losses in a row: the first to the then-winless Jacksonville Jaguars and the second to the mighty Indianapolis Colts – both teams Oakland has played already this year.
But Tennessee now is playing without starting quarterback Jake Locker, injured in the Jaguars loss on November 10. And of course, the Raiders may again be without their starting QB, Terrelle Pryor, depending on how his injured knee improves – and whether or not the coaching staff wants to stick with backup Matt McGloin.
Titans on Offense
The Titans “new” quarterback is really an old National Football League veteran, Ryan Fitzpatrick. A nine-year veteran, Fitzpatrick might be best known for his Harvard education rather than his career 77.2 QB rating in 78 games with the St. Louis Rams, the Cincinnati Bengals, the Buffalo Bills and now the Titans. In his career, he’s thrown 97 touchdowns and 85 interceptions, completing just 59.6% of his passes.
However, due to Locker’s frail physique, Fitzpatrick has played major time in four games this year and some time in a fifth game for Tennessee – he was exceptionally good in the last two losses, completing a combined 44 passes in 61 attempts for 486 yards with three TDs and no INTs. He also ran for a score in the Jacksonville loss. So it’s hard to pin these close decisions on Fitzpatrick, as casual observers might choose to do based on his track record.
The Titans also feature, still, the ever-dangerous Chris Johnson at running back. Despite his meager 3.8 yards-per-carry average in 2013, Johnson is very capable of scoring every time he gets the ball. He has 30 receptions this year, including a 66-yard scamper against the San Francisco 49ers which demonstrated his crazy ability to run in the open field. He’s scored six times this year total, and he’s lost only one fumble.
Tennessee will want to get Johnson the ball, open up some running room for him and then let Fitzpatrick throw to his receiving corps: Kendall Wright (59 catches), Delanie Walker (39 catches) and a healthy Nate Washington (31 catches) all are regular targets in this offense, and if the QB can’t find them open downfield, he can run the ball himself. Fitzpatrick has a 5.7 average this year on his 21 carries, including two touchdowns.
Overall, it’s an offense that has potential to score, even without Locker, as demonstrated by the 27 points the Titans put up on Indianapolis in a Week 11 defeat.
Titans on Defense
Defensively, Tennessee ranks 10th in the league in yards allowed (330.2 per game), with the splits favoring the pass defense. The Titans are seventh against the pass, allowing just 213.1 yards per game in the air. On the ground, however, Tennessee is more generous. They’re surrendering the 12th-most rushing yards this season so far (117.1). Infamous safety Bernard Pollard leads the team in tackles, which is never a good thing for a defense to have someone in their secondary making so many stops, and young linebacker Colin McCarthy is on the verge of asserting himself as the new leader of this defensive unit in 2013.
Considering the Titans have lost four games by a combined 18 points, they’ve been very competitive in 2013 despite the 4-6 record they will bring to Oakland on Sunday – they have actually outscored their opponents overall this year. The Raiders should not think that coming off their road win they can just come home and repeat the success against a team with somewhat less talent than the one they just beat.
In fact, since they themselves take advantage of being underestimated, the Oakland players should not take the Tennessee Titans lightly in this Week 12 matchup if they want to keep their slim playoff dreams intact.
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Sam McPherson is a freelance writer covering all things Oakland A’s. His work can be found on Examiner.com.