Just when everyone starts counting the Titans out, there they are, always at least somehow contending for the AFC South. That will not be the case this year. The Houston Texans will run away with the division.
With that settled, we now move on to the next question: Will their starting QB be veteran incumbent Matt Hasselbeck or second-year, first-round draft selection Jake Locker?
My brain tells me Locker, but my gut says Hasselbeck, and I'm a guy that likes to go with my gut. Let's not think about who Locker could be or who Hasselbeck was. Who are they right now?
Let's talk a little football.
I'll tell you why intermediate-to-deep routes to the sideline stems of the route tree are so hard to complete as an NFL QB. It takes three things:
1) The 100 percent belief that your receiver's hands will be in the spot where you are aiming the ball to go. With the speed of the NFL receivers, this spot seems ridiculously small and represents a serious disconnect from previous experience. If you don't have it, the defense knows.
An experienced safety will see this coming and be licking his chops. His responsibility will be the crossing tight end, but he will see an opportunity to cut underneath and ball-hawk the easiest pick six of all. That is unless the QB...
2) Looks the safety off. Unless he makes that safety or slot corner legitimately believe that his target could conceivably be within their respective scopes of responsibility and keeps him honest.
3) The QB must be able to do both of these things, under pressure, basically throwing the ball, on a wire, to a spot that is muscle memory. It is throwing your wide receiver open as opposed to throwing to an open wide receiver.
A simple look at Pro Football Focus's very helpful pass distribution chart from last season tells you what your brain has been seeing anyway. If we are looking at on-field passing distribution only, Locker struggles badly outside the hash marks at all levels: short, intermediate and long. He doesn't go through progressions, and he bails on plays too early. He is very good from 10-19 yards in the middle third of the field.
Hasselbeck is good in most every area, but struggles to the deep right third. He was much better than average in 2011 to the deep left third.
If/when Kenny Britt returns to action, and with the acquisition of a unique outside threat in rookie Kendall Wright, you need to know the QB can make those throws.
No matter how promising, those new toys are nothing but a liability if your QB is in any way weak in delivering the ball to them. It's pick-six city over there. Hasselbeck is not perfect in this respect, but at this moment, I believe he is better than Locker.
It is setting your body, developing your cadence and driving the ball through the spot. This is coached easily if you have the arm, which I believe Locker does. But it's kind of like changing a golf swing. It is not an overnight deal. Outside of the occasional rocket-armed Matt Stafford or Joe Flacco, almost every young QB takes his lumps in this part of the game.
Obviously, Locker is a rushing threat. It is nowhere near the same and almost laughable, but it is worth mentioning that Hasselbeck still has reasonable feet for a 37-year-old.
I spoke with Matt Rybaltowksi of CBS Sports, and he said Hasselbeck has been slightly more accurate across 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills. Of the drills he charted, he told me Hasselbeck's completion percentage was 73 percent, while Locker's was 65 percent.
They say Locker is winning the battle, but I think it would be in the Titans' best interest to let Hasselbeck win the war. He played well last season when Chris Johnson was playing like an overpaid slacker. Until proven otherwise, I like the team's chances better with Hasselbeck under center to start.