Analyzing Tennessee Titans' Playoff Chances with Ryan Fitzpatrick Under Center

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Analyzing Tennessee Titans' Playoff Chances with Ryan Fitzpatrick Under Center
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

For the second time this season, the Tennessee Titans have been forced to turn to backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick.

Starting quarterback Jake Locker was forced to leave in the second quarter of Sunday's loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars with a right foot injury, as Jim Wyatt of USA Today Sports reported. Locker did not return and was seen on the sidelines in a protective boot and on crutches.

Early indications are that the former Washington star suffered a Lisfranc injury, and according to the Tennessean's Jim Wyatt, Locker is likely done for the season.

This means that any hopes the Titans have of reaching the postseason now rest with Fitzpatrick.

For most teams, relying on the backup would likely incite a sense of panic. 

However, it appears that Tennessee is confident Fitzpatrick can get the job done. After all, this is exactly the type of situation for which the Titans acquired him.

Fitzpatrick has already taken over for Locker once this year. He started in Weeks 4 and 5 while Locker was out with a hip injury and produced fairly undesirable results.

In those two games, Fitzpatrick completed just 38 of 70 pass attempts (54 percent) for 418 yards with one touchdown and four interceptions. His highest passer rating between the two games was just 57.7, and the Titans lost both.

It is worth noting that those two games came against two of the top defenses in the league. Entering Week 10, the Kansas City Chiefs were ranked eighth in total defense (326.9 yards per game allowed) and the Seattle Seahawks were ranked second (296 yards per game allowed).

Fitzpatrick performed much better against the Jaguars (22-of-23 for 264 yards and two touchdowns). However, it is also worth noting that Jacksonville's defense (ranked 28th, allowing 392.2 yards per game before Sunday) is one of the league's worst.

What the Titans can realistically expect from Fitzpatrick moving forward likely lands somewhere between the two extremes.

Over the course of his career, Fitzpatrick has mostly been a middle-of-the-pack quarterback. His career passer rating of 76.3 puts him in line with what guys like Joe Flacco (77.3), Christian Ponder (77.6) and Chad Henne (75.3) produced over the first nine weeks of the season.

This suggests that Fitzpatrick has the potential to play well enough to win, but he is unlikely to become the type of quarterback who can put the team on his shoulders when he has to.

His biggest asset appears to be his experience. Fitzpatrick has started 69 games over the course of his career, and he knows what it takes to win.

In reality, the Titans' playoff hopes probably depend more on the rest of the team's ability to support the veteran signal-caller.

Fitzpatrick is far from perfect, and he is going to commit turnovers. He didn't have an interception against Jacksonville, but a fourth-quarter strip sack resulted in a Jaguars touchdown and an insurmountable deficit.

If the Titans hope to make the postseason, the team will need to do two things. 

The defense (ranked 11th, allowing 340.2 yards per game) will need to continue playing at a high level, and the team will have to find consistency in the running game.

Chris Johnson and Co. have produced mixed results on the ground this season. The team came into Sunday's game averaging 114.8 yards rushing per game (15th in the league), but the Titans gained just 83 net rushing yards against the Jaguars' last-place run defense.

If Tennessee can support Fitzpatrick with a strong defense and an above-average running game, there is reason to put off the panic.

Unfortunately, the Titans sit at 4-5 and will likely need a little help from teams like the San Diego Chargers, Cleveland Browns, Baltimore Ravens (all 4-5), Miami Dolphins (4-4) and New York Jets (5-4) over the next two months to push for the sixth and final Wild Card spot.

 

All statistics and rankings from NFL.com.

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