Zach Mettenberger's first start for the Tennessee Titans didn't exactly go as planned in terms of the final outcome, but a closer look at his performance shows plenty of reasons for Titans fans to be excited about his future.
One of the most encouraging signs from Mettenberger's debut was his ability to make smart, quick decisions. He showed this ability on the first drive of the game on a play that could have turned into a touchdown had Justin Hunter not lost his footing, falling before having the opportunity to haul in the pass.
As Mettenberger drops back to pass, he sees Hunter against Texans cornerback Jonathan Joseph in man coverage. Knowing that Hunter is running an out route, Mettenberger sees the lack of safety help and knows this is a battle the 6'4" receiver can easily win with proper ball placement.
Mettenberger fires a perfect strike, which falls incomplete after Hunter slips. It's a play that is easy to forget, but if Hunter had simply maintained his footing, it could have produced an easy touchdown for the Titans on Mettenberger's first drive.
The second play that highlights Mettenerger's decision-making was actually a play on which he checked down to running back Leon Washington.
Mettenberger has a reputation as a gunslinger and it would have been understandable if he got caught trying to force the ball down the field, especially after the Titans fell behind early.
In this situation, however, Mettenberger sees the Texans with three safeties over the top, taking away the deep routes. As Washington slips through the offensive line, he sits down in the middle of the field, providing Mettenberger with an easy checkdown option.
This wasn't the most exciting play of the day, but it's an encouraging sign to see Mettenberger making the smart play rather than attempting to show off his arm.
On the final play we'll highlight, Mettenberger passes up an obvious checkdown option to take a chance down the field—and it pays off.
On this play, Mettenberger has an open running back in the flat at the 20-yard line, which would have been the risk-free throw to make. But Mettenberger also sees Kendall Wright running a go route down the middle of the field into zone coverage.
The key to this play is the fact that Mettenberger identifies Wright as his target early. Once he sees Wright, he climbs the pocket to avoid pressure and fires a bullet to Wright in order to avoid two closing defensive backs.
This play not only highlights Mettenberger's decision-making, but also his rare arm talent. Few quarterbacks have the ability to fire that pass on a rope the way Metterberger is able to, which allowed Wright to get the ball in time to extend the play after the catch.
By no means was this a perfect game by Mettenberger. He still took too long in the pocket at times, he made some errant throws, and not every decision was spot on. But within the context of the game—as a rookie quarterback, playing behind a shaky offensive line, with limited weapons—Mettenberger showed plenty of promise and gave Titans fans reason to be excited about his development.