Quarterbacks and injuries, that’s essentially what Thursday's Arizona Cardinals versus Tennessee Titans preseason showdown is going to be all about. Both squads have unofficially pledged to play through at least the first half, so tonight’s game should paint as good a picture of where everyone stands as any outing has thus far.
Will John Skelton officially cement his starting spot tonight? Will Jake Locker reaffirm that he’s Tennessee’s best quarterback? Can Arizona’s ground game shoulder some offensive pressure? Do the Titans have any viable receiving options whatsoever?
We’ll find out the answers to all that and more soon enough. Here are three other things from each team to keep an eye on during tonight’s proceedings:
1. John Skelton vs. Kevin Kolb. It’s all but official that John Skelton will be the Cardinals’ starting quarterback at the beginning of the regular season, so at this point it’s just about watching to see if there is anything he can possibly do to mess that up.
Last week, he went an effortless 3-for-3 on a scoring drive. Kevin Kolb, conversely, went 3-of-6 in a bumbling, scoreless, sack-filled effort. There is a reasonable case to be made that Skelton hasn’t actually accomplished enough to unseat Kolb as a starter, and that Kolb is really just being railroaded because of a couple of lousy preseason games, but there is too much momentum going against Kolb for him to win this battle now.
2. How will the offensive line hold up? Regardless of who the quarterback is tonight, the Cardinals have serious issues as it pertains to the o-line. With Levi Brown out, both the right tackle and left tackle positions are going to be a mess unless Ken Whisenhunt figures out some sort of fantastic solution that the rest of the world isn’t seeing right now.
You’ll see a lot of D'Anthony Batiste, D.J. Young, Jeremy Bridges and Bobby Massie tonight, but what exactly they’ll be able to accomplish is anyone’s guess.
3. How does the running game look? Seeing as we have no idea what we’ll see from the quarterback position this year, getting good production out of the ground game will be essential to a successful Cardinals campaign. Beanie Wells is supposed to return tonight, so it will be interesting to see what sort of dynamic he and Ryan Williams can develop over what’s left of the preseason.
1. How does Jake Locker look? Jake Locker may have only completed four passes for 21 yards last week versus the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but apparently that was enough to sell Mike Munchak on his talents. A few of days later, Locker was named the starting quarterback over Matt Hasselbeck.
What does this mean? Well, it means that Tennessee would rather try to develop Locker than desperately try to make the postseason in a stacked conference where there is probably no playoff room for them anyway. It’s an understandable thought process but, if Locker looks bad tonight and Hasselbeck comes in with another 4-of-5ish performance, you may start hearing some dissatisfied chirping from Titans fans.
2. Who are this team’s big time wide receivers? In all seriousness, with Kenny Britt out, who is Locker supposed to be throwing to this year? Kendall Wright? Nate Washington? Tonight’s game is worth tuning in to just to see who exactly will be on the other end of all of the touchdowns that management clearly envisions their new golden boy throwing.
3. How does the defense look? Last year, Tennessee had some very notable pass rush weaknesses. Today, the Titans are going up against an Arizona Cardinals line that’s awful even when it’s healthy, but that’s actually been ravaged by injuries, too. If they can’t absolutely destroy John Skelton, Kevin Kolb and whoever else Arizona lines up, that should send up some red flags as far as how the D will look this season.