The Sports Xchange
Tennessee Titans (1-6) at New Orleans Saints (4-4)
Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET, at Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans – TV: CBS
*TV announcers: Kevin Harlan, Rich Gannon
*Keys to the game: Swift changes are coming to the Titans under interim coach Mike Mularkey, who has vowed to keep rookie QB Marcus Mariota “upright.” Titans quarterbacks have been sacked 28 times this season, and order No. 1 is to shuffle the offensive line. No. 2 is to emphasize the ground game, with Antonio Andrews starting over Bishop Sankey. Third is likely to be a steady diet of short drops and quick passes. That’s the best bet for Mariota to pepper the Saints’ 29th-ranked pass defense and keep the chains moving. He’ll need an immediate connection with WR Harry Douglas, who returns from a two-game absence due to a rib injury only to likely replace Kendall Wright (knee).
That last part is critical with Saints QB Drew Brees coming off a seven-touchdown outing against the Giants. The Titans have a far superior pass defense, ranked third in the NFL in part due to opponents grinding out big leads. But the defense overall has been solid with 18 sacks and allowing 4.3 yards per carry. Brees is on a roll with nine touchdowns during New Orleans’ three-game winning streak, but he has been sacked 17 times and will put a few balls up for grabs. The Titans have to capitalize and win the turnover battle to stand any chance of being in shouting distance come the fourth quarter.
*Matchup to watch – Titans CB Perrish Cox vs. Saints WR Brandin Cooks: Cox is expected to return after missing the past two-plus games with a hamstring injury and could be tasked with shadowing Cook, who is finally emerging as the big-play threat the Saints envisioned. He has 41 catches for 532 yards and three touchdown on the season, and has 80-plus yards in three of the past four games.
*Player spotlight – Titans RB Antonio Andrews: Mularkey anointed Andrews and his 3.7-yard average per-carry as the starter over Sankey (4.1), although both should see significant snaps with a stronger emphasis on the run. A second-year player out of Western Kentucky, Andrews isn’t going to outrun many defensive backs but his 5-10, 225-pound frame can be a valuable force in short-yardage situations.
*Fast facts: Coach Ken Whisenhunt was 3-20 as the Titans’ head coach before being fired Tuesday. … Saints DE Cameron Jordan 5.0 sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery in his past three games and 15 sacks in his past 19 home games.
WHO WILL WIN AND WHY
As horrid as the Titans’ season has been unfolding, the defense has talent and will be aided by interim coach Mike Mularkey focusing on the ground game and pass protection. That good enough to leave New Orleans with a hard-fought but still-thorough defeat.
*Our pick: Saints 30-20.