ReFo: Titans @ Saints, Preseason Week 2
New Orleans defeated Tennessee 31-24 in an unusually choppy and penalty-filled game, even by preseason standards. The Titans were especially sloppy, with five total turnovers, including four lost fumbles, and 11 accepted penalties. The Saints, while looking more polished all-around, did contribute their part to the dysfunction with an astounding 22 (!) penalties. There were several performances of note through all this, including some strong efforts by young quarterbacks, so let’s take a look at a few now:
Tennessee – Three Performances of Note
Promising Work at QB
With journeyman Charlie Whitehurst managing only three plays before leaving with injury, rookie Zach Mettenberger got his first extended action at QB, playing 45 out of 72 snaps for the Titans’ offense. Seen as a possible heir-apparent to Jake Locker (who notably did not have his contract extended past this season) new coach Ken Whisenhunt got his strong-armed gunslinger in the sixth round of this year’s draft. Mettenberger (+2.4), less than a year removed from a torn ACL suffered last fall at LSU, managed both terrific and cringe-worthy moments in his first extended action of the preseason. He finished 20 of 25 for 269 yards and two touchdowns. One of the highlights was a terrific second quarter hookup with Justin Hunter on a 20-yard crossing route, which the receiver was able to turn upfield and take to the house. Later on, however, the Saints’ strong safety found a blind spot, dropping back underneath an out route and picking off a gift from Mettenberger. He’d eventually lose a fumble as well, but overall his positive plays significantly outnumbered his mistakes.
Coty Sensabaugh, who saw the majority of his snaps as the Titans’ slot corner last year, struggled mightily against the Saints (-2.4), especially when trying to cover speedster Joe Morgan. After not seeing even a single pass thrown his way against the Rams, he allowed four completions on just five targets for 125 yards, which works out to a whopping 31 yard-per-catch average. This was most evident in the second quarter when, playing wide (and not in his more familiar slot role), Morgan went right by Sensabaugh for a 52-yard reception, which probably would have been a touchdown if not for a slight underthrow. In the third quarter, it was deja vu as Morgan got past him on a post route, beating him again for a 44-yard completion. It may have been contagious for the Titans, who also had trouble staying with Saints’ first-round pick Brandin Cooks on at least one occasion, when he blew by CB Blidi Wreh-Wilson, only to have the ball bounce off his fingertips.
Issues at Left Guard
While poor play may not be a total surprise from offensive linemen like Senio Kelemete (see below), who has been cut by both the Cardinals and Saints in the last year, he wasn’t the only left guard who struggled in this game. Tennessee stalwart Andy Levitre put up an unusually poor performance by his standards, especially after bolstering the Titans’ running game in 2013 (+12.9 in the running game) after signing a huge free agent deal that lured him away from Buffalo where he had been an anchor on that line for four years. In what the Titans can only hope was an aberration, he posted a -2.4 in just 11 run-blocking snaps against the Saints. In fact, the only other Titan with a run-blocking score in the “red” was backup right guard Justin McCray at -1.4.
New Orleans – Three Performances of Note
Rare Chance to Shine
With Drew Brees sitting this one out, it was an opportunity for current third-stringer Ryan A. Griffin to get extensive playing time, and possibly even show he can push veteran Luke McCown for the backup QB job. After a mediocre outing against St. Louis, he performed much better this week (+3.3), going 13-of-20 for 179 yards and two TDs, including three drops by his receivers. His favorite area to target was in the middle of the field within 9 yards of the line of scrimmage, completing all seven attempts in that area, including both of his touchdown passes. He was at his most effective when blitzed (+2.7), demonstrating good composure, and completing six of eight passes for 140 yards and a stellar QB rating of 156.3. It never hurts to have good depth at QB, even if he may be stuck for a while behind a guy like Brees.
It’s a Slam Dunk
While the debate may continue as to what position Jimmy Graham plays, his effectiveness (in the red zone in particular) is indisputable, and the mismatches he creates on the field were on full display against the Titans. He finished with five catches (on six targets) for 48 yards and two touchdowns in just 28 snaps of work. Although, for good measure, he also managed four penalties, including two of the goalpost-dunk variety that probably won’t go over too well with Sean Payton once the regular season starts. Regardless if it was a safety (Bernard Pollard) or linebacker (Avery Williamson), Graham was able to victimize the Titans’ defense almost at will, and he will no doubt be one of Brees’ top weapons once the season gets underway.
More Left Guard Issues
After showing a lot of promise last week, Senio Kelemete (-4.3 overall) turned in a performance that he, and probably the Saints, would like to forget. He struggled in both the run and passing game, but was especially exposed by the Titans’ run defenders (-3.8 in run blocking). He also committed two penalties. His inability to hold blocks at the point of attack was especially striking, but he didn’t perform much better when asked to pull or block in space. Although the Saints struggled in run blocking across the board (-11.0), it seemed like Kelemete was at the center of the action whenever a Saints’ run play got blown up.
– Tennessee missed nine tackles in the game, while New Orleans had just three missed tackles.
– Titan Bishop Sankey (+0.3), the top running back taken in this year’s draft, managed a solid 31 yards on six carries.
– Justin Hunter caught four balls for 111 yards and two touchdowns in just five targets for Tennessee.
PFF Game Ball
Even with a couple mental gaffes, it was a very strong overall performance from Zach Mettenberger at quarterback for the Titans.
Follow Roland on Twitter: @PFF_RolandB