ST. LOUIS, MO - AUGUST 20: Jake Locker #10 of the Tennessee Titans throws a pass against the St. Louis Rams at the Edward Jones Dome on August 20, 2011 in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Ed Szczepanski/Getty Images)
NFLN is now airing the Titans game. I'll just leave my notes as I go through each drop back, and then we can draw some conclusions at the end.
1st and 10 - 8 Yard Line - Titans are in 21 Personnel, but in an empty look from the shotgun. Stacked left to right: CJ, Wright, Stevens, Washington, and Mooney. Moving forward, I love what Palmer's doing. Break the huddle with run personnel, and then proceed to spread the field. Stack best receivers inside, and look for mismatches. However, in this scenario, where I'm trying to get my young QB in rhythm, I might have saved these spread looks until later in the game.
No less, the play is just a quick out to Stevens. He's the first read, and Locker goes there immediately. Footwork is fine. There's no drop on this play, just a gathering step. Ball placement is good, even if it is only for a short gain.
3rd and 9 - 9 Yard Line - Titans are now in 11 Personnel. Again in an empty look from the shotgun. Stacked left to right: CJ, Wright, Cook, Washington, and Williams. I'm loving these empty sets we've shown this preseason, and the positioning of the players, even if I think we might have been better served to wait until later in the game to start rolling them out.
Bucs show 3 man pressure, with possible extra linebackers. They only bring 3. It's a 3 step drop with a hitch. I can't see the route combinations, but all the routes begin with a vertical stem. Pressure comes from the right side, and Locker steps up in the pocket. His ability to feel pressure and slide is definitely one of his strongsuits. As Locker steps in the pocket, there's no one around him. He commits the cardinal sin, something QBs are taught at the youngest age. Never throw across your body and into coverage. Feet aren't set. Hips are wide open, and the ball sails. Such a poor throw that I can't tell whether it was intended for CJ or Wright. What makes thing worse is that Locker had more than enough room to scramble for the first down. Even if he can't, he's got to tuck and run, and live to see another day. Alternatively, he could have re-set his feet after avoiding pressure, and looked for a target. There was time to do so.
Any way you cut it, this play is unacceptable. The play was yards away from being a pick 6. Throws like this in the regular season can be the difference between wins and losses. Growing pains are to be expected from Locker, but basics like this must be avoided.
1st and 10 - 29 Yard Line - 12 personnel. Ace formation. 4 receivers get into patterns (2 WR and 2 TE). CJ stays back to block. Protection breaks down and the DT easily shoots the B gap(side note: CJ does an A+ job standing up a defensive end on this play. Huge progress.). Quick 3 step drop here. Footwork is solid. Big improvement from last year where Locker struggled at times on these quick throws to the perimeter. Throw is to the right to Wright on a slant. Feet are aligned. He steps and delivers despite pressure in his face. Ball is on time and placed well, but the defending corner makes a great play to break up the pass. Wright's got to get better here if he's going to play the SE. He needs to shield the defender and aggressively go after the ball. His positioning is good, but he waits on the throw to get to his body, which allows the defender a window to make a play.
3rd and 5 - 34 Yard Line - 11 Personnel. 4 wide. Ringer back at RB. Locker is in the shotgun. Bucs show pressure, and bring it. 6 men rush including the dime back who's covering Cook. Safety has dropped down closer to the LOS and is now clearly manned up against Cook. Locker correctly identifies this and reads Cook the whole way. Cook runs an out pattern at the 1st down marker. It's a quick 3 step drop. Footwork is good. Ball gets out in rhythm. Locker delivers despite pressure in his face. Ball is placed high and away from the defender. Likely just where Locker intended to throw it. Hits Cook in the hands, but is dropped. It's a 3 and out. Positive here is that accuracy is again solid to the edges in the quick game. This is the only throw Locker can make here. Progressing to the second read would result in a sack.
1st and 10 - 29 Yard Line - 12 personnel. Ace formation. Titans fake an outside run to the boundary*. Fake is sold nicely. Defense gets sliding right and Jake works a naked boot to the left. Wright is to the field side running a fade and actually may have been open for a big play (can't be sure without seeing safety placement). His primary role likely just to clear out defenders, so no need to really dwell on that fact. Stevens crosses from the boundary side and essentially runs a sail route. Locker completes it to Stevens for a first down. Nice throw on the move by Locker.
*For those that aren't familiar, boundary and field represent the side of the field that has the most space. So, in this case, the ball is placed on the right hash pre-snap. Boundary is the right side of the field. Field side is the left side of the field. Had the ball been placed on the left hash, these would be reversed.
1st and 10 - 41 Yard Line - 11 personnel. Empty look from the shotgun. Stacked left to right: Wright, Ringer, Cook, Williams, and Washington. I'm loving the way Palmer groups these receivers. Bucs show 5 man pressure from the boundary, including the LB covering Ringer, and bring the pressure post snap. Locker sees this. Ringer and Wright run a switch (classic RnS concept). At the LOS, there's only one defender on Ringer and Wright. A safety is over the top of Ringer about 7 yards off. As they switch, Wright runs a slant. Ringer runs a quick fade. Locker doesn't have a drop, just a gathering step and a throw. He throws to the open area, but the timing is slightly off. Safety comes in late and lays a hat on Ringer (some of this is on Locker...he exposes Ringer on the throw). Personal foul. 15 yard penalty.
1st and 10 - Bucs 35 Yard Line - 12 personnel. Locker's under center. Mariani is split out wide left and motion right. Cook is in the slot. Stevens is in 3 point stance off the right end. Nate is at the X. Bucs bring 5 man pressure. Locker takes a 5 step drop. First read is supposed to be to Cook, but he's covered. Locker re-sets, but by now the bull rush has collapsed the pocket. Locker breaks up the middle, and makes the correct decision to tuck and run. He scrambles beautifully for a 20 yard gain.
1st and 10 - 50 Yard Line - 21 personnel. Locker is under center. Bucs show 5 man pressure and bring the same. Play action pass. Big Country gets beat off the LOS to the inside. He throws the defender to Locker's feet, but the pocket is compromised from the beginning. Lockers still manages to set and throw, but it's a poor delivery that's batted down.
3rd and 9 - Bucs 49 Yard Line - 11 personnel. Trips right out of the gun. Wright is isolated at Split end. Cook is upright just off the RT. Nate is in the slot. Ringer into protect. Bucs show blitz. 5, maybe 6 defenders rushing. They bring 6, including the LB covering Cook. Locker correctly identifies this and looks to throw hot. Cook converts to a quick out. Again, no drop, just a gathering step and a throw. Ball is delivered quickly, accurately, and on time. Here's the problem. It would appear that Nate was supposed to get more of a vertical stem. He gets jammed at the LOS and can't clear the area. Cook gets "hot", but the jam has kept Washington in the same area as Cook. Cook drops the throw. Without knowing the play called, I can't place blame, but the most likely problem here is that Washington didn't get enough depth prior to the throw.
2nd and 15 - Bucs 15 Yard Line - 11 personnel. Shotgun formation. 2x2 set. CJ's back at running back. Wright is at Split End to the left. Buc bring 4 man pressure. Locker correctly identifies the off man coverage on Wright. Wright does an excellent job of running a 10 yard post underneath the safety and inside the corner's leverage. No drop here. Gathering step after a poor, low snap, and throw. Ball is a little behind Wright. If he throws it further ahead of him, there might be a chance for extra yardage. That's nitpicky, though. Solid execution.
3rd and 6 - Bucs 6 Yard Line. 11 personnel. Trips right. Same formation as two plays above. Bucs show 4 man pressure. Two high safety look. Bucs end up running Cover 2 man under. Smash play to the right. Williams runs a 5 yard hitch. Cook runs a flag pattern. Additionally, Washington runs a crossing pattern across the middle behind Cook. Locker takes a quick 5 step drop (long 3, quick 2). He sets and is squared nicely to Cook, but just overcooks it and the result is an incompletion. This has to be a better throw. Cook is matched up against a much shorter Nickel corner. A high throw to he back of the endzone potentially results in a TD.
1st and 14 - Bucs 14 Yard Line. 21 Personnel. Offset I. Stevens is upright to the strong side in the slot. Wright is isolated to the boundary side at Split End. Bucs bring 6 man pressure. Locker takes a 7 step drop. I may have missed it in the past, but this is the first 7 step drop I've ever noticed from Locker. Footwork is good. The throw, however, is into double coverage and almost picked off. Munch later said that Wright ran the wrong route. Looking at it through that lens, it would appear Locker thought Wright would get less depth on the pattern. Either way, this ball probably shouldn't have been thrown. Protecting the ball is obviously key in this area of the field.
1st and 10 - Bucs 25 Yard Line. 21 Personnel. Same formation as above. Reynaud is in at RB. Titans run a play action, and then a screen to Reynaud on the right side. Ball is completed, but there's nowhere to go. RB is tackled for a loss.
3rd and 8 - Bucs 23 Yard Line. 11 Personnel. Shotgun. 2x2 set. Bucs bring 4 man pressure. Locker is forced to slide right, but goes one step further and bails from the pocket. He rolls out right and throws a strike to Cook for a first down. Stingily gets called for holding, and the Titans march back 10 yards.
3rd and 18 - Bucs 33 Yard Line. 11 Personnel. Shotgun 2x2 set. Bucs bring 3 man pressure, but the bull rush collapses the pocket. Locker breaks loose and scrambles out of bounds for a small gain. I'd prefer for Locker to slide right in the pocket here and look to deliver the ball, but there are worse decisions to be made. Titans appear to be running 4 verticals and the Bucs flood the deep zones. Likely there is no one open anyways. The risk aversion pays off, and the Titans get the field goal on the next play.
That's it for Locker's night. I came into this analysis fully expecting a train wreck. However, that's not what I saw. The game will hardly be a highlight of Locker's career, but it's not as if the play was so poor that it indicates he doesn't have the tools to be the starter for this team. He's making the right reads. Footwork is much improved. Accuracy to the edges looks good. Locker's stat line isn't totally reflective of his performance. It shouldn't be dismissed, either. There needs to be better production in order for this staff to put Hasselbeck on the bench.
I expect that the staff will put in the tape this week and conclude that they need more information. If I'm Munchak and Palmer, I'd start Locker next week, but try to work a little harder to get him in rhythm early. Work the quick game out of heavier sets, and mix in play action. Save the spread looks for when Locker's gotten into a better groove.
I hope to have more thoughts on the rest of the game later in the week. Given that the QB situation is such an important topic, it gets priority at this point.