ReFo: Cardinals @ Titans, Week 15
In what has seemingly become the norm in the NFL, the Tennessee Titans provided their own version of late-game heroics by erasing a 17-point deficit against the Arizona Cardinals with about six minutes to play. The late surge was aided by an onside kick recovery before quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick capped off the comeback with a 54-yard drive to send the game into overtime.
It looked as if Tennessee would continue their momentum on the first possession of the final period, but Fitzpatrick and wide receiver Mike Preston were not on the same page and Fitzpatrick took a shot from backup safety Tony Jefferson, leading to an errant throw that was picked off by cornerback Antoine Cason. Just a few plays later, running back Rashard Mendenhall’s 15-yard run put Arizona in field goal range and kicker Jay Feely nailed a 41-yarder to help them escape with the 37-34 win.
It was just another example of the wild second half of NFL action as no game appears to be out of reach. For the Cardinals, the win was extremely important as they move to 9-5 on the season to keep pace with the intense NFC playoff picture. On the other side, the Titans fall to 5-9, but not without an unforgettable comeback in front of their home crowd.
Here’s a look at the game’s key performances.
Arizona – Three Performances of Note
When watching the Cardinals, it’s obvious that they’ve recognized rookie RB Andre Ellington (+2.9) as one of their top playmakers, and he continues to come through. He lined up all over the formation on his 29 snaps including 17 at running back, five at wide receiver, six in the slot, and even one at tight end. When in the backfield, he rushed for 71 yards on 10 carries while forcing two missed tackles. As a receiver, he showed his versatility running a rare corner route out of the backfield at the 8:14 mark of the first quarter as he broke away from LB Zach Brown and avoided a tackle from CB Jason McCourty on his way to a 26-yard gain. He made plays from the slot as well, running the post at the 3:41 mark of the third quarter and juking free safety Michael Griffin for the 38-yard gain. Ellington finished the day with 87 yards through the air to go with his 71 on the ground as he continues to prove that he is one of Arizona’s key playmakers.
Defensive Ends Stand Out
It should come as no surprise to see DE Calais Campbell among the game’s best players, but fellow defensive end Darnell Dockett joined him this week. Campbell graded at +5.5 on the day as he was once again Arizona’s best pass rusher while Dockett’s +2.7 grade stemmed largely from his work in the running game. Campbell picked up five hurries and two QB hits on his 57 rushes. He did some of his finest work in the fourth quarter and overtime as he beat right tackle David Stewart twice in less than two seconds to get a hit on Fitzpatrick, though one became a roughing the passer penalty. He moved all along the line, however, picking up at least one pressure against each of the five linemen. As for Dockett, he notched six tackles including three stops in the running game. He had his way with Stewart throughout the first half, knifing inside him to get in on tackles and even preventing him from getting to the second level to open the gap for a linebacker on another play. He later forced a holding penalty on rookie right guard Chance Warmack with 2:09 to go in the third quarter, a play that eventually led to a punt. Despite giving up 34 points Sunday, the Cardinals’ defensive front did their job once again.
As was pointed out on the broadcast, the Titans were not shy about targeting CB Patrick Peterson, particularly at crunch time. While he’s had a fantastic season, Sunday was not his best as he graded at -5.2 in coverage surrendering nine catches on 10 targets for 146 yards including the game-tying score at the end of the fourth. While WR Kendall Wright did the most damage against Peterson catching six of seven passes for 96 yards, he was also the culprit of some big plays against other Tennessee receivers. Nate Washington beat him on the deep post on the second play from scrimmage in overtime for a 33-yard gain that would have proven to be a huge play had the Titans not turned the ball over on the very next snap. Peterson was also in coverage on the aforementioned game-tying touchdown as WR Mike Preston beat him on the in-route for the 8-yard score. The only incompletion thrown Peterson’s way was a drop by Wright on what would have been a first down. When Tennessee needed to move the chains, they looked Peterson’s way throughout the game, and they did so with success more often than not.
Tennessee– Three Performances of Note
Casey Continues Pro Bowl Push
As Tennessee’s season continues its downward spiral after a promising start, the one player who continues to play at a high level is DT Jurrell Casey. He came into the game as one of the league’s most feared interior pass rushers and he delivered once again grading at +4.4 overall including +3.7 as a rusher. He picked up two sacks and three hurries on his 27 rushes while adding three stops in the running game. When discussing sacks here at PFF, we often use the caveat that they don’t always tell the entire story and can often be team-based, but that wasn’t the case on Casey’s two sacks on Sunday. He dominated right guard Paul Fanaika for his first, pressuring the quarterback in less than two seconds with 1:20 to go in the second quarter. He then capped the first half with another sack, this time splitting it with SS Bernard Pollard, but Casey was the first to arrive in the backfield after beating center Lyle Sendlein. Casey’s 11 sacks on the season lead all defensive tackles and he’s currently our No. 3 rated pass rusher at the position at +28.4.
Wright Emerges as Top Playmaker
As mentioned above, Wright had his way with Peterson, but that was only part of the story as he notched career-highs in targets (19), receptions (12), and yards (150). Of his 12 receptions, eight went for first downs, including all six when matched up against Peterson. He was the Titans’ go-to guy throughout the fourth quarter, including back-to-back plays with 44 seconds to go in the game as he helped set up the game-tying score. He sifted his way through Arizona’s zone on the deep crossing route, catching Fitzpatrick’s pass and making a nice cut on CB Javier Arenas for the 26-yard gain. He then ran an almost identical route, this time against Peterson’s man coverage, making the catch in traffic inside the 10-yard line for 20 yards. It was a banner day for Wright, he proved he can be the Titans’ top target and it was just another step toward realizing the potential of his first-round pedigree.
Leaky Up Font
It wasn’t the cleanest game for the Tennessee offensive line, particularly at center and on the right side. Rookie center Brian Schwenke graded at -1.7 as a pass blocker due to his surrendering five hurries on 68 attempts. Warmack had his issues in pass protection as well, surrendering a sack to outside linebacker Matt Shaughnessy on a stunt in the middle of the fourth quarter to go with two other hurries. He also got pancaked as the lead blocker in the run game at the 11:18 mark of the first quarter as LB Daryl Washington put him on the ground. Finally, Stewart was the worst of the bunch grading at -2.1, as he gave up the two quick pressures from Campbell to go with three other hurries. He also had his aforementioned struggles in the running game against Dockett, while providing few positive blocks. Overall it wasn’t a great day up front for the Titans, though pass blocking 68 times compared to only 18 rushing attempts certainly didn’t do them any favors.
– Cardinals’ QB Carson Palmer only attempted one pass of at least 20 yards in the air and he did not complete it.
– Fitzpatrick went 16-for-22 for 198 yards, two touchdowns, an interception and a +2.5 PFF Grade against the blitz. He graded at -0.9 against a traditional rush.
– Daryl Washington was a force in coverage picking up all five of his stops in the passing game while deflecting two passes.
PFF Game Ball
Calais Campbell was the biggest impact player on the field with seven pressures and a +5.5 overall grade.
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