WHEN: Noon Sunday
WHERE: Mercedes-Benz Superdome
RADIO: WWL-AM, 870; WWL-FM, 105.3 in New Orleans; KMDL-FM, 97.3 in Lafayette; WDGL-FM, 98.1 in Baton Rouge
RECORDS: New Orleans 4-4; Tennessee 1-6
COACHES: Saints, Sean Payton, 10th season (84-52); Titans, Mike Mularkey, interim (0-0 in Tennessee, 16-32 overall)
LAST WEEK: Playing its second game without rookie quarterback Marcus Mariota, Tennessee found itself overwhelmed by a Houston Texans team in turmoil.
The Titans gave up seven sacks and failed to complete a pass longer than 18 yards in a 20-6 loss, a defeat that led to the firing of head coach Ken Whisenhunt on Tuesday morning.
OFFENSE: There’s a little bit of mystery surrounding the NFL’s second-worst offense, averaging a paltry 17.9 points per game. With Mariota likely back in the lineup, Mularkey has promised to change the offense to better suit Mariota’s skills, and that could mean more plays with the rookie on the move in the pocket. Before he sprained his MCL, Mariota had played solid if not spectacular football, completing 64 percent of his passes for 247.8 yards per game, nine touchdowns and five interceptions.
The big problem is protecting him. Tennessee has given up 28 sacks this season, tied for third-worst in the NFL so far. The Titans can run the ball competently, averaging 100.1 yards per game, but the pass rush has created too many turnovers. If there’s one weapon New Orleans should worry about stopping, it’s tight end Delanie Walker, who leads the team with 35 catches this season.
DEFENSE: Tennessee’s defense has an eye-popping overall number — the Titans are fifth in yardage allowed — but a closer look at the stats shows it might be misleading. Tennessee is 14th in the NFL in sacks, 12th in opposer passer rating (87.7) and 22nd in opponent’s yards per carry on the ground (4.3). What the Titans do possess is a solid pass rush, led by the interior pressure of Jurrell Casey (four sacks) and a good set of bookends outside with Derrick Morgan (4½) and Brian Orakpo (three). New Orleans has feasted on teams without much pass rush during its three-game winning streak; Tennessee will be a good test of the offense against a more capable rush.
New Orleans may also be able to take some steam out of the rush by getting Mark Ingram going on the ground. Despite the presence of Casey up front, Tennessee is allowing 4.3 yards per carry and 118.7 yards per game. Up the middle, the Titans are young at inside linebacker and average at safety, where Michael Griffin and Da’Norris Searcy roam.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Marcus Murphy should be licking his chops. Tennessee gives up 16.1 yards per punt return and 26.7 per kick return, opening up some opportunities against punter Brett Kern. Dexter McCluster can be dangerous as a Tennessee return man, but he has to get chances from Thomas Morstead. Kicker Ryan Succop is 7-of-7 this season.