Cowboys-Titans: Teams in similar situations face off

The Sports Xchange

November 03, 2018 at 7:55 pm.

Oct 21, 2018; Landover, MD, USA; Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott (4) drops back to pass against the Washington Redskins during the second half at FedEx Field. Photo Credit: Scott Taetsch-USA TODAY Sports

Oct 21, 2018; Landover, MD, USA; Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott (4) drops back to pass against the Washington Redskins during the second half at FedEx Field. Photo Credit: Scott Taetsch-USA TODAY Sports

Two teams in similar situations will meet at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, on Sunday when the Tennessee Titans face the Dallas Cowboys.

Both teams are 3-4. Both teams are coming off byes. Both teams lost their most recent game by close scores.

The Cowboys are coming off a 20-17 loss to the Washington Redskins that ended with a missed 52-yard field-goal attempt by kicker Brett Maher. And that followed a controversial, 5-yard, illegal-snap penalty.

But the Cowboys signaled during the bye week that they still believe they are playoff contenders as they sacrificed a first-round draft pick to acquire wide receiver Amari Cooper from the Oakland Raiders.

“We’re always trying to get better,” Dallas head coach Jason Garrett said. “We believe very strongly in our team. We have a young football team. We’ve played some close games here in the early part of the season. We won one of them, we lost a couple of them. We’re going to learn from those experiences and keep going.”

In Cooper, the Cowboys have a player who was the fourth overall pick in the 2015 draft and had more than 1,000 receiving yards each of his first two seasons.

He has just 22 receptions for 280 yards this season, but the Cowboys hope he can return to the production he had in 2015 and 2016, when he was named to the Pro Bowl.

Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescot has just eight touchdown passes, including one against the Redskins. But Cooper gives him a deep threat to complement Cole Beasley, who leads the team with 33 receptions for 350 yards.

The Titans will present a challenge because they rank ninth in the NFL in pass defense, even though they have just 15 sacks.

Tennessee is also pretty good against the run, allowing just 4.1 yards per carry. Nonetheless, the Cowboys presumably will feed the ball to running back Ezekiel Elliott, who ranks third in the NFL in rushing at 88.4 yards per game while averaging 4.7 yards per attempt.

Dallas fired offensive line coach Paul Alexander this week and assistant offensive line coach Marc Colombo has been promoted to Alexander’s position. The Cowboys also hired longtime NFL offensive line coach Hudson Houck as an advisor.

“This team is going about it the right way,” Garrett said. “They’re working hard, they’re competing and I think they’re getting better week by week.”

The Cowboys’ biggest advantage may be the venue. Although Dallas is 0-4 on the road, it is 3-0 at home.

The Titans, meanwhile, are 1-3 on the road, although their most recent game — a 20-19 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers, which counted as a road game — was actually played in London.

A missed two-point conversion with 31 seconds left cost Tennessee the game.

Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota passed for 237 yards, one touchdown and one interception in that game. He also led Tennessee on the 89-yard touchdown drive in the closing minutes that gave the Titans a chance to win, although most of the yardage in that possession came on the ground.

The Titans are hoping for more from Mariota, who has thrown just one touchdown pass in the past three games and only three in the six games he has played this season. He has thrown more interceptions (five) than TD passes.

An elbow injury might be part of the problem.

Mariota celebrated his 25th birthday on Tuesday by shedding the half glove on his throwing hand. Mariota has worn the glove since the elbow injury in the season opener at Miami caused some of the fingers in his throwing hand to go numb. Mariota missed just one game and came off the bench in another due to the injury.

Mariota said that the feeling has returned to his hand, following the nerve injury to his elbow.

“Yes. I’ve been able to practice (without the glove). It feels good. It feels better,” Mariota said.

Corey Davis is their leading receiver with 30 catches and 395 receiving yards but he had just 10 receiving yards in the loss to the Chargers.

The Titans miss tight end Delanie Walker, who has not played a game this season because of a severe ankle injury. He was named to the Pro Bowl for the third straight season in 2017, when he had 74 catches for 807 yards.

The Titans’ other three tight ends — Luke Stocker, Jonnu Smith and Anthony Firkser — have combined for just 14 total receptions in seven games thus far.

“Obviously losing myself and what I did with the team makes it noticeable to everyone out there. I try to tell them don’t listen to what’s going on and what people are saying,” Walker said of his teammates. “At the end of the day, you’ve got to play your game. They all know how to play it. They wouldn’t be here if they didn’t. Just be confident in yourself and go out there and make the plays that you can.”

Derrick Henry was expected to be an effective runner this season for Tennessee, but he had just 33 yards on 12 attempts against the Chargers. He has 273 yards on 84 carries for an average of 3.5 yards per attempt this season.

These are the reasons Tennessee ranks 30th in the NFL in total offense and 31st in scoring (15.1 points per game).

The Titans rely on their defense, and the key on that side is defensive lineman Jurrell Casey. He leads the Titans with 3.5 sacks, and already has 33 tackles this season, including 22 solo stops.