Cardinals-Titans Preview

Backed by an outstanding effort on the defensive side, resurgent

Carson Palmer and the Arizona Cardinals have become a serious

threat to chase down an NFC wild-card spot.

The Cardinals may have a good chance to keep pace as they go for

their sixth win in seven games Sunday against a Tennessee Titans

team on the verge of the franchise’s worst home skid in 17

years.

Though he was unable to throw a pass in last week’s workouts

because of a sore right elbow, Palmer stayed hot by completing 27

of 32 passes for 269 yards and a touchdown in Sunday’s 30-10

victory over visiting St. Louis.

Palmer finished with an 84.4 percent completion rate that ranks

second for a single game in franchise history behind Kurt Warner’s

NFL-record 92.3 (24 of 26) percent.

”(Trainer) Tom Reed and his staff, they are the best in the

business,” Palmer said. ”He had a plan from Monday on, and he

stuck to it. I had 100 percent faith and trust in him that he knew

what he was doing and that he and his staff would have me ready to

play.”

The 10th-year pro, who had to apply a heating pad to the elbow

between possessions, has completed a league-high 70.4 percent of

his passes for an average of 326.0 yards with eight touchdowns and

two interceptions in the past four weeks.

Only New England’s Tom Brady has put up more yards per game

(357.3) in that stretch.

”We throw it where they will let us throw it,” coach Bruce

Arians said. “Carson was spot on it.”

The Cardinals (8-5) remain one game behind wild-card leaders San

Francisco and Carolina. The 49ers will win any tiebreaker with

Arizona due to a better division record, but the Cardinals own the

head-to-head edge over the Panthers by virtue of their Week 5

victory.

Larry Fitzgerald has shined during Palmer’s tear with 28 catches

for 281 yards and five touchdowns. Last week, he finished with 96

receiving yards while his 12 receptions were his most since

matching a career high with 13 against Seattle on Oct. 18,

2009.

Fitzgerald has 10 touchdown catches this season, becoming the

ninth player in NFL history with five seasons of double-digit TD

receptions.

Now, Palmer and Fitzgerald face a Tennessee team that has

allowed an average of 29.0 points during its four-game home losing

streak. The franchise hasn’t dropped five in a row at home since

1996, when it was the Houston Oilers.

Amazingly, though, the Titans haven’t allowed a touchdown pass

in that stretch. All nine touchdowns the Tennessee defense has

yielded during the skid have come on the ground, with the offense’s

10 turnovers not helping matters.

While the Titans (5-8) are mathematically alive for a playoff

berth, they’re 2-7 in their last nine after Sunday’s 51-28 loss at

Denver. They’ve dropped four of five since Jake Locker went down

for the season with a foot injury.

”Look at any team that’s lost their quarterback, it’s hard,”

said coach Mike Munchak. “It creates issues when you have to make

that change.”

Since completing 71.8 percent of his passes with five touchdowns

and no interceptions over a three-game stretch following Locker’s

injury, Ryan Fitzpatrick has connected on 55.7 percent with two

scores and four picks in his last two.

Rookie Justin Hunter has emerged as a top target with two

100-yard receiving efforts in his last three games. He had four

catches for 114 yards and a touchdown against the Broncos.

Chris Johnson’s struggles continued with 46 rushing yards on 12

carries. He’s averaging a career-low 3.8 per carry and isn’t likely

to breakout against the Cardinals, who have the league’s third-best

run defense at 84.5 yards allowed per game.

Arizona scored twice on defense last week, as Karlos Dansby

returned an interception 23 yards for a touchdown and John Abraham

tackled Kellen Clemens for a safety. Abraham also had three sacks,

giving him a team-high 11 on the season.

The Cardinals, however, suffered a big loss when second-leading

tackler Tyrann Mathieu went down with a torn ACL. Arians believed

Mathieu had played his way into consideration for NFL defensive

rookie of the year honors.

”I think no one else has played as much as he’s played, and all

the positions he’s played,” he said.

The Titans have won four of six meetings. Johnson had 154

rushing yards, including an 85-yard TD, in the Titans’ 20-17

victory in 2009.