With his team's marquee opener against the Patriots a little more than three weeks away, Tennessee Titans coach Mike Munchak had hoped to name a starting quarterback around their third preseason game on Thursday night against the Cardinals.
A second straight subpar performance by a Titans starting quarterback may push back Munchak's decision. Less than 24 hours after the Titans' 30-7 win over the Buccaneers on Friday night, Munchak appeared no closer to making a choice between Matt Hasselbeck and Jake Locker for the starting role.
“We have two more weeks to see plenty, so when we feel we're at that point we'll make our announcement,” Munchak said during his press conference Saturday.
Locker went 4 of 11 for 21 yards and an interception against Tampa Bay. A week earlier, Hasselbeck wasn't much better after finishing 5 of 9 for 45 yards and two interceptions against the Seahawks. The starting quarterback competition is arguably the most closely-watched of any around the NFL in training camp.
Both Hasselbeck and Locker have committed costly errors on first-quarter interceptions deep in the Titans' own end. Hasselbeck's first attempt against the Seahawks bounced off wide receiver Nate Washington's fingers and was returned for a touchdown by Seattle cornerback Brandon Browner. On Friday, Locker threw across his body on a pass intended for Kendall Wright that was intercepted by Ahmad Black. The Bucs safety returned the interception to the Titans 2-yard line.
“He thought he could make a play going across the field; we always know that's very dangerous,” Munchak said. “You get away with it every so often in practice, but in games bad things can happen, and it did.”
Early in the second quarter, Locker overshot tight end Jared Cook on a corner route in the right corner of the end zone. Minutes later, the Titans started a second straight drive inside the red zone after an interception by cornerback Chris Hawkins. Locker again missed his target on an incompletion to Wright.
“That ball could have been lower to give [Cook] a chance to make a play on it,” Munchak said. “The one in the end zone one of the guys didn't run the route correctly, so it got in an ugly spot.”
In a limited role, Hasselbeck went 4 of 5 against the Bucs for 29 yards. Munchak has yet to decide on a starter for Thursday's game vs. the Cardinals. Despite Locker's struggles on Friday, his chances of becoming the opening-week starter appear to remain the same.
“I wouldn't say he hurt his chances at all,” Munchak said.
Sacks aplenty for the defense: Employing mostly a four-man rush, defensive coordinator Jerry Gray's unit caused four sacks and forced two turnovers. Defensive end Derrick Morgan set the tone by pressuring Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman on the game's opening offensive play.
“I think when you can do that, they're thinking about it especially when their quarterback is not going to play a lot and he's getting hit right away,” Munchak said. “I thought the energy at the line of scrimmage was good.”
It's an encouraging sign for a defense that ranked 31st in sacks per pass attempt last season. In 2011, the Titans had four sacks or more just twice. Morgan, defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks, defensive end Keyunta Dawson and linebacker Tim Shaw each had sacks.
“They were seven- and eight-man protecting a bit,” Munchak said. “They were chipping both edges, they were trying to protect the quarterback and were still having trouble doing that.”
Reynaud leads impressive running attack: Led by fourth-year running back Darius Reynaud, the Titans rushed for 216 yards on 37 carries against the Bucs. Reynaud displayed speed on stretch runs and finished with seven carries for 75 yards.
Through two games, Reynaud leads the Titans in rushing with 12 carries for 104 yards and a touchdown. He has also been electrifying on punt returns with a 44.7 yard average on three returns.
“He's making a difference in the run and return games,” Munchak said. “He practices the same way -- what you had seen yesterday is exactly what we've been seeing on the practice field.”
Injury update: Offensive tackle Mike Otto underwent surgery on his right ring finger on Friday and could be out several weeks, Munchak said. Safety Jordan Babineaux missed Friday's game with a shoulder injury, but will likely return Thursday against Arizona. Tight end Brandon Barden (hamstring) may also return. It is less likely that linebacker Gerald McRath (knee), defensive end Dave Ball (concussion-like symptoms) and cornerback Terrence Wheatley (hamstring) will play vs. the Cardinals, Munchak said.
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