NASHVILLE, Tenn. >> Marcus Mariota thinks Oakland quarterback Derek Carr is one of the NFL’s better throwers. Carr is a fan of the Tennessee quarterback, describing Mariota as accurate, dynamic and the type of decision-maker any general manager wants.
Each also suffered season-ending injuries only hours apart last Dec. 24: Mariota broke his right leg in a loss at Jacksonville , followed by Carr breaking the same leg in a win over Indianapolis .
So, of course, the NFL slotted Carr and the Raiders against Mariota and the Titans in the season opener Sunday, pitting young quarterbacks both expected to lead their teams to the playoffs.
“Yeah, it’s crazy,” Mariota said of the scheduling. “It’s good to see that he’s healthy. It’s good to see that he’s come back from that injury. Crazy how that happens. Again, looking forward to the game and can’t wait to be back.”
This is the final benchmark for Mariota’s comeback where he was limited until training camp with the Titans, who are eager to improve on a 9-7 record . Carr was ready for the Raiders’ offseason program after Oakland went 12-4 and lost their first playoff game in 14 years.
Now they face off for the third time in as many years, and Carr with his new $125 million contract wants to build off a season where he was one of only five quarterbacks with more than 25 touchdown passes (28) and fewer than 10 interceptions (six). Mariota was one of the other four, throwing 26 TDs with nine interceptions in his second season.
Carr expects even more from Mariota in the 2014 Heisman Trophy winner’s third season .
“I hope he waits a week. That’d be nice,” Carr said. “In all honesty, the game gets slower. He’s been able to play a lot of football. Especially in a tough division with some tough defense. So again, another similarity. We both have seen a lot of things. A lot of blitzes. A lot of different coverages. As you continue to grow, I like to say that we get faster and the game stays the same.”
Here are some things to know about the Raiders and Titans:
BEAST MODE: Marshawn Lynch came out of retirement for the chance to play for his hometown team in Oakland before the Raiders move to Las Vegas in 2020. Lynch carried just four times in the preseason, so the opener will be the first real test if he is back to the level when he was the NFL’s premier power back with 48 TDs rushing from 2011-14. Lynch looked a step slower in 2015 with Seattle when he averaged 3.8 yards per carry while also dealing with injuries.
TITANS’ D: Lynch will be going against a Tennessee defense that ranked second in the NFL last season against the run. The Titans held opponents to 88.3 yards per game, and they added Sylvester Williams at nose tackle in free agency.
SEARCHING FOR SACKS: The Raiders finished last in the NFL in sacks in 2016 with 25 even though they had AP Defensive Player of the Year Khalil Mack rushing from the edge. Mack had 11 sacks, and fellow outside rusher Bruce Irvin had seven. The rest of the team, especially the inside rushers, failed to generate nearly enough pressure. Third-round pick Eddie Vanderdoes and a healthy Mario Edwards Jr. should help the cause. Oakland also could try to get more from the secondary with blitzes after failing to get a single sack from a defensive back last season.
CATCHING ON: Carr has Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree, the only duo in the NFL last season with at least 80 catches and more than 1,000 yards receiving, as his top targets. The Titans added veteran wide receiver Eric Decker and also made Corey Davis the first receiver drafted at No. 5 overall to give Mariota more options in the passing game. Decker played in only the preseason opener, while Davis will make his debut in this game.
TITANS’ MISTAKES: The Raiders beat Tennessee 24-21 on Nov. 29, 2015, and pulled out a 17-10 win last September after the Titans thought they had a chance to tie up the game late. An unsportsmanlike penalty on left tackle Taylor Lewan wiped out a gain to the 3, while Andre Johnson’s TD catch was erased for offensive pass interference. Pro Bowl linebacker Brian Orakpo said the Titans learned from that and know how to hold their composure, including “our friend 77” — referring to Lewan.
“They’ve been close games, we’ve have opportunities to win the last two here,” Titans coach Mike Mularkey said. “We’ve made some mistakes, especially late, that have cost us from doing that.”