Drew Brees and the offense look to pick up where they left off against the Giants last week. Image by Kelly Bailey [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Good morning, folks. As we enter the second half of the 2015 NFL season, the New Orleans Saints have built up the hope that the playoffs are very much within the realm of possibility, despite a shaky start. They sit at 4-4, having won four of their last five games. Lining up on the other side of the field from them today will be the 1-6 Tennessee Titans, who are trending in the opposite direction. After winning their season opener, the Titans have lost six straight games and just this week fired Head Coach Ken Whisenhunt. Mike Mularkey has taken over as the interim head coach in the mean time, stepping up from his previous role of tight ends coach. Mularkey has been a head coach for three seasons in his career, with the most recent being in 2012 when he had a one year stint with the Jacksonville Jaguars and led them to a 2-14 record.

Saints Offense vs. Titans Defense

Saints Team Offense

  • Total offense: 422.4 yards per game (2nd in NFL)
  • Scoring offense: 26.6 points per game (T-6th)
  • Pass offense: 323.1 yards per game (3rd)
  • Rush offense: 99.3 yards per game (T-21st)

Titans Team Defense

  • Total defense: 316.6 yards allowed per game (5th in NFL)
  • Scoring defense: 22.7 points per game (14th)
  • Pass defense: 197.9 yards per game (3rd)
  • Rush defense: 118.7 yards per game (21st)

Pass Offense

Coming off of a seven touchdown, 505 yard performance against the New York Giants, there is not much more to say other than that Drew Brees and his passing offense have found their groove. Brees ranks 3rd in the NFL, averaging 339 yards per game, while throwing for 15 touchdowns and 6 interceptions. Brandin Cooks, Willie Snead, and Ben Watson have become his top three targets, who are all coming off of big games a week ago. Cooks leads the team in receptions and yards, while sitting tied for the lead with three touchdowns with both of the other two aforementioned players. Along with their three touchdowns a piece, Cooks has 41 receptions for 532 yards, Snead has 35 receptions for 531 yards, and Watson has 38 receptions for 472 yards. Brees’ pass protection has played much better than early on in the season, allowing just three sacks during the current three game winning streak. For comparison, in his first four games of the season, Brees was brought down for 14 sacks.

The pass defense for the Titans has been their best facet of their team through their rough first half of the season. Any time you are holding opponents under 200 yards passing a game, you are doing something right. They have only sacked opposing quarterbacks 18 times, which is tied for 14th in the league. The ability to hold opposing quarterbacks to such low yardage through the air while being a middle of the road pass rushing team speaks volumes to how well the coverage has been for this team. Coty Sensabaugh has the team leading two interceptions, but their other six have come from six different players. Safety Michael Griffin and cornerbacks Perrish Cox and Jason McCourty are a few of the other names that make up what is an underrated secondary, though McCourty is questionable to play with a groin injury. Nearly half of their sacks have come from just two players, with Derrick Morgan providing 4.5 and Jurrell Casey adding in 4.0 of them.

This should make for one of the most interesting match-ups of the game. The Saints are starting to click, while the Titans have quietly been very solid against the pass. Without much of a big threat rushing Brees, the offensive line should be expected to keep their quarterback up right. Tennessee’s cornerbacks have played well, so Cooks and Snead, among others, will have their work cut out for them if they want to produce. The Titans are ranked 18th in the NFL in production allowed to tight ends, so Watson may be able to sustain his recent success.

Rush Offense

As the rushing offense has also slowly gotten better and better, they took a hit with the loss of Khiry Robinson. Robinson broke his tibia in last Sunday’s victory over the Giants and was placed on injured reserve. Tim Hightower was brought back to replace him, who spent all of training camp and preseason with the team. Mark Ingram will now shoulder even more of the load that he normally does, which is not a concern, especially considering that Ingram is a running back who feeds off of more carries to get on a roll. He’s got the 10th most rushing yards in the NFL with 530, while rushing for five touchdowns and an average of 4.5 yards per carry. Also look for C.J. Spiller to see a few more carries per game, as he has seen just 20 of them so far.

As good as the Titans have been on the defensive side of the ball, the run defense has struggled the most. Sitting at 21st in the league, teams have had more success rushing the ball than throwing. Looking at Tennessee’s record, one could also assume that their higher averages allowed for yards on the ground than through the air could also be affected by the opposing team mostly playing with the lead. The Titans are seeing more rushing attempts against them than passing attempts, because of those situations. Regardless, they seem to be susceptible on the ground. Inside linebacker Zach Brown leads the team with 46 tackles, while fellow inside linebacker Wesley Woodyard follows closely behind with 40 of his own. Michael Griffin also does a nice job in run support from his free safety position, sitting at third on the team with 36 tackles.

It is hard to imagine a Sean Payton coached team game plan primarily to run the ball, but if they were ever to do it, this could be one of those games where they give a concerted effort to establish a consistent rushing attack for the day. There is no doubt that Brees and the passing unit will come out firing like they always do in the Superdome, but Payton will likely want to get Ingram going early to control the scoreboard and clock and prevent an inferior team from hanging around. With the favorable match-up and increased work load, I see this being Ingram’s second 100 yard rushing day of the season.

Saints Defense vs. Titans Offense

Saints Team Defense

  • Total defense: 406.3 yards allowed per game (31st in NFL)
  • Scoring defense: 29.3 points per game (30th)
  • Pass defense: 282.4 yards per game (29th)
  • Rush defense: 123.9 yards per game (24th)

Titans Team Offense

  • Total offense: 309.9 yards per game (31st)
  • Scoring offense: 17.9 points per game (31st)
  • Pass offense: 209.7 yards per game (28th)
  • Rush offense: 100.1 yards per game (19th)

Pass Defense

What is there to say after giving up 350 yards passing and six touchdowns without forcing one turnover from the opposing quarterback? The Saints did sack Eli Manning three times a week ago, but that and Jairus Byrd’s strip and fumble recovery on a back up tight end were about the only silver-linings coming out of that performance. On a positive note, Cam Jordan has gone from non-existent through the first quarter of the season to monster over the past four games. His 6.0 sacks are tied for 7th in the NFL, but frequent pressure has also been key. Delvin Breaux still leads the team with 10 passes defended, but struggled against Odell Beckham Jr a week ago. Speaking of struggling, Brandon Browner was flagged four times last week, adding to his season total of 15 penalties, which leads the league. Back to the pass rush, Kasim Edebali quietly sits with the second most sacks on the team with 3.0 of his own.

Marcus Mariota could eventually lead a prolific offense in the NFL, but that time is not now. The rookie is set to return to action for the first time today after missing the past two games with a sprained MCL. He has averaged 248 yards per game, while throwing 9 touchdowns and 5 interceptions and completing 64.0% of his passes. Tight end Delanie Walker leads the team with 35 receptions and 361 yards, while adding in a touchdown. Mariota will be without his top wide receiver, as Kendall Wright is out for today with a knee injury. Justin Hunter will be the team’s leading wide receiver to take the field with only 15 receptions for 200 yards. Watch for dynamic running back Dexter McCluster to be a receiving threat out of the backfield and possibly even out of the slot to fill in for Wright.

On their heels following getting gashed by Manning last Sunday, this match-up is about as friendly as it can get for the struggling defense. Tennessee is lacking any semblance of a threat in the passing game, while also struggling to protect whoever lines up under center. Mariota was sacked 19 times in his five game played, while backup quarterback Zach Mettenberger was sacked 9 times during his action on the field. Those 28 sacks allowed are tied for 4th worst in the league. Despite the fact that the Saints will be without pass rushing specialist Hau’oli Kikaha, Jordan, Edebali, and some others should have chances to make their presence felt against Mariota.

Rush Defense

New Orleans’ ability to hold the lead for majority of the past three games has really played a key role in helping stop their opponents from racking up yardage on the ground against them. Devonte Freeman, Frank Gore, and Rashad Jennings each saw themselves in similar situations over the past three games, simply not being able to receive more carries due to their team playing catch up. The Saints have been gashed on the ground, but have been fortunate to not have to defend a steady rushing attack since the game against the Philadelphia Eagles four weeks ago. I am sure everyone remembers how that turned out, right? Stephone Anthony remains the team’s leader with 56 tackles after his first eight games in his rookie season, while also adding five tackles for a loss. Kenny Vaccaro’s improved play in 2015 seats him in the second spot on the team’s tackling totals with 49. As much as he has struggled with penalties in coverage, Brandon Browner has secretly played extremely well in run support, providing 40 tackles for the third most on the team.

The Titans have struggled to figure out how to get in to a groove on the ground thanks to a few factors. First, they have been playing from behind in every single game since the season opener. Second, it has taken a while for any one to take charge of the starting running back position. Bishop Sankey had the first crack at the job heading in to his second NFL season, but he has since been replaced by Antonio Andrews, who told the media that he was told following their loss to the Houston Texans last week that he is the starter from here on out. Andrews only has 202 yards rushing and two touchdowns this season, while putting up a shotty 3.5 yards per carry average.

Against a struggling offensive line and what has been a revolving door at running back, if the Saints cannot figure out a way to slow down the Titans on the ground, I am not sure who they can stop. Despite their struggles, I do not envision Rob Ryan’s defense allowing this offense to run the ball with as much success as we have seen other teams have against them. Hopefully the offense can put points on the board and this facet of the Tennessee offense will be completely nullified.


Because of the good play of the Titans defense, many have been worried about this game and see it as a trap game. I am not particularly worried about this one. This team has been tough to predict this year, but it appears as if they have slowly morphed back in to the team we have always known and we can have a better idea of what to anticipate. As for this one, I anticipate the Saints’ largest victory of the year. Here’s to hoping I am right!

Prediction: Saints-34, Titans-13

Enjoy the game and…Who Dat?!