Packers to get first look at Titans' Mariota

Ryan Wood
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Ninth in a 13-part series on the teams the Green Bay Packers will face in the 2016 regular season.

Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota throws the ball during practice in June.

The Tennessee Titans want desperately to remove themselves from the NFL’s group of bottom dwellers after winning five games the past two seasons, and they’ve already done the hard part.

After a solid rookie season, Marcus Mariota appears set to become the Titans' franchise quarterback. In the NFL, teams don’t have a chance if they lack a standout quarterback. The Titans’ confidence in Mariota was evident when they chose to trade the No. 1 overall pick in the draft to the Los Angeles Rams, another quarterback-starved team.

Still, Mariota’s rookie season yielded only one more win than the year before. The Titans remain one of the worst teams in the league until they prove otherwise.

Blessed with the NFL’s weakest strength of schedule, the Packers are bound to have some cakewalks along the way. This is one of them, a team the Packers simply must beat if they have designs on earning the NFC’s top playoff seed in January.

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Here are three things to know about the Titans.

» Following Ted Thompson’s draft guide: Since 2005, no team in the NFL has had more draft picks than the Packers. It’s what Packers GM Thompson does — trade back in the draft, stockpile picks. The Titans follow the same approach. Since 2005, they rank fourth in the NFL with 108 draft picks, only three behind the Packers and San Francisco 49ers, who are tied with 111. The Titans’ desire to stockpile high-value picks was never more apparent than this spring, when they traded the No. 1 overall selection along with a fourth- and sixth-round pick to the Los Angeles Rams for the No. 15 overall pick, two second-round selections, a third-rounder as well as a first- and third-round pick in 2017. They traded the 15th pick along with the 2016 third-rounder and 2017 second-rounder with Cleveland to move back into the top 10, but their trade with the Rams still netted four extra picks in the first three rounds, where starting-caliber players are expected to be found. It’s a fine way to build a football team. The Thompson way to build a football team.

» Long live Mariota? Mariota is clearly a valuable commodity for the Titans, which is probably why they should protect him. No team did a poorer job of protecting their quarterback last season than the Titans, who allowed an NFL-high 54 sacks. To put that in context, the Packers' injury issues at offensive line became so dire they needed to move a left guard to left tackle in the regular-season finale, and they still allowed seven fewer sacks than the Titans. The Titans have drafted offensive tackles two of the past three years, including Jack Conklin No. 8 overall this spring. They hope Conklin and 2014 first-round pick Taylor Lewan can prolong Mariota’s football life. No quarterback can withstand that many hits year in and year out.

» Grass isn’t always greener: In 17 seasons as head coach, Jeff Fisher led the Titans to one Super Bowl. The team won three division titles in that stretch. They made the playoffs six times, or one-third of Fisher’s seasons. With an 8-8 record followed by 6-10 in his final two seasons, it seemed like the right time for the Titans to make a coaching change after the 2010 season. Of course, the grass isn’t always greener. What Fisher unquestionably brought the Titans — stability — is one thing that has lacked since his departure. The Titans have had three coaches in five years after having just one for the better part of two decades. They have had just one winning season in that time — going 9-7 in 2011 — and have held the top overall draft pick in consecutive years. Meanwhile, Fisher has moved to Los Angeles and turned the Rams into the new Titans, a solid if unspectacular team that may make the playoffs but probably not. Still better than what the Titans have become. The Titans hope they finally found stability with current coach Mike Mularkey, who replaced Ken Whisenhunt in Week 9 last season as an interim and was retained after leading the team to a 2-7 record.

Packers schedule glimpse

Nov. 13 at Titans, noon, Fox

Week before: vs. Colts, Nov. 6

Week after: at Washington, Nov. 20

On the horizon: at Eagles, Nov. 28

Tennessee Titans

Coach: Mike Mularkey (2-7, second season)

2015 record: 3-13, fourth AFC South

Scoring offense: 18.7 points per game (28th in NFL)

Total offense: 311.8 yards per game (30th)

Scoring defense: 26.4 points allowed per game (27th)

Total defense: 342.2 yards allowed per game (12th)

Series: Packers trail 5-6.

Last meeting: The Packers had a record-setting day when they beat the Titans 55-7 on Christmas Eve, 2012. It was the most points they scored in a game since 1983, their largest margin of victory since 2005. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers completed 27 of 38 passes for 342 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions and ran for a fourth touchdown. Running back Ryan Grant added 80 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries, and receiver James Jones caught seven passes for 100 yards and a touchdown. and follow him on Twitter@ByRyanWood.

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