It's now or never for the Tennessee Titans after losing two winnable matchups against division rivals and five of their last six games. Thanks to the mediocrity of the AFC, the Titans are still very much in the playoff picture despite their play.
But they cannot afford to lose games to opponents with similar, or worse, records anymore. The Oakland Raiders (4-6) are the next opponent on the schedule and absolutely cannot be overlooked. Entering Week 12, the Raiders hold the tiebreak over Tennessee due to a better record in conference play.
The Raiders offense is in a state of flux with the possibility of new permanent starters at both running back and quarterback. Changes or not, the Titans will need to make certain strides to improve in certain areas of play and maintain their level of play in others.
Stick to Offensive Identity
During the games against the Colts, the Titans went with an empty backfield on three 3rd-and-short situations. As a team that made a point of improving the running game, the Titans need to start proving they can run the ball when they want.
The Titans haven't been able to assert their dominance on a team with a strong running game on a consistent basis this season. Despite the strong start on the ground against the Colts on Thursday, Johnson and Greene were bottled up late in the game when it mattered most.
Chris Spencer will likely start another game at center with Brian Schwenke still limited in practice. He's proven to be a capable reserve so far, but with the Raiders possessing the sixth-best run defense, Tennessee will need more from him and the rest of the offensive line.
While it won't be necessary for the Titans to put up gaudy numbers with their rushing attack, it will be vital that the running game is able to gain tough yards when needed. The play of David Stewart has slipped mightily this season, as exemplified by his -7.3 score on Pro Football Focus (subscription required) and his 67th-place ranking. It will be imperative that the team run to the left side of the line in key situations to keep drives alive.
Limit Potent Ground Game
As strong as the Raiders are in their run defense, their own rushing attack is better with a ranking of fifth overall. Terrelle Pryor has been a big part of improving the team's ranking in the category with 504 rushing yards this season.
However, the Raiders have declined to name their starting quarterback for the upcoming game. Despite Pryor's absence, Rashad Jennings rushed for 150 yards on 22 carries. Obviously the potential for Oakland to dominate on the ground exists with or without Pryor.
The Titans allowed the Indianapolis Colts to essentially end their game with an 11-play drive, featuring 10 runs, for a touchdown capped by an 11-yard run by Donald Brown. Tennessee must get better effort from its front seven.
Akeem Ayers will be a key part of Tennessee's effort to slow the Raiders' rushing attack. He graded out as a +3.4 in run defense against the Colts on Pro Football Focus and was one of only two players to score positively in the game. Zach Brown has been awful all season in run defense, rating -8.4 for the year.
Tennessee will need the defensive line to do a better job of holding up blockers to keep the linebackers free longer and improving their chances of filling gaps in the defense. It's too late into the year to expect a drastic change in the category this season, but the Titans cannot allow the kind of back-breaking drive the Colts pulled off to happen again.
Keep Fitzpatrick on Course
Ryan Fitzpatrick has been far from his typically interception-prone self since taking over as the starting quarterback for the remainder of the season. In two weeks, he's completed 72 percent of his passes for 489 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions.
There's no reason to suspect his recent trend to change against a meager Oakland pass defense that has allowed an average of 253 yards per game. The Titans featured a passing game heavy in short crossing routes on Thursday to take advantage of Fitzpatrick's weak arm strength but superior accuracy.
The Titans will need to feature the same type of attack, but sprinkle in more downfield attacks to keep the defense honest. The concussion suffered by Justin Hunter may have limited the team's plans to do so against the Colts, but Tennessee will need to throw deep regardless against the Raiders.
|Ryan Fitzpatrick 2013 Starts|
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