The Titans were unable to make Mettenberger's debut into a particularly memorable one, getting outplayed by the Houston Texans in almost every phase of the game.
The Titans came out of the gate very flat on offense. Zach Mettenberger looked scatter shot early on, but mixed in some decent completions. The Titans wideouts struggled to get their feet under them all day long, which didn't help the rookie QB any. It is ironic that the rookie QB and the young wideouts were hardly the problem on the day.
Tennessee's hopes were inflicted by the poor play of the offensive line's right side: Michael Oher and Chance Warmack were hopeless on the day, giving up pressure vs both the run and the pass. They also put the team behind the eight ball with painful penalties that put the offense in hopeless positions on early downs, and failed to open up any significant lanes for Bishop Sankey to work with. While Taylor Lewan was a stone wall on the left side of the line, the failings of the rest of the group were too much to overcome. In the end, the offense was dysfunctional at best, and logged only 22 snaps of offense in 1st half.
Mettenberger came to life in the 3rd quarter, as he began to pick apart the Texans defense no matter the coverage. Houston employed a mix of two-deep safety looks with fire zone schemes, bringing at times five rushers to put pressure on the pocket. The rookie QB responded with big plays to Kendall Wright down the seam, and Nate Washington on a back shoulder nine route. While Mettenberger made some decision-making errors, you have to like the poise in climbing the pocket and finding the open guy. He finished with a hair shy of 300 yards, a pair of scores, and a 7.5+ yards per completion. Not a shabby debut at all.
When the contest was done the Titans had rushed for less than fifty yards, and by the time the offense got moving, the game was already well out of hand. The Titans have invested far too much into the offensive line for it to be a weakness, but that's where the team is at. The prospects of a top five offensive line in Tennessee in 2014 have been shattered.
The Titans defense was a different story. They remedied some earlier ills, finally getting a pass rush going again which resulted in four sacks. The pressure came from all over; Jurrell Casey on the interior, Kamerion Wimbley an Derrick Morgan off the edges, and even rookie ILB Avery Willimson from the second level.
But for all the pleasure of seeing some pass rush issues corrected, the unit was an utter sieve against the run. As a whole, the group gave up 150+ yards to Arian Foster at 7.6ypc. And worse yet, they couldn't stop Foster in the air either. The Texans back repeatedly gashed the Titans on cut backs, the most notable coming in the first half, where he reversed his field and outraced four Titan defenders to the pylon.
That's not to say it was all doom and gloom. Tennessee had bright spots too. Veteran corner Jason McCourty had a very solid game out there, playing tight coverage and holding Andre Johnson to only three catches under his watch, all for minimal gains. Avery Williamson was another big standout. The former Kentucky Wildcat was everywhere, playing well both down hill against the run and while in coverage. The rookie also showed some flash with a savvy inside LB blitz, sacking Ryan Fitzpatrick before he had a chance to complete his drop. In the same way that JJ Watt abused Chance Warmack, Jurrell Casey destroyed Texans G Brandon Brooks. Casey posted his best game since week one, and looked solid in both the pass rush and the run blocking department.
In the end, the Titans inability to respond to Arian Foster made winning all but impossible. You just aren't going to get a lead when your offense is stalling in the first half and you are giving up 7+ yards per clip against the run (barring some fortunate turnovers).
The Titans had horrible field position for much of the day, save for a return in which Dexter McCluster took the ball back fifty yards to set up a Titans field goal. The Titans have been underwhelming on special teams all year. That didn't change much in this one.
The Titans let yet another one get away from them, this one in fairly convincing fashion. And while everyone will focus on the performance of young Zach Mettenberger, there is equal pressure on the offensive line to right the ills that have plagued them of late. An improved level of play there will allow this Titans running game to breathe, and that will certainly make things easier for Mettenberger.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Titans won't make many strides if they continue to bleed yards on the ground. Ruston Webster and co have plenty of work to do over the offseason in maybe revising this defensive roster to better suit Horton's scheme.
There is hope after an encouraging, if unpolished, start by Mettenberger.