The third preseason game in the NFL is the dress rehearsal for the regular season. Sticking with the dress rehearsal theme, the Tennessee Titans and Atlanta Falcons would be the two actors who don’t quite know their lines in the play yet. The Titans because of numerous offseason moves, and the Falcons because of injuries.
Ken Whisenhunt is trying to give Tennessee an identity. That won’t be easy to do with one of the most nondescript rosters in the league. The most important thing for Whisenhunt and the Titans is to keep Jake Locker healthy. Locker is entering his fourth year in the league and Tennessee still hasn’t been able to fully evaluate him.
Rookie quarterback Zach Mettenberger has been up and down so far in the preseason. He completed 20 out of 25 passes for 269 yards and two touchdowns a week ago. That’s great, but he also threw an interception and lost a fumble for the second straight game. Despite the turnovers, he has shown the potential to be a possible replacement if things go poorly for Locker.
Justin Hunter is the player to watch for Tennessee. He was a workout wonder coming out of college and might be figuring out how to translate his athleticism to the field. He caught four passes for 111 yards and two touchdowns last week. The Titans’ second-round pick from 2013 is a definite candidate to be a breakout star this year.
On the other side of the ball, Ray Horton has implemented his hybrid 3-4 defensive scheme. Tennesee is still in the learning phase of this new system, but it will be beneficial in the long haul. Horton guided the Arizona Cardinals to one of the best defenses in the league last year.
It is all about staying healthy for the Falcons. Last season went down the drain for Atlanta because of injury woes. The good news is that Julio Jones and Roddy White appear to be back to their all-pro shape. The bad news is that they already lost starting left tackle Sam Baker to a season ending injury.
The Falcons spent the offseason trying to rebuild one of the worst offensive lines in the league, which makes the injury to Baker even more devastating. Atlanta’s first-round pick Jake Matthews is going to step in at the left tackle spot. That’s a tall task for a rookie.
Matt Ryan has reached the point in his career where the preseason is meaningless. He is among a handful of quarterbacks who are only going to be judged based on playoff success. Since that’s the case, I wouldn’t expect Ryan to play as long as other first team players. There is no reason to risk his health behind this offensive line in the preseason.
Apart from Ryan, you should expect to see a lot of playing time for the starters on both teams. That alone will make this game more watchable than the previous two weeks of preseason, and the best part is that once it’s over, there will only be one more week of preseason left.