The Tennessee Titans are heading into a nuclear winter.
After years of hovering around .500, Tennessee's failed draft picks finally came to roost in 2014 as the roster imploded on itself. The Titans struck out on their free-agency pickups, and if they're honest with themselves, nobody on their roster or management staff should be untouchable, with the exception of defensive end Jurrell Casey, wideout Kendall Wright and offensive tackle Taylor Lewan.
It is in the shadow of this terrible team that quarterback Zach Mettenberger was thrust into the starting lineup, and the Titans must now determine if he is part of the problem or a potential solution based on just 313 snaps. Mettenberger was knocked out of Week 14's game against the Giants with a shoulder injury, which was later confirmed by The Tennessean's Jim Wyatt to be a Grade 3 shoulder sprain that is expected to sideline Mettenberger for the season.
It's just the latest in a series of bad breaks for the Titans, who won't even get to further evaluate Mettenberger during the course of their lost season. Jake Locker is expected to start at quarterback, at least until he goes down with his own injury.
Even being kind and leaving out the ugly Giants game in which the Titans were able to only suit up three backup wide receivers and two of their Week 1 starting linemen, Mettenberger didn't do enough to keep the Titans from searching for other solutions at the position in the draft and free agency. Mettenberger finished second of the three main Tennessee quarterbacks in Football Outsiders' DVOA, but considering how awful Locker has been this season, that's damning with faint praise.
|Advanced Stats for Titans Quarterbacks (Through Week 13)|
|Player||DVOA (Rk)||DYAR (Rk)||QBR (Rk)|
|Charlie Whitehurst||-4.6% (25)||42 (29)||48.6 (27)|
|Zach Mettenberger||-15.9% (31)||-49 (31)||37.2 (37)|
|Jake Locker||-28.4% (37)||-148 (34)||54.8 (23)|
|Source: Football Outsiders|
The biggest difference between Mettenberger and the other two quarterbacks? A lack of consistency. Mettenberger can hit deep throws that Locker isn't accurate enough to complete and that Charlie Whitehurst can only dream of making. But Mettenberger went three-and-out on nearly half of his drives this season—a staggeringly bad amount that explains how Mettenberger has the worst QBR of the three.
It's hard to hazard a guess at how smitten head coach Ken Whisenhunt is with Mettenberger at this point, but if you want to understand why Mettenberger would be given a second chance, take a look at this touchdown throw up the seam to Wright in the third quarter of Week 13's game against the Houston Texans:
This is an absolute laser of a throw stuck between two Texans defenders between responsibilities. It was right on Wright, and it was powerful enough that Houston safety Kendrick Lewis couldn't get over in time to do anything about it.
Unfortunately, there are tons of flaws that come with Mettenberger's arm at this time. The accuracy comes and goes. He often doesn't spot underneath zone defenders. And, most importantly, he mixes a penchant for holding the ball too long with almost zero pocket mobility. Mettenberger took 18 sacks on just 210 dropbacks. The second clip in the above video showed a puzzler that happened in Week 14 against the Giants:
Jameel McClain comes on a blitz from his middle linebacker spot. The Titans pick it up rather well, chipping McClain with running back Leon Washington. Jason Pierre-Paul is quick enough to force Mettenberger to take a step up, bringing himself perpendicular to the then-blocked McClain, and McClain simply goes west to take him down for the easy sack.
But look: Nobody really beat their man on this sack. Mettenberger simply didn't step to the right depth. This sack was on him, not the offensive line.
The Titans shouldn't draft a quarterback just to get rid of Mettenberger—there's enough talent here to where Mettenberger could be a fine future backup, even if he's stretched as a starter. This is also a team with holes up and down the roster that should consider simply picking the best available player.
But it's hard to ignore the fact that the Titans control their destiny in the Marcus Mariota-Jameis Winston race. At 2-11, with two games left against fellow 2-11 teams Jacksonville and the New York Jets, the Titans are going to have a big say in what kind of quarterback they wind up with.
And, despite the fact that Whisenhunt tends to prefer big-armed, tall drinks of water like Mettenberger, the Titans shouldn't be married to this preference. What they should prefer is a quarterback with the talent to win games in the NFL.
Mettenberger just hasn't shown enough for the Titans to bank on him being that guy.