Zach Mettenberger Must Improve in the Pocket to Be Titans Starting Quarterback

Rivers McCownNFL AnalystAugust 21, 2014

Aug 15, 2014; New Orleans, LA, USA; Tennessee Titans quarterback Zach Mettenberger (7) throws against the New Orleans Saints during second half of a preseason game at Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The New Orleans Saints defeated the Tennessee Titans 31-24. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Zach Mettenberger's first game against meaningful competition for the Tennessee Titans showed exactly why he was a sixth-round pick. He made a handful of bullet throws against tight coverage, and he completed 20-of-25 passes for 269 yards. He also turned the ball over twice, lacked the vision to see underneath zone defenders, and was inconsistent at responding positively to pressure. 

In other words: the sum of his skills (and off-field problems) are why he landed where he did. There are reasons for hope, and there are clear problems for him as an NFL quarterback. 

With Charlie Whitehurst doubtful for Saturday's tune-up against Atlanta, Jim Wyatt of The Tennesseean considers it likely that Mettenberger will see a "significant amount of playing time." 

I consider Mettenberger's inconsistent dealings with pocket pressure to be his biggest current flaw as a passer, and I'll be looking at them Saturday as I try to discern how I feel about him as a potential long-term solution to succeed Jake Locker. Here's a bit of what I saw last week from Mettenberger:

The good

NFL Preseason Live

Mettenberger's mobility is...well, he has little of it.

Look at how awkward he seems while jogging away from the line of scrimmage. However, at least he has the presence of mind to throw this ball away. It could have gone much worse had he panicked under this pressure and thrown into coverage. 

One thing I noticed over and over again with Mettenberger is that he is able to step up into the pocket. However, if his feet move in another direction, the play is ending poorly. I'll bring this up again in a few slides.

NFL Preseason Live

This was another nice example of Mettenberger doing well under duress. His leg is snared, and his initial progressions don't turn out, but he still manages to find a crossing route for the first down.

One thing that should be noted about this play, though, is that most NFL pass rushers aren't going to go for leg grabs. Still, it's a nice play under pressure. 

NFL Preseason Live

Keyunta Dawson obliterates Michael Oher on the outside, and Mettenberger suddenly has to speed this throw up. Mettenberger is willing to take shots from the outside, and he gets this ball off on target before Dawson obliterates him. 

The ball is incomplete because Vinnie Sunseri lays the wood on the intended receiver, but that's still a really nice throw from Mettenberger, placed exactly where only his receiver could make a play on it.

The bad

NFL Preseason Live

Mettenberger sees the interior pressure that actually gets picked up, and then his feet go backwards and the play is a lost cause. Jackie Battle had no chance to turn this ball back up to the line of scrimmage. 

Because the Titans actually were able to re-gain control of the loose interior rusher, this play looks worse than it is. Still, if Mettenberger starts backpedaling every time he gets pressure in the interior, how will he ever deal with a double-A gap blitz? 

NFL Preseason Live

Welcome to the NFL, rookie. That nice clean pocket you got in college is gone.

Mettenberger steps up into his own lineman, and rather than re-establishing himself, he heaves the ball off-balance at his checkdown route. The result was a not-even-close incompletion. 

NFL Preseason Live

Again, here Mettenberger should have time to find another receiver, but his throwing lane is occupied by his own lineman, and Mettenberger runs right into an easy sack. Had he backed up a bit and reset, there's a chance he could've found another part of his progression open. 

If you scout purely on the box score, Mettenberger's game looks more impressive than it was. Justin Hunter provided quite a few of his yards after the catch, and box scores don't really emphasize sacks taken. Mettenberger's arm is more than NFL-capable, but he's got refinements to make. 

To his credit, it seems like Mettenberger is taking his learning seriously. But based on what we've seen so far, I'd say Tennessee is in trouble if a Locker injury forces them to turn to Metteneberger.