Titans At Saints Recap

The Titans traveled to New Orleans to take on the Saints in their second pre-season game Friday night. After playing their first pre-season game in a monsoon, it was an opportunity for the Titans to show whether they have improved on offense and defense. The Titans didn’t win the game and it was messy at times but overall mission accomplished as the Titans do look like an improved football team.

Jake Locker played a full quarter and looked sharp. He led two scoring drives including one that ended in a Justin Hunter touchdown in the left corner of the end zone and ran roughly three and a half minutes off the clock. In his next drive he led to the Titans to a 15 play series that ended in a Travis Coons 50 yard field goal. It took a little over eight minutes off the clock.

drive chart

Charlie Whitehurst ran a few plays but was shaken up on a sack and rookie Zach Mettenberger took the remaining snaps. He entered the game with a little less than four minutes on the clock in the second quarter which gave him some significant playing time. Like his first pre-season game, he showed his rookie moments but he also made some nice plays.

Mettenberger threw two interceptions but the pass intended for Derek Hagan was deemed a fumble and though it was an interception it wasn’t Mettenberger’s fault. He did throw a bad interception on just a poor decision and lost a fumble. Still, you can see the talent is there.

QB statsAfter a mostly forgettable appearance against Green Bay, Justin Hunter lit up the Dome with a four reception 111 yard game that included two touchdowns. Hunter has looked very good in training camp and if he can make those plays in the regular season the Titans offense could be hard to contain.

Third year tight end Taylor Thompson had a big night and caught everything thrown at him. After some disappointing drops in training camp and the first pre-season game against the Packers, it was good to see him step up. He finished with five receptions for 56 yards. Dexter McCluster made a spectacular catch to convert a first down.

The run game wasn’t bad but it did feature two very bad lost fumbles. The first was by Shonn Greene who was injured on the play. Greene’s injury isn’t considered serious.

The second lost fumble was by rookie Bishop Sankey and is particularly concerning. Fumbles have been a recurring issue for Sankey in training camp. Last Tuesday he fumbled twice and was forced to run a lap per fumble. He might not be there yet but he is fast entering sit young fella until we trust you territory. It’s an issue he has to solve pronto. On a positive note, he does appear to be working on his pass protection and he made a nice play blocking for Zach Mettenberger.

I will have more to say about rookie Taylor Lewan later but the Titans aren’t doing particularly well on their protection schemes just yet. We are talking about vanilla plays for the most part and they will start installing their offense next week but it’s an area to watch.Last night it was very much evident when they left Mike Roos exposed against one on one versus Junior Galette and later left Charlie Whitehurst open to a Kenny Vacarro blitz who came in untouched.

On defense, the Titans still can’t get pressure on the quarterback and that has to change immediately or it’s going to be a long season for them. Their only sack last night came courtesy of Akeem Ayers who added two tackles for a loss as well. Ayers did have two quarterback hits and led the team in tackles with four solo. Not a bad night for a guy entering the final year of his rookie deal and who needs a big year. Ayers did have a bad penalty for illegal hands to the face that negated a Daimion Stafford interception.

It was a rough night as well for cornerbacks Coty Sensabaugh and Blidi Wreh-Wilson who weren’t even facing Drew Brees. They gave up big plays to backup quarterbacks Luke McCown and Ryan Griffin. Sensabaugh and Wilson struggled particularly against rookie Brandin Cooks. The Titans gave up two touchdowns to Jimmy Graham who made great plays both times.

The Titans have struggled to cover tight ends and strong safety Bernard Pollard have coverage on the first touchdown while rookie Avery Williamson have coverage on the second. They might want to rethink that strategy in the regular season.

Damion Stafford continues to have a strong  pre-season and he had an excellent training camp too. The second year safety has been making noise all offseason and is one of their better young defensive backs. He finished second on defense also with 4 solo tackles and one tackle for a loss in addition to the interception that was called back.

The Titans run defense was much improved as the Saints only averaged 2.9 yards per carry and finished the game with 78 yards of total rushing. In part this could be due to how well the Saints were passing the ball. The Saints had 321 passing yards. Ryan Griffin averaged almost 10 yards per pass play.

saints passing

Speaking of penalties, last night sure was a flag fest. The Titans were flagged 10 times for 111 yards while the Saints notched 22 penalties for 184 yards. This is yet another indication of the Titans inability to put away games. Rookie offensive tackle Taylor Lewan got significant playing time and continued his college tradition of illegal face mask penalties and an unnecessary roughness penalty.

The first was a bit ticky tacky to me and i’m not overly concerned. The second however is another matter. Cam Jordan is undoubtedly a tough assignment but this was a big issue for Lewan in college. It’s an area he needs to work on. I’m curious to see how the offensive line develops this year particularly in their protection schemes.

On special teams, Travis Coons continues to improve his leg strength and Maikon Bonani his accuracy but I remain convinced Coons has the edge. One more pre-season game before first cuts so watch the kicking situation closely. Carrying two kickers on the roster would not be optimal at all and I refuse to believe the Titans would do it.

Marc Mariani once again got tabbed for the return role and he did quite well. Antonio Andrews had a couple of nice kickoff returns too. Khalid Wooten got a shot and had a nice return but he is a long shot to make the roster. The Titans looked improved on their coverage units but still much work to be done there. Karl Klug has a particularly bad penalty to make a long kick even longer for UDFA kicker Travis Coons.

return stats

In other notes from the game the time of possession was once again virtually even with the Titans holding the ball 29:01 and the Saints 30:59. In a flashback to last season takeaways and turnovers once again kill a promising Titans start. The Titans turned the ball over five times while failing to get a takeaway. Michael Griffin almost did have an interception and as mentioned above Daimion Stafford had one called back.

Titans quarterbacks were sacked four times for a loss of 20 yards while the Saints were sacked once for a loss of three yards. In good news the Titans were once again 100% in goal to goal and red zone efficiency. The Saints were 100% in goal to goal efficiency and 75% in red zone efficiency.

Final score:

Titans 24

Saints 31

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