Jake Locker Injury: What Does QB Absence Mean for Tennessee Titans, NFL?

Chris TrapassoAnalyst ISeptember 30, 2013

NASHVILLE, TN - SEPTEMBER 29:  Jake Locker #10 of the Tennessee Titans runs the ball against the New York Jets at LP Field on September 29, 2013 in Nashville, Tennessee.  The Titans defeated the Jets 38-13.  (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)
Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

The Tennessee Titans are the pleasantly surprising 3-1 team no one's talking about, but an injury to their young quarterback Jake Locker put a dampener on their most recent victory.

According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, Jake Locker could miss a considerable amount of time with a hip injury he suffered in Week 4's win over the New York Jets:

Tennessee still awaiting more tests on Jake Locker’s injured hip, but belief is he could miss four to eight weeks.

— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) September 30, 2013

The Titans defense, a unit that's allowed 17.25 points and a respectable 313.25 yards per game this season, has probably been the most integral facet of the team's strong start. 

However, though Locker hasn't played tremendous football, the 2011 first-round pick was showing vast improvement through four games compared to his 2012 numbers:

(*Accuracy percentage is a Pro Football Focus (subscription required) metric that "accounts for dropped passes, throw aways, spiked balls, batted passes, and passes where the quarterback was hit while they threw the ballfactors that hurt the quarterback's completion percentage but don't help show how accurate they are.")

While Locker hasn't thrown for as many yards per game, he's become noticeably more accurate, efficient and careful as a passer. 

His backup is former Buffalo Bills starter Ryan Fitzpatrick, an inconsistent quarterback who lacks arm strength. 

Fitzpatrick's also struggled with decision-making during his NFL career, but he does have a valuable amount of experience (67 starts) and can play at a high level for short stretches. 

In summation, there are many worse second-string signal-callers in the league today. 

Here's a career comparison of Fitzpatrick and Locker:

The loss of Locker hurts on a psychological level, particularly because of the encouraging development he was demonstrating, but the difference between him and Fitzpatrick is actually rather minimal.

As it currently stands, the Titans are tied with the Indianapolis Colts atop the AFC South but are technically in second place due to a worse divisional record. 

The upcoming schedule is intriguing for Tennessee, mainly due to the roller-coaster ride it very well may take Mike Munchak's team on while Locker is sidelined. 

In Week 5, the Titans host the 4-0 Kansas City Chiefs. After that, they'll travel to Seattle to face the currently undefeated Seahawks. Before the Week 8 bye, the San Francisco 49ers will play at LP Field. 

Every game is difficult to win in the NFL, but that trio of games in consecutive weeks appear to be especially tough, even for a team that's exceeded expectations to begin the season. 

Furthermore, Fitzpatrick quarterbacked against all three of those teams in 2012 with the Bills and complied these numbers: 

PHILADELPHIA, PA - SEPTEMBER 19:  Tamba Hali #91 of the Kansas City Chiefs celebrates after sacking Michael Vick of the Philadelphia Eagles in the second quarter at Lincoln Financial Field on September 19, 2013 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by El
Elsa/Getty Images

It's important to remember that the Bills had a relatively uninspiring receiving corps and an embarrassingly bad defense last season, but Fitzpatrick was mediocre at best against the Chiefs, Seahawks and 49ers, teams who are extremely similar personnel-wise in 2013 to how they were a year ago. 

What's equally as interesting about the Titans' schedule is the slate of four games after the bye week in the middle of the season.

Tennessee will play at the St. Louis Rams, home against the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Indianapolis Colts and on the road against the Oakland Raiders

So, even if the Titans are 3-4 heading into the bye week, they'll get an extended break before starting what looks to be a rather favorable month of games. 

Will Locker return during that span? 

The November 10 contest against the Jaguars would be six weeks removed from the occurrence of the hip injury. 

With seven AFC teams sitting at 2-2 after Week 4's action, parity has been the conference's theme between the dominant play of the Denver Broncos and hapless efforts of the Jaguars. 

It's nearly impossible to predict how Locker's injury will impact the Titans in October and November. He's played much better in his third professional campaign, but Ryan Fitzpatrick is a somewhat capable stand-in. 

In all likelihood, though, if Tennessee continues it's stingy defensive ways, it'll be in the playoff hunt late in the season.