Another preseason has come and gone for the Tennessee Titans (thank goodness), and the 15th season is truly about to begin. The Titans only won one of their four contests in the pretend season. As the real season begins, there are serious questions as to whether or not the Titans will only be pretenders—or if they will be contenders.
Clearly, the weight of the world is on the shoulders of starting quarterback Jake Locker. Make no mistake, wherever the Tennessee Titans go or not go in 2013, it is more up to how Jake Locker performs than anyone else. Beginning his third season (second as the starter and first as the undisputed starter), Locker must perform. All of the eggs are in his basket, simple as that. The signs from preseason were no more encouraging than his 2012 campaign where he tossed more interceptions than touchdowns. Locker continues to struggle with decision-making and accuracy.
The Titans have stripped down the playbook for him, adding more running plays stating a goal of no more than 25 passes per game. This hardly shows confidence, but the messages are extremely conflicted. The running game looks stronger with the addition of Shonn Greene and the potential emergence of Jackie Battle, likely in a short-yardage role. Three-fifths of the offensive line is new, and they seem to be jelling well. Even in the good years, it always seemed as though the line took a few games to hit their stride. With the questions in the passing game, the Titans cannot afford that in 2013.
Defense was a big weakness in 2012, and it is hardly clear from what we have seen so far whether or not it will be better. It has to be. The pass rush must improve. Keying that is Derrick Morgan. Beginning his fourth season, Morgan must be the player they spent a first-round pick on. He has shown flashes, but little consistency. As with Locker, the time for excuses is over. The time to produce has arrived.
An improved pass rush will alleviate pressure off the secondary and allow the quality linebacking corps to shine. Stopping the run should be far easier than stopping the pass for this team, even if nothing changes from last season in terms of scheme. With the Titans starting the season in a 4-3, the linebackers must be able to be counted on. All suggestions are the linebackers, as should be the case, are the least of the worries heading into the season on defense.
Bernard Pollard adds a toughness this team has lacked, particularly in the last two years. His years in Baltimore taught him that, along with what it takes to be a great defense. At the other starting safety spot, Michael Griffin must return to his Pro Bowl days for the secondary to provide the necessary attitude. But it will come down to the corners. Jason McCourty and Alterraun Verner are being trusted outside, with Verner finally getting his chance in his fourth season.
The schedule could bury this team, opening at Pittsburgh and at Houston and then playing San Diego—whom they have never beaten since coming to Tennessee. Arguably the league’s two best, the Seahawks and 49ers come back-to-back before the Bye, and a trip to Denver looms late. Not good.
As much as I would like to, I just cannot go past 8-8 with this team. I just do not believe in Locker as the answer. If he becomes who they think, they can go to the Playoffs. If not, everything could implode downward.