With the starting quarterback position finally settled, the Tennessee Titans entered its third preseason game ready to build on a dominating performance against the Buccaneers while also attempting to establish a passing game that struggled last week.
In a 32-27 victory over the Arizona Cardinals, the Titans were able to do just that. Though everything was not quite as smooth as the coaching staff may have hoped in the second-to-last tuneup before Week 1, the Titans continued to show that they have the potential to contend for a playoff spot.
Jake Locker's decision-making took a step in the right direction
A week after his worst game as a professional, Locker rebounded with a 134-yard, two-touchdown performance in a little over a half of work.
Though he displayed a few accuracy concerns, for the most part he went through his reads and threw to the open man, opting to tuck and run when none of his receivers were able to get separation.
With his arm strength and athleticism, being able to simply make the right read can go a long way in helping Locker develop into a franchise-caliber quarterback.
The Jake Locker-to-Kendall Wright connection is something to keep an eye on moving forward
Despite getting into camp a few days late and having limited time to work with Locker, the Titans' first-round pick seems to already be a favorite of the quarterback.
Kendall Wright has shown the play-making ability that made him a favorite of Robert Griffin III at Baylor, having a sense for where the quarterback is and when the ball is coming, and making sure to get separation before attacking the football.
The chemistry between the two can best be seen on Wright's touchdown reception, which came on a perfectly thrown back-shoulder pass that gave the defender little hope of preventing a score.
As the two progress throughout the season and their careers, the Titans could be looking at the kind of QB-WR duo that can carry a passing game.
The running game still lacks consistency
A week after Chris Johnson was able to find some space and get into the end zone twice, he found himself constantly having to avoid defenders in the backfield and getting dropped for little-to-no gain on nearly every carry.
C.J. and the offensive line simply can't seem to get on the same page, as Johnson has struggled to find a hole and has danced behind the line more often than he should.
With the passing game getting better and better, the Titans need to be able to run the football to set up favorable down-and-distance scenarios, particularly once the more explosive offenses come to Nashville to start the regular season and the Titans look to control the pace of the game more.
The defensive line gets pressure for the second straight game
It's important to take the success of the defensive line with a bit of a grain of salt, as the Cardinals offensive line, which is already a poor pass-blocking unit, was also missing a couple of starters. Combined with poor quarterback play, it was the perfect recipe for the Titans to pin their ears back and attack the passers.
With that said, when talking about a unit that had it's share of struggles last season, it is encouraging to see the linemen taking advantage of situations and hitting the quarterbacks hard and often for the second straight week.
With a linebacker group that is really coming into its own, a strong defensive line could really set up the Titans defense to cause some havoc in 2012.
Colin McCarthy may be the Titans' best defender
Since taking over for Barrett Ruud at middle linebacker midway through 2011, McCarthy has impressed Titans fans with a nose for the football and an ability to command the defense despite his young age.
Throughout training camp and the preseason, McCarthy has continued to improve, culminating in a two-interception, seven-tackle performance against Arizona.
Though the interceptions were made easier by terrible passes and decisions by Kevin Kolb, his knack for being in the right place at the right time is becoming a trend and, as his pass-coverage skills grow, he has a shot to develop into one of the top all-around linebackers in the game.
With Akeem Ayers and Zach Brown also on the roster, the Titans linebackers could be one of the best young groups in the NFL.
Though the running game still leaves a lot to be desired, the Titans starters put together a second-straight strong performance, dominating the Cardinals offensive line and getting separation in the passing game.
Now that he is firmly entrenched as the starting quarterback, Locker seems to have taken over control of the huddle and should have the opportunity to really build some chemistry with the rest of the No. 1 offense heading into the regular season.
Though they won't get to face the Cardinals every week, the Titans defense is flying to the football and appears to be ready for what will be a difficult test against Tom Brady and the Patriots offense in Week 1.