GLENDALE, Ariz. — The Tennessee Titans never have played at University of Phoenix Stadium, home of the Arizona Cardinals. Their quarterback has, though.
As a redshirt freshman at Oregon, Marcus Mariota threw for two touchdowns and ran for another in the Ducks’ 35-17 victory over Kansas State in the 2013 Fiesta Bowl.
“A good memory and a good way to end a really good season,” he recalled.
Almost five years later, Mariota brings the Titans (8-4) onto that field for a game Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals.
This game, not that one, is on Mariota’s mind.
“I think confidence is high,” he said. “I think we can still improve, though. When we’re able to win football games when we’re not playing to the best of our abilities, that’s huge. … If we start pushing it on all cylinders and our defense continues to play well, and the special teams continue to do their job, this team can be very good.”
Arizona coach Bruce Arians has often talked of the difficulty of quarterbacks from college spread offenses adjusting to the NFL. Mariota, he said, is a good example for those trying to make that transition.
“I think he gives a lot of those guys a chance,” Arians said. “Again, you have to be put in the right system. He was an excellent passer coming out. He wasn’t just an athlete; he was an excellent passer. Getting a running game around a guy — when you talk about Carson Wentz and you talk about Jared Goff and Marcus — when you have that running game, it’s a whole lot easier to bring those guys along.”
The Cardinals (5-7) shut down the running game of Leonard Fournette (12 carries, 25 yards) in their home win over Jacksonville two weeks ago. Now they’ll face Mariota and the power-running game of the Titans.
The Titans are the last of the NFL’s 32 teams to play on the Cardinals’ home field. Here are some things to consider about the game:
STOP THE RUN: Tennessee is back up to seventh in the NFL running the ball, and is coming off its best rushing performance in more than a year after piling up 198 yards in last week’s 24-13 home win over Houston.
The Titans also are the only team in the league with three runs of 70 yards or longer since 2012, and Derrick Henry has two of them — both in the fourth quarter to seal victories.
ON THE ROAD: The Titans won’t see the bright lights of Nashville for 10 days or so. After Sunday’s game, they will remain in the desert next week, practicing at Arizona State University in Tempe for their game the following Sunday at San Francisco.
“These are long days for us anyhow, it’s not going to change much,” Tennessee coach Mike Mularkey said. “I’ll be in a hotel instead of my office. They’re long days. Players will have time to do some things out there. We’ve designed some things for their day off to do. There’s plenty for them to do out there, and the nice part is that they’re going to get to do it together for the week.”
FITZGERALD FAN: The Titans hope to get wide receiver Rishard Matthews back after he missed the last two games with an injured hamstring. He plans on watching Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald up close and personal.
“Just a guy that’s done it that long the right way, the quote-unquote right way for so long in his career, still playing. Definitely be a first-ballot Hall of Famer,” Matthews said. “Just going to be kind of eye-opening to be across from him and watching him perform in person. I got to watch him my rookie year, but to see him still play at a high level is great.”
The Titans are hoping to get starting cornerback Logan Ryan back from a concussion suffered in last week’s game. If not, that might leave them leaning on Brice McCain or LeShaun Sims, who had an interception in the end zone, helping defend Fitzgerald.
FITZ AND MOSS: Fitzgerald needs 26 yards receiving to pass Randy Moss into third on the NFL career list (trailing only Terrell Owens and Jerry Rice). Fitzgerald was a ball boy for the Minnesota Vikings when Moss was a star there. He said he used to wash Moss’ car for cash and borrowed Moss’ BMW to go to the high school prom.
“I love Randy,” Fitzgerald said. “He taught me this game. I grew up immortalizing him, watching him, trying to emulate what he was doing every single day. … He’s always been over-the-top kind to me. Anytime that you can have your name mentioned in the same sentence as Randy Moss you’ve got to be happy.”
OLD FOES: From 2004-2011, Arians was receivers coach, then offensive coordinator at Pittsburgh when Dick LeBeau, now Titans defensive coordinator, coached the Steelers’ mighty defense.
They won two Super Bowls together.