Tennessee Titans: 5 Things to Look for Against Jay Cutler and the Bears
This Saturday, the Tennessee Titans will take on the Chicago Bears. While it's debatable how well preseason games can predict how a team will perform in the regular season, there's nothing wrong with keeping an eye out for certain trends.
With such a large shake-up in the organization within the last year and shortened NFL training camps, these exhibitions are extremely important for the Titans.
By the third week of preseason, fans, players and coaches alike want to see some progress. Luckily, the Titans have shown in the first two games that the team could be much better than anyone expected going into the 2011 offseason.
With this comes some good things, and some bad. There are many aspects of the game to keep an eye on this week, but here are five that come to mind first.
Jamie Harper's Effectiveness
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Being the 130th pick of the 2011 NFL draft, not too many people expected Jamie Harper to be too big a part of the Titans offense.
However, with Chris Johnson still holding out and Javon Ringer sitting out due to an injury, Harper got the majority of carries last weekend against the St. Louis Rams. Running for 83 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries, Harper surprised and impressed many people.
There is a "but? in this case though. While Harper was the man running the ball, the offensive line simply overwhelmed the Rams' rush defense.
Last year, the Rams ranked 17th versus the Bears' second in defending against the run. Long story short, this week will be much more of a challenge for Harper.
At the same time, this is a great opportunity for the rookie to show that he is worth a shot. He may even be able to challenge Ringer for the 2nd spot on the depth chart.
Speaking about parts of the offense having more difficulty this week...
Can Hasselbeck Keep It Up?
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Hasselbeck and the receiving corps will have a much stauncher defense to face at LP Field this week.
While the Minnesota Vikings' and St. Louis Rams' pass defenses are nothing to scoff at, the Chicago Bears will prove to be much tougher a task for Hasselbeck.
With Chicago boasting the third best pass defense in the entire league last year, seeing how Hasselbeck runs the still-foreign Tennessee offense should be interesting.
Many people criticized the Titans' signing of Matt Hasselbeck this offseason. As if he heard his naysayers, Hasselbeck put in two very solid performances in the first two weeks of the preseason, flaunting QB ratings of over 100 in each outing.
If Hasselbeck can have another strong showing this week, it will say loads about his effectiveness with the Titans.
Which Jake Locker Will We See?
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Against the Vikings, Jake Locker looked like he could very well turn out to be the franchise QB the Titans were hoping for when they took him eighth overall in the draft.
Locker looked extremely patient in the pocket for a rookie, and many people praised him for his accuracy. In the second game in his NFL career against the Rams, Locker showed the inaccuracy that many thought would plague his draft stock this year, throwing 8 for 18 with a lone interception and no touchdowns.
Critics quickly rescinded their praise of Locker's first game after his less than stellar 35.0 QB rating against the Rams. This is simply rushed.
Locker is a rookie and like almost all first year QBs, he will struggle a bit, especially when it comes to pass selection. Progress is what is wanted and expected, not perfection from the beginning.
Locker will most certainly get his chance to redeem himself this week against Chicago. The main enigma is, how will he react to almost certain pressure?
As was reviewed in the earlier slides, the Bears' pass defense is strong, definitely more so than the Rams and Vikings. Will the first-round pick panic and throw up some more ducks or will he start learning from the calm and collected Hasselbeck? This weekend will be a great place to start the latter.
Tennessee's Young D
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When it was announced that the Titans lost both Stephen Tulloch and Jason Babin this offseason, one thing came to mind: the organization had given up on winning now and was in full rebuilding mode.
Thankfully, the young additions have impressed in the first two weeks of the preseason and have (hopefully) proven this thought wrong.
Akeem Ayers and Alterraun Verner have both been contributors as part of the first-team defense, with Ayers knocking down a McNabb pass in the first game and Verner having an interception last week off a Cortland Finnegan swat.
If these rookies and sophomores can continue their trend of the first two weeks, then the Tennessee defense may be a lot better than expected.
Look for the first real challenge for the young defense in a seasoned, playoff-caliber team of the Chicago Bears led by Jay Cutler.
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What's going on with Kenny Britt and Chris Johnson?
Earlier in the day, Britt met with Roger Goodell, the commissioner of the NFL to discuss possible punishment (read: suspension) for his issues with the law over this past year.
The NFL has officially said that the decision is "pending." Britt has also been struggling with an injury throughout training camp.
Johnson, as has been well-publicized, is still holding out from the Titans. Johnson wants tens of millions of dollars guaranteed in his contract. Mike Reinfeldt said he would pay him like a "top running back."
Until now, neither side has budged. With a meeting tonight between Johnson, his agent and the Titans' GM, Tennessee fans everywhere can only hope this fiasco will be resolved soon.
The main question is: when can we expect to see them both? Britt had what looked like a breakout year in 2010 and Chris Johnson has continuously said that he expects to rush for over 2,000 yards again in the 2011 campaign.
It'd sure be nice to see them this weekend, but who knows if we will?
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Besides the five reasons listed, there are many aspects of the game this Saturday to keep an eye on.
Can Cortland Finnegan keep up his return to stellar play? Will we see the defense that was penalized zero times in the Minnesota game, or the more sloppy version in St. Louis?
In any case, this weekend's game against Cutler and his Bears will be a test for the Titans. The first two opponents Tennessee faced are not expected to be contenders this season, while the Bears came awfully close to the Super Bowl last year.
Between their tough D and spotty but lethal offense, this game has the capability to show what to expect from the Titans this year.
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