NFL Preview - Washington (4-5) at Tennessee (5-4)
By Lyle Fitzsimmons, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - Go ahead, try and get a feel for the Tennessee Titans. We'll wait.
The Titans have been a maddening experience for those attempting to forecast goings-on in the AFC thus far in 2010, following up last season's topsy-turvy performance with a more subtle week-to-week shift in momentum through nine games.
Tennessee flopped out of the gate with a 0-6 start in 2009, before a red-hot 8-2 finish created both momentum and optimism for year No. 16 of the Jeff Fisher regime. This year the Titans have exchanged wins and losses through four weeks, won three straight through the middle of October, and have followed it up since with two straight in-conference defeats.
In spite of the chaos, the team still finds itself in the thick of the AFC playoff race as it hosts the Washington Redskins this Sunday at LP Field. The Titans trail first-place Indianapolis in the AFC South by just a game and are sitting an identical one game off the pace of the current front-runners for the final Wild Card in the conference, the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Tennessee has won 12 consecutive regular-season games against NFC foes, the fourth-longest interconference streak since 1970.
"Certainly we're in a good situation to start the second half of the season, knowing that all the pressure is going to come once we get in the division, so it will be an exciting second half," said Fisher."
The internal uncertainty was ratcheted up a notch prior to last week's 29-17 loss at Miami, when the Titans claimed wide receiver Randy Moss just days after he was released by the Minnesota Vikings. Tennessee is already the third stop in 2010 for the ex-Marshall star, who began the year with New England before an in-season trade back to the team that drafted him in 1998.
Moss made one catch for 26 yards against the Dolphins.
"Randy's been a good teammate and he's very popular," Fisher said of his team's new addition. "I think this is a great opportunity for him. It's a fresh start."
Meanwhile, the Redskins are proof that upheaval isn't limited to the AFC.
A few weeks after he was benched for a late-game drive, quarterback Donovan McNabb was given a vote of confidence on Monday in the form of a five-year contract extension originally reported to include $40 million in guaranteed money, though the Washington Post later claimed only $3.5 million is actually locked in.
In his first game after the deal, McNabb and his new team were throttled at home by his old one, dropping a 59-28 decision to Philadelphia on Monday.
The roller coaster has the Redskins planted firmly in third in an equally- chaotic NFC East, where the Eagles and New York Giants lead the pack at 6-3 and the disappointing Dallas Cowboys bring up the rear at 2-7.
"It's important for us to be successful, for everyone to be comfortable," McNabb said. "There's so many things that we do well. There's a lot of things that we want to do that we haven't been able to do. We look forward to showcasing that."
Tennessee leads the all-time series with Washington, 6-4, including a 25-22 road victory when the teams last met, during the 2006 season. The Redskins won the previous meeting, a 31-14 affair in Nashville in 2002. The road team has won the last three games in the series, since the Titans defeated the Redskins in Tennessee during the 1997 campaign.
Fisher is 3-1 in his career against the Redskins, but is just 1-2 in his career against Washington coach Mike Shanahan. Shanahan is 2-2 all-time against the Titans/Oilers franchise, including a loss to the Oilers in 1988 that marked the then-Los Angeles Raiders coach's initial defeat on an NFL sideline.
WHEN THE REDSKINS HAVE THE BALL
Armed with a new, albeit controversial, contract extension, McNabb threw for 295 yards and two touchdowns in Monday's primetime debacle with the Eagles. When he posts a passer rating of 100 or above, his teams are 46-2 including the playoffs. In a backfield bereft of name recognition, rookie Keiland Williams had a career-high 139 scrimmage yards (89 rushing, 50 receiving) and three touchdowns (two rushing, one receiving) in his initial career start against Philadelphia. He aims for a third straight game with a rushing touchdown and has five scores (3 rushing, 2 receiving) in his last four games. Alongside him, fellow back Ryan Torain has 225 yards (112.5 per game) and a pair of touchdowns in his two career games with 20 or more carries. Another runner, fullback Darrel Young, had his first career score on a three-yard catch last week. On the outside, wide receiver Anthony Armstrong has 20 receptions for 451 yards and averages 22.6 yards per catch, the highest in the NFL this season. He's posted six receptions for 175 yards and a 29.2-yard average in his past two games. Veteran speedster Santana Moss has 18 catches for 166 yards in his last two versus AFC foes and tight end Chris Cooley, who's tied for second in the league at his position with 42 receptions, has a 24-yard touchdown in his last matchup with the Titans.
Opportunity has knocked loudly and often for the Titans in 2010, as reflected by statistics that see them leading the AFC and tied for second in the entire league with 14 interceptions through nine games. That said, Tennessee is still allowing a generous 350.8 yards per game, which is just 19th out of 32 teams. The Titans are 25th in passing yards allowed, with a weekly clip of 247.7 on a 64.5 percent completion rate to go along with the aforementioned 14 picks and just 11 touchdowns surrendered through the air. Opposing runners have found the sledding a bit tougher, having averaged just 103.1 yards on the ground with a 3.9 yards per carry average on Tennessee's 11th-ranked run defense. Individually, cornerback Cortland Finnegan has interceptions in two of his last three games and end Dave Ball has six sacks in his last seven. Tackle Tony Brown has also been a menace of late, with three sacks in his last four outings. Linebacker Stephen Tulloch leads all Tennessee tacklers with 87 stops, including 57 solos.
WHEN THE TITANS HAVE THE BALL
He's erratic. He's flighty. But he also wins a lot. Titans quarterback Vince Young has been particularly effective in career dates with NFC opposition, having gone 12-2 as a starter. In two games this season against the other conference, the former University of Texas star has thrown three touchdowns, zero interceptions and racked up a 100.8 passer rating. Not to mention he's won at a 64-percent clip (16-9) at home in Tennessee. Behind Young is All-Pro running back Chris Johnson, who reached 100 yards for the fifth time this season and the 21st time in his career last week. He averages 104.1 yards per game against the NFC and since 2009, leads the league with 113.8 rushing yards per week. Johnson is second overall with 23 touchdowns in that stretch as well. Speaking of flighty, new teammate Randy Moss is three catches shy of Andre Reed for eighth-most in league history. Fellow wideout Nate Washington is one touchdown shy of a career-best six for the season, while tight end Bo Scaife had a season-high seven catches last week.
By the numbers, things aren't so good for the Redskins, who were admittedly not helped with their averages after a 59-point allowance to the Eagles. Washington is gashed for a weekly clip of 415.3 yards per game, dead last among the league's 32 teams, which includes a per-play average of 6.0 yards. Runners have gobbled up 128.8 of those yards per game with a 5.0 yards per carry average, while throwers have accounted for another 277.8 yards per game (31st overall) with a 64.6 completion percentage and 18 touchdowns and just nine interceptions. Individually speaking, linebacker Brian Orakpo has 5 1/2 sacks in his last five games and a more-prolific 8 1/2 in his last six contests with AFC foes. Fellow linebacker Andre Carter had a sack in his last meeting with the Titans as well. Safety LaRon Landry and linebacker London Fletcher have 85 tackles apiece to pace Washington's stop unit, while cornerback DeAngelo Hall is tops with six interceptions.
For the Redskins, Santana Moss is consistent if not spectacular and Armstrong is sometimes spectacular but rarely consistent. Tight end Cooley is one of the team's few week-in, week-out commodities on which to rely. For Tennessee, expect Johnson to put up numbers and be helped by the presence of Randy Moss, who should draw more defensive attention after another week in the Tennessee system. Elsewhere, Scaife is surging and Titans kicker Rob Bironas is a weekly stud.
The Titans are no one's ideal version of a lock, particularly after answering a three-game win streak with two straight losses, but the unit matchups here seem in their favor. Defensively, they should be able to bottle up the no-name Redskins runners and force McNabb to contend with a ball-hawking secondary, while on offense, Johnson seems a likely bet to expose a Washington defense that's had severe trouble stopping the run. Given those realities, it's hard to figure even a subpar Vince Young will do enough to sabotage a home win.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Titans 24, Redskins 14
11/18 14:34:50 ET