The Arizona Cardinals travel to Nashville in Week 3 of the NFL preseason for a battle with the Tennessee Titans. On the surface, there seems to be more at stake for the birds, but a closer look reveals that might not be enough for a win come Thursday.
Last week Mike Munchak's crew took care of business and made easy work of a Tampa Bay team still trying to figure things out. This week, Munchak brings his 4-2 NFL preseason record home to host the beleaguered Arizona Cardinals.
From what I've seen so far, Mike Munchak is a coach that is highly respected within his locker room. Last year we had local beat reporters saying that players would run through brick walls for him.
We've all heard that cliche before, but there's no reason to believe the Titans are content after one successful season.
For Arizona, coach Ken Whisenhunt carries a 8-14 straight-up record in the preseason, and Week 3 presents another challenging test. He's been very public about his objectives this week as the Cardinals try to figure out an identity on offense.
That is going to be easier said than done, and despite Whisenhunt's best intentions, he can only work with what he has on the field.
Who covers the spread?
The Titans opened as 4.5-point favorites, but that has quickly been whipped into shape. The line currently sits at that magical "-3" mark (odds courtesy of SBR Forum), which is exactly what I was waiting for before I released this play.
It might be wishful thinking to suppose we could get a better number than that, but I feel comfortable locking in on that number.
Right now, 56 percent of public bets are on the Titans.
You would be hard pressed to find two other teams in the NFL that have had higher-profile training-camp battles at the QB position.
Let's tackle the Cardinals first.
John Skelton is slated to get the start with the first-teamers, but coach Whisenhunt has stated that Kevin Kolb could get reps with the first team, as well.
I'm not sure it's going to make much of a difference, though.
Last week Kolb was called out by Oakland DT Tommy Kelly, who said the QB was "skittish and scared" (via CBSsports.com). Kolb obviously took exception, but Kurt Warner has come out and said that he's seeing the same things from Kolb that he saw last year (via CBSsports.com).
I have to agree with that statement. In my Cardinals season preview, I said that I expected Kolb to improve this year and be better than people expected. My only caveat was that his O-line had to become serviceable and could not be the issue it was last year.
Epic fail on that front.
Making matters worse is the loss of LT Levi Brown. As if this sad-sack unit needed more bad news, but that's exactly what it got.
Ryan Lindley rounds out this QB group, but I don't anticipate him being a significant factor if he does get playing time.
On the flip side, the Titans have put the QB debate to rest and gone with Jake Locker. I was probably not the only one surprised when I heard this news, given Locker's subpar play last week against the Buccaneers. Yet here we are with another young QB taking over the reigns.
I do agree with the move, even if Matt Hasselbeck is better equipped to lead the Titans in the short term.
Everyone likes Locker's skill set, but his erratic nature still gives people pause. He is scheduled to play into the third quarter before giving way to the veteran.
The reason I like this situation is that there isn't going to be a big motivation dropoff between these two.
Locker was named the starter coming off a bad outing and has more than enough motivation to justify the move—especially in front of the home crowd in the "dress-rehearsal game."
Hasselbeck is a great team guy and very supportive of Locker, but he's also fiercely competitive. You can be sure that he's going to go out there and continue to do his thing. I'm sure he's now playing with a chip on his shoulder, and this should translate well on the field.
The best chance the Cardinals will have in this game will come from their running game. Beanie Wells is on schedule to return in this matchup, and along with Ryan Williams, he should be able to alleviate some of the pressure on the QBs.
I'm a fan of both backs, but I'm not sure it's going to be enough to mask the problems on the O-line.
The Titans wreaked havoc on the TB quarterbacks last week, so there should be more opportunities this week to press Skelton and Kolb into some negative plays.
At the end of three quarters last week against the Titans, Tampa Bay had negative-13 passing yards and 39 yards overall.
Chris Johnson also got going in what was a rare chunk of preseason action for the former All-Pro.
Reports from camp have said that he is primed for a return to supremacy this season (ESPN.com), and he showed us a glimpse of that possibility last week.
Both teams have precarious QB situations, but it's much more unsettled on Arizona's side. Whisenhunt seems much more focused on trying to get one of his QBs to play well and not trying to get them killed in the process.
The mismatches in favor of the Titans defense could make this an ugly affair for Arizona fans.
I like the direction of and stability from Munchak, and the Titans should wrap things up on a positive note on Thursday night.
Tennessee Titans (-3)