Four Downs: Locker, offense strong against Falcons
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Here are four things learned from the Titans’ 27-16 win over the Falcons here Saturday night that improved them to 1-2 in the preseason:
1. Quarterback Jake Locker appears to be in total control of the offense.
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The third-year quarterback had his best outing of the preseason, guiding the Titans to a 13-6 halftime lead while completing 10-of-12 passes for 138 yards and one touchdown. That computed to a stellar 142.4 passer efficiency rating in the first half.
Over three sustained scoring drives in the second quarter, he completed eight straight passes to four different receivers, including a seven-yard scoring strike to Nate Washington. And he also made good on a few scrambles out of the pocket, too, gaining 22 yards on three carries.
Since being selected as the No. 8 overall pick in the 2011 draft, the University of Washington product has been ordained the heir apparent as franchise quarterback. But he sat behind veteran quarterback Matt Hasselbeck as a rookie before earning the starting nod during training camp last season. And in 2012, he played in only 11 games, sitting out five because of a shoulder injury, and completed only 57 percent of his passes with 10 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.
With a new offense under first-year offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains, the consensus is that the Titans will go as far as Locker will take them this season. In two previous preseason games, Locker had been solid, completing 19-of-31 passes for 174 yards, but with no touchdowns and an average 76.5 rating. Saturday night, however, he looked the part.
2. Nobody has stepped forward to be the starter at right cornerback.
Fourth-year Alterraun Verner and third-year Tommie Campbell have been vying all preseason for the starting nod at right cornerback opposite Jason McCourty on the left. After Campbell got the start in the previous preseason game against Cincinnati and played poorly, Verner started Saturday night against the Falcons.
Verner didn’t exactly distinguish himself, either, although he was going head-to-head much of the first half against Falcons standout receiver Julio Jones. At 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds, Jones is a load for most cornerbacks to cover, especially the diminutive Verner at 5-10 and 186.
Twice, Verner was flagged for penalties — holding on one play and pass interference on another — while defending Jones, who also beat him on a 42-yard reception down the sideline. After four series, Campbell replaced Verner, but once again didn’t do much to separate himself, either.
It is generally felt that Titans coaches would prefer the more athletic and bigger Campbell (6-3, 198) to be starter at left corner. But Verner appears headed for the starting job again after starting all 16 games last season, when he had 78 tackles, including a team-high seven tackles for loss, and was second on the team with 10 passes defensed.
3. The Titans need to get healthy in a hurry.
No less than 13 Titans were listed as inactive Saturday night because of various injuries, including nine that are currently listed as a starter or backup on the two-deep depth chart. Also injured in the game with sprained ankles were starting wide receiver Nate Washington and backup running back Shonn Greene.
The good news, however, is that only one of the injuries — veteran receiver Kevin Walters (knee), who is listed third team on the depth chart — is considered serious enough to make the player unavailable for the season opener at Pittsburgh on Sept. 8. Returning to practice this week in an attempt to be ready for the opener were middle linebacker Colin McCarthy (hamstring), tight end Delanie Walker (knee) and center Brian Schwenke (hamstring), who could see their first preseason action Thursday night at Minnesota.
Offensive players currently listed as starters on the depth chart who didn’t play versus the Falcons included wide receiver Kendall Wright (knee) and fullback Quinn Johnson (hamstring). Among key defensive players sitting out were tackle Sammie Hill (elbow), end Ropati Pitoitua (hand) and three outside linebackers Akeem Ayers (ankle), Zach Brown (ankle) and Zaviar Gooden (ankle).
4. The offensive line is just fine, thank you.
What was considered a team weakness last season for a variety of reasons, including injury and ineptitude, has now become the team’s strength. Then again, that’s what the addition of three starters to go with a pair of veteran bookend tackles will do for you.
In the first half, the Titans dominated the line of scrimmage as the offense rolled up 198 yards of total offense, including 122 through the air (Locker passed for 138, but lost 16 on sacks) and 76 on the ground. Most of the rushing attack came from veteran back Chris Johnson with 37 yards on seven carries, including a long of 19 yards.
Ninth-year tackles Michael Roos on the left side and David Stewart on the right provide one of the more under-rated tandems in the NFL. The Titans added through free agency left guard Andy Levitre, judged the best at his position on the market, and center Rob Turner, who started 16 games last season for St. Louis at either guard. It appears Turner has beaten out veteran Fernando Velasco for the starting nod, which only adds depth along the offensive front.
To cap off the offseason moves for the offensive front came in the draft when the Titans selected Alabama’s Chance Warmack with the No. 10 overall pick and made him starter at right guard from day one.
Extra point: Bironas kicking just fine
After veteran placekicker Rob Bironas missed on field goal attempts of 38 and 37 yards in the preseason game at Cincinnati last Saturday night, there was some concern over his health after he had sat out much of training camp with a sore back.
But in the first half Saturday night, Bironas was good on field goal attempts of 39 and 53 yards, the latter coming with just 23 seconds remaining before halftime to cap a successful two-minute drill by the offense.