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NFL Preview - Philadelphia (4-2) at Tennessee (4-2)
By Shawn Clarke, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - A pair of teams with hobbled playmakers collide Sunday afternoon in the Music City, where the Tennessee Titans host the Philadelphia Eagles at LP Field.
Both teams are tied for first place in their respective divisions, as the Titans sit even with Indianapolis and Houston in the AFC South and Philadelphia is currently tied with the New York Giants atop the NFC East standings.
Tennessee lost quarterback Vince Young to knee and ankle injuries in Monday night's 30-3 rout of the division-rival Jacksonville Jaguars, and he is listed as day-to-day. Head coach Jeff Fisher was unsure whether Young will practice, but also stated that the elusive quarterback understands the offense and that missing practice wouldn't spoil his chances of playing Sunday.
"He's got a good feel for what we're doing," Fisher said. "Again, we'll keep you informed as best we can. It's not unrealistic that if he misses a couple days of practice that he still can play. I think he's got a good chance."
With a short week ahead of them, the Titans had just a walk-through practice on Wednesday.
Young completed 3-of-5 passes for 61 yards and one touchdown -- a 23-yard strike to Kenny Britt to open the scoring -- before exiting in the first quarter. He still got credit for the win and joined Steve McNair, Warren Moon, Dan Pastorini and George Blanda as the only quarterbacks to win 30 games with the franchise.
Veteran backup Kerry Collins, who's also familiar with Fisher's philosophies, came on in relief to throw for 110 yards and a score on 11-of-16 passing. He is battling a middle finger injury, but is ready to go if Young isn't.
The Titans have won two in a row and three of their last four games, and got defensive in the win against the Jaguars. They forced four turnovers and received interceptions from safeties Vincent Fuller and Michael Griffin and rookie cornerback Alterraun Verner. Linebacker Stephen Tulloch recovered a fumble against the Jaguars, one week after intercepting a pass at Dallas, while the defense suffocated Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew to the tune of 57 yards on 17 carries.
Tennessee has won four in a row on the road and is returning to LP Field, where it is just 1-2 this season. Speaking of streaks, the Titans have won 11 in a row against teams from the NFC and haven't lost a non-conference game since a 13-10 setback at Tampa Bay on Oct. 14, 2007. After Sunday's tilt, they will pay a visit to San Diego on Oct. 31 before entering the bye week.
Philadelphia has won all three of its road games this season and is aiming to make it four straight in Tennessee. The team recorded its second straight victory overall with Sunday's 31-17 home triumph over the Atlanta Falcons, which was tempered by the loss of Pro Bowl receiver DeSean Jackson. The speedy wideout absorbed a devastating hit by Falcons defensive back Dunta Robinson, who was subsequently fined $50,000 by the league for the vicious hit.
Jackson is out this week after sustaining a concussion and has caught 19 passes for 395 yards and three touchdowns this season for Philadelphia, which will enter its bye following this week's game.
The Eagles have a unique situation at quarterback with Kevin Kolb and Michael Vick. Kolb was named starter in the offseason, was knocked out of a Week 1 loss to Green Bay with a concussion and Vick took over barking signals. Head coach Andy Reid then named Vick the starter following a Week 2 win at Detroit until he got hurt in a loss to Washington on Oct.3, forcing Kolb back under center for wins over San Francisco and Atlanta.
With Vick still on the mend from cracked rib cartilage, Reid is going with Kolb for this weekend's tilt in Tennessee. Vick will be resting his injuries through the bye week before the team returns to action on Nov. 7 versus Indianapolis.
At that time the quarterback carousel may begin spinning on its axis again. Kolb threw for 326 yards and three touchdowns with an interception versus the Falcons, earning NFC Player of the Week honors.
"I have to take it one week at a time, and continue to prepare like the starter," Kolb said. "And that way I'm ready when my name's called. Whatever (Reid) decides, he decides. It's just my job to play good football and get another win. That's our focus week in and week out."
Kolb has thrown for 579 yards and four touchdowns over the past two games.
The Eagles lead the all-time regular season series with the Titans, 6-2, but have lost in each of their last three meetings with Tennessee. The Titans were 31-13 road winners when the clubs last met, in 2006, in a game best remembered for the season-ending injury suffered by Philadelphia quarterback Donovan McNabb. The Titans were 27-24 winners in the only previous meeting between the teams in Tennessee, during the 2002 campaign. The Eagles' last win in the series came against the then-Houston Oilers, at Veterans Stadium in 1994, and their last road victory in the series came at the Astrodome in 1991.
Fisher is 3-0 in his career against the Eagles, while Reid is 0-3 against both Fisher and the Titans as a head coach. Fisher is a former Eagles defensive coordinator (1989-90), and spent five years (1986-90) with the organization under Buddy Ryan.
WHEN THE EAGLES HAVE THE BALL
The Eagles are rated in the top 10 of every major offensive category and are hoping to keep their productive ways alive. They racked up 474 yards of offense against the Falcons, as Kolb (804 passing yards, 5 TD, 2 INT) picked apart Atlanta's secondary, which entered the game with 10 picks by the defensive backfield. Kolb is aiming for his third straight passer rating of 100 or better. Philadelphia will not have Jackson (19 receptions, 395 yards, 3 TD) in the lineup, but that should open up more opportunities for Jeremy Maclin (25 receptions, 416 yards, 6 TD), who leads the team in receiving yards and touchdowns. The team didn't miss a beat with the former Missouri star taking over as the top target. Maclin finished with seven catches for a career-best 159 yards and two scores, including an 83-yard bomb, in last week's win. The Eagles have been playing well despite having a patchwork offensive line. King Dunlap got the start at left tackle for the injured Jason Peters and was part of a unit that allowed only one sack, of which Kolb took the blame for, last week. Dunlap could be in line for his second start on Sunday, with Peters' status questionable. Running back LeSean McCoy (429 rushing yards, 5 TD) continued to impress while playing with a cracked rib last week, and also leads the team with 32 receptions totaling 239 yards.
Tennessee is coming off a rugged defensive showing on Monday night, as it held the Jaguars to 249 net yards, the second-lowest total by a Titans opponent this season (127 vs. Pittsburgh on Sept. 19). Jacksonville also struggled on third downs, going 3-for-13. Forcing a season-best four turnovers usually helps a defense, and the Titans may need to do that again to contain a soaring Eagles offense. The Titans are seventh in points allowed (16.3), eighth in run defense (97.5 ypg) and 16th in yards surrendered (328.5 ypg). Griffin (42 tackles, 3 INT) is second on the team in stops and came away with his 14th career interception on Monday. He and defensive backs Chris Hope (37 tackles, sack, 1 INT) and Cortland Finnegan (31 tackles, 1 sack) will have to be at their best against Maclin, McCoy and tight end Brent Celek. But with Jackson out because of a concussion, coverage schemes should be a lot easier this week. Tennessee has always been a stout run defender under Fisher, who's been lucky to have talented linebackers in his system. Leading tackler Stephen Tulloch (59 tackles, INT) is one of them. He had a game-high eight stops Monday and also registered his fourth career fumble recovery. The middle linebacker also sealed a win over the Cowboys the previous week with an interception in the waning moments.
WHEN THE TITANS HAVE THE BALL
All-Pro running back Chris Johnson (596 rushing yards, 7 TD) is the heart of Tennessee's offense for obvious reasons. He ran for more than 2,000 yards last year and currently ranks second in the NFL with 596 rushing yards. Johnson has helped the Titans to the second-highest scoring output in the league at 27.0 points per game and ran for 111 yards and a score versus Jacksonville. He has eclipsed the 100-yard rushing mark four times in 2010 and needs 170 rushing yards to become the fourth player in franchise history to reach 4,000 for his career, joining Eddie George, Earl Campbell and Lorenzo White. Johnson has hit the 100-yard mark seven straight times against NFC foes and owns 16 touchdowns on the ground in 10 career non-conference games. He makes life a lot easier on an offensive line which has helped Tennessee to the third-best ground attack in the NFL, averaging 140.7 yards per game. Young (745 passing yards, 7 TD, 2 INT) hopes to play Sunday and is off to a hot start at quarterback. He has completed 61.4 percent of his passes and ranks fourth in the AFC with a passer rating of 98.8. He is 12-2 as a starter against NFC opponents. Wide receiver Nate Washington (16 receptions, 3 TD), Britt (16 receptions, 4 TD) and tight end Bo Scaife (16 receptions, 2 TD) are all tied for the team lead in catches and have been on the opposite end of all nine of the Titans' touchdown passes.
Atlanta came into Philadelphia averaging almost 150 yards per game on the ground and left with only 65 rushing yards for the day. Philadelphia's defense suffocated Falcons bowling ball-type running back Michael Turner, who ended with 45 yards on 15 carries. The Eagles hope to do the same against Johnson, but it's going to be tough. Johnson is arguably the fastest man in the NFL, but can't do much when he's cornered. Philadelphia is still just 22nd in run defense, allowing 115.7 yards per game. Rookie safety Nate Allen (23 tackles, 1 sack, 3 INT) has impressed this season and ended with five stops on Sunday. He will occasionally help out at the line to stuff the run as well as on blitz packages, which he can expect to do more of against Tennessee. With tackle Brodrick Bunkley still out with an injured elbow, Antonio Dixon (8 tackles, sack) and Mike Patterson (13 tackles) will continue to plug the lanes. Cornerback Asante Samuel (17 tackles, 2 INT) came away with a pick last week for an Eagles defense ranked ninth against the pass. The Titans tend to run more, but may change it up to throw the Eagles off. Philadelphia is still waiting for linebacker Ernie Sims (22 tackles, 1 sack) to step up after a promising training camp.
Johnson is a fantasy stud and will prove it once again this weekend. The only other Tennessee players worth starting are Washington and Britt if the Eagles slack off a bit in pass coverage. Dealing with Johnson tends to do that for opposing defenses. As for Philly, Kolb and Maclin have built a strong rapport with each other and it doesn't appear to end anytime soon. McCoy is a must- start every week with his ability to run and catch passes, much like his mentor Brian Westbrook from years past. Celek wasn't involved much in the offense against the Falcons, but could be in line for a score or two Sunday.
Tennessee is playing great right now on both sides of the football, especially against the NFC East. The Titans have already beaten both the Cowboys and Giants in high-scoring affairs and look to extend their winning streak against non-conference foes to 12 games. Johnson has been held in check just twice this season, in losses to Pittsburgh and Denver. The writing is on the wall for the Eagles: stop Johnson and win the game. In Tennessee's two losses this season, Johnson has been a no-show, while the Eagles have turned away both San Francisco's Frank Gore and Turner in back-to-back contests. Philadelphia has given up a few big plays this season, something Johnson has been able to do on a weekly basis. The Eagles will try to keep the Titans' MVP candidate under 100 yards on the ground, exposing their pass defense in the process.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Titans 23, Eagles 21
10/21 16:59:07 ET
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