Tennessee Titans: Oakland Raiders
November, 24, 2013
By ESPN.com staff | ESPN.com
Join our ESPN.com NFL experts as they break down the Tennessee Titans' visit to the Oakland Raiders. Contribute your thoughts and questions beginning at 4 p.m. ET. And, be sure to visit our NFL Nation Blitz page for commentary from every game, as well as fan photos and the latest buzz from Twitter. See you there.
November, 22, 2013
USA TODAY SportsMichael Griffin's Titans and Rashad Jennings' Raiders both come in with 4-6 marks.ALAMEDA, Calif. -- For the first time since 2004, the Tennessee Titans visit the Oakland Raiders.
Both teams are 4-6 and trying to establish their respective identities. The Titans are breaking in Ryan Fitzpatrick under center in the wake of Jake Locker's season-ending injury. The Raiders will see how undrafted rookie Matt McGloin responds in his first home start with Terrelle Pryor nursing an achy right knee and, perhaps, just as sore feelings.
ESPN.com Raiders reporter Paul Gutierrez and Titans reporter Paul Kuharsky break down the matchup:
Paul Gutierrez: Hey, Paul, the Raiders have their own issues with an injury-prone-yet-enticing member of the offensive backfield who "should" be a franchise-type player in running back Darren McFadden. He's in a contract year, though, and with each missed game -- he's missed 16 of the Raiders' past 35 games and has never played more than 13 in a season -- he seems less likely to return next year. With that in mind, what is the vibe on the Titans' purported franchise quarterback, Jake Locker, as in, is the franchise ready to roll with him going forward? And how different does the offense look with Ryan Fitzpatrick under center coming to Oakland this weekend?
Paul Kuharsky: There are a lot of variables for Locker. The Titans have to execute his option for 2015 in May to ensure he's under contract for two more years. That would come with a salary of over $13 million. I can't see them making that leap. But I expect he'll be at the front of the quarterback line in training camp in 2014 for his fourth season. He's got to show he can play as he did in the team's first four games this season and that he can stay on the field for 16 games. In his two seasons as starter, he will have missed 14 of a possible 32 starts. He's got the arm, the movement skills, great speed and can be a good decision-maker. But no one can say he's a franchise guy yet, and that's a problem after three years.
I'd expect the Titans to go forward doing what they did with Fitzpatrick against the Colts. Run a spread-out, hurry-up offense that passes to set up the run and gets the offense in a rhythm. When he doesn't turn the ball over he can be a winning quarterback, but he tends to turn it over.
How did Matt McGloin burst onto the scene and what do you think the long-term future is at the position for Dennis Allen's offense? How much of McGloin's debut was due to Houston's defense?
Gutierrez: McGloin came in for a tryout and, Allen says, it took all of three throws for the Raiders to fall in love, so to speak, and know they wanted to sign him. He entered camp as a "camp arm," the fourth-string quarterback, and by attrition has risen ... surpassing fourth-round draft pick Tyler Wilson; trade acquisition Matt Flynn, who was cut; and Terrelle Pryor, who was slowed by a sprained right knee and ineffectiveness. Truly, the Raiders are going with the hot hand of McGloin rather than the achy knee of Pryor. McGloin was impressive, even if the bar was set low, and he was helped out by short fields early -- two of his first three drives started at the Texans' 16-yard line. But the offense did bog down at times as the Raiders converted just two of their final 15 third-down conversion attempts, going 0-for-9 at one point, after converting their first three. Despite Houston now riding an eight-game losing streak, the Texans did have the top-ranked total defense in the league last week for a reason. And McGloin was more than effective against it. His receivers seemed to have trouble with the velocity on his throws early and often. We'll see if they'll settle in now.
Speaking of settling in, Raiders fans remember Kamerion Wimbley racking up 16 total sacks in two seasons and leaving for Tennessee because Oakland could not afford his salary in Reggie McKenzie's first year as GM. I see now that Wimbley has started just one game this season and has ... one sack. So, what's eating Wimbley?
Kuharsky: He wasn't a good fit from the start. The Titans had a free-agency plan in 2012 and Mario Williams was going to be their primary target. But Peyton Manning came free, owner Bud Adams told his people to pursue him, and everything else got set aside. Then the Titans missed Manning and Williams. When things calmed down, Wimbley came free and they gave him big bucks as the best available pass-rusher. But he wasn't a very good fit in their 4-3, and he's less so this year as Gregg Williams joined the staff and altered the scheme. So he's sometimes part of the nickel rush package now, and that's the extent of it. He's a low-impact guy making big money, and it's pretty much a guarantee that he will be cut loose after this season.
He and the other guys getting more time on the front four have tapered off and aren't producing consistent pressure. How's McGloin's pass protection?
Gutierrez: Well, considering he was sacked "only" twice by J.J. Watt, you could make the case that the offensive line performed admirably for McGloin in Houston last weekend. In fact, the line has been a patchwork outfit this entire season -- according to Pro Football Focus, Oakland has used 19 different combinations thus far -- and is only now getting truly healthy. Even left tackle Jared Veldheer, who underwent surgery on his left triceps in training camp, is on track to return on Thanksgiving at Dallas. Still, against the Texans, and per PFF, "McGloin's percentage of dropbacks under pressure (44.1 percent) was highest in the league this week and the raw number of pressured dropbacks (15) was fifth." It's a reason Terrelle Pryor and his mobility made more sense than Matt Flynn to open the season. Indeed, the Raiders are still searching for their identity on the offensive side of the ball.
When it comes to the Titans, then, which team are they -- the one that won three of its first four games, or the one that has lost five of six?
Kuharsky: It sure seems like B. That 3-1 record included wins at Pittsburgh and over the Chargers and Jets, two teams also vying for the sixth playoff spot. But the loss was to the miserable Texans. The 1-5 stretch included losses to tough teams -- the Chiefs, the Seahawks and the 49ers, but also to the Jaguars, who had not won before a visit to Nashville. The defense has come back to earth and the run game the team is supposed to be built around is below average. This seems like an elimination game. I think the Titans have a better roster than the Raiders. But I won't be a bit surprised if they drop another one.
How do the Raiders' results mesh with preseason expectations?
Gutierrez: Well, the ultimate goal is to win as many games as possible, right? And since the Raiders have let wins against Indianapolis, Washington and the New York Giants slip through their fingers, it's been a season chock full o' woulda, coulda, shouldas. But anyone with a lick of sense knew this was a rebuilding year. And, at 4-6, and having already equaled last season's win total while ending a 10-year streak of losing their first game after a bye week, you could say the Raiders have overachieved. Especially since, as it stands right now, the Raiders are just one game out of the AFC playoffs, sitting tight as the No. 8 seed in the six-team playoff field with the Titans right behind at No. 9. Owner Mark Davis last year said he knew that team was not a Super Bowl-caliber club, but he expected it to challenge for a playoff spot. He did not want to see regression, which was most of what he did see. Now? He wants to see progress. Beating the Titans would be a step in that direction.