Improved Locker helps Titans top Cardinals, 32-27

It was a lot more interesting late than it was early, but the Titans tonight improved to 2-1 in the preseason with a 32-27 win over the Arizona Cardinals thanks to a fourth-quarter touchdown run by Jamie Harper. The bigger storylines out of the game, though, were Jake Locker’s first start as a starter and a gruesome injury that will cost Marc Mariani the 2012 season.

Jake Locker looked a lot better than he did against the Buccaneers, completing 11 of 20 passes for 134 yards and two touchdowns. If you’re starting to think of what a more typical “Jake Locker game” might look like, today’s had it. He opened the scoring with his best pass of the preseason to date, a back-shoulder throw to Kendall Wright that the rookie took into the end zone for a 10-yard score. His second touchdown was a 28-yarder to Nate Washington on crossing route; Washington’s defender got picked by Jared Cook, and it was smooth sailing to the end zone. A big gain to Jared Cook on Locker’s first real downfield completion of the preseason also set up a field goal.

Beyond those nice throws, Locker showed some of the same inaccuracies that dogged him last week and also in the past, overthrowing several outside passes and throwing behind Washington on an out. He also had a couple passes tipped at the line, a problem that plauged Matt Hasselbeck last year. On the whole, it was a much more encouraging performance, but not without a few flaws.

The run game was much less consistent than it was last week, with all backs. Chris Johnson danced a lot more against what looked like some relatively heavy boxes, Darius Reynaud (who locked up a roster spot with Mariani’s injury) still looks like an outside runner only, and Jamie Harper can identify the whole but for the most part lacks much suddenness in his game.

As I thought might happen, and wanted to happen, the defense and in particular the defensive line dominated a bad first-team Cardinals offensive line. First John Skelton and then Kevin Kolb were under heavy pressure and went down. Kolb didn’t help the Cardinals’ cause by throwing two interceptions, the first ghastly and the second even worse, to Colin McCarthy, who had a strong game. The Titans seemed to play their third-string defense early in the game, with Lamar Divens and DaJohn Harris the D-tackles in by the middle of the third quarter. The Cardinals were able to stage a comeback from 23-10 to take a 27-23 lead, but a sack-fumble would set up Harper’s game-winning score.

Tidbits:

  • As noted in the intro, Marc Mariani was lost for the season on a gruesome injury, breaking his left leg on a punt return.
  • No wide receiver other than Wright and Washington had a catch.
  • The replacement refs struggled at times, twice late in the game announcing penalties on players not in the game at the time.
  • Taylor Thompson (well, once he was identified as Leroy Harris) got flagged for holding on consecutive field goal attempts, forcing Will Batson to go 3-for-3 from 25, 35, and 45 before the points finally counted.
  • Jordan Babineaux played, but Robert Johnson got the start at safety next to Michael Griffin.
  • Receiver D.J. Woods returned kicks in the second half and had a 51-yard return after fumbling the prior kick. Well, I don’t think he had a shot anyway.
  • The Titans had a chance to salt the game away in the four-minute drill but couldn’t manage to get a first down and ended up having to make a defensive stop in the end zone to seal the win.
  • The Cardinals’ second- and third-string looked better than the Titans’ second- and third-stringers. 
  • Between Woods’ fumbled kick, short drives off turnovers, and McCarthy’s second interception being returned to the end zone, the Titans ended up with only about 47 offensive snaps compared to about 89 for the Cardinals. My guess is neither coaching staff considers those numbers ideal.
  • It’s hard to overstate just how bad the Cardinals’ starting offensive line is.

I should have at least one more post on this game over the next couple days. The Titans conclude the preseason next Thursday at home against the Saints. Before that, they’ll have to get the roster down to 75 players by Monday afternoon.

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