ATLANTA – Here’s a look at six things that stood out from Friday night’s preseason game against the Falcons:
Mariota’s moxie:** Things probably couldn’t have started off any worse for Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota. The rookie turned the ball over twice early, was sacked, and there was every reason to think he was doomed for the night. But Mariota settled himself down, and ended on a high note. His 17-yard completion to receiver Harry Douglas on third down set a 10-play, 80-yard scoring drive in motion. He made several other impressive throws on that drive. The ending should allowe him to head into next week with confidence, despite the disastrous start.
Running game: Running back Bishop Sankey has looked good in training camp, but he was less impressive against the Falcons, managing just 15 yards on eight carries. He gained seven yards on one of those runs. Rookie David Cobb, meanwhile, looked as good as he’s ever looked as a Titan. He ran through would-be tacklers, bounced runs to the outside, and finished with 53 yards on 11 carries. Antonio Andrews stood out as well, scoring on a short touchdown run and also catching a few passes out of the backfield. Dexter McCluster also scooted outside and into the end zone from five yards out.
O-line issues:** Tackle Taylor Lewan said it himself after Friday’s game – the offensive line needs to make more strides moving forward. A lot of pressure is on this group coming off a disappointing, injury-filled season. While the second-team offensive line opened up holes for Cobb and Andrews, there wasn’t a lot of room for Sankey to run, and the Falcons got too much push too often. Center Brian Schwenke allowed an early sack. The Titans have time to get things cleaned up here. How well the group performs will determine how the team fares on offense this fall.
Mett Show: Back-up quarterback Zach Mettenberger came out slinging it. He looked relaxed and confident, with a live arm. Mettenberger finished the game 8-of-11 for 129 yards and a touchdown. His passer rating was an impressive 104.0. Already fans are suggesting the team should trade Mettenberger to another team while his value is high. I’m not subscribing to that theory, though. The Titans need to be strong at the game’s most important position, and Mettenberger gives them a quality back-up who’s capable of stepping in. And, oh yeah, Charlie Whitehurst went 5-for-5 for 39 yards.
First-team D:** The Titans didn’t game-plan for the Falcons, and they were missing veteran cornerback Jason McCourty. Still, the defense made it look way too easy for the Falcons out of the gate. Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan went 6-for-6 for 86 yards on the opening drive, and capped it off with a 13-yard touchdown pass to Julio Jones. It’s no time to panic, but if the Titans wanted to set a tone early on defense, they missed a chance on Friday night. The good news is the Titans rose up and got a spot on the second series after Atlanta returned an interception to the nine-yard line.
Injuries: After pulling starting linebackers Derrick Morgan and Brian Orakpo early, the Titans hoped to get a good look at reserves Yannik Cudjoe-Virgil and J.R. Tavai while trying to sort through their options behind the first group. Unfortunately, both players were injured after another contender, Jonathan Massaquoi, didn’t suit up. Linebacker Zaviar Gooden also injured a hamstring in the game. The injuries leave the Titans thin at linebacker for the time being.