By John Glennon
It’s always a challenge to know just how much to take away from a preseason game, whether it’s a lopsided win, an ugly loss or anything in between.
The projected Titans’ offensive starters, for example, haven’t even set foot on the field in the team’s first two exhibition contests.
Still, if you’re a Titans fan, wouldn’t you prefer that your team outscore its two opponents by a combined 57-6 than vice-versa? Wouldn’t you prefer your defense – even if the starters aren’t playing a lot – to look aggressive and turnover-happy, stifling one drive after another? Wouldn’t you prefer your kicker to look increasingly reliable, as opposed to what the last couple of regular seasons have looked like?
Those were some of the promising developments the Titans could look back on following Saturday’s 34-3 win over the Buccaneers.
Here are 10 takeaways from the game:
1. Barkley steps up his challenge
In the preseason opener, quarterback Logan Woodside had the first half to himself, and he put together a quality performance against Atlanta.
Heading into the Tampa Bay game, it looked as if Woodside held the upper hand in the battle for the back-up job behind Ryan Tannehill. But Titans coach Mike Vrabel chose to alternate Woodside and Matt Barkley every two series on Saturday, and Barkley took advantage of his reps with better players.
It was Barkley who led the Titans on their first scoring drive, after Woodside’s first two series – both of which began deep in Tennessee’s territory – fizzled quickly. Barkley was fortunate enough to enter the game with the ball at the Bucs’ 43-yard line – after a fourth-down stop by the Titans. He guided the Titans to a TD in seven plays, hitting Mekhi Sargent on a fourth-down score from five yards.
Barkley led the Titans on three first-half scoring drives and also added a second-half touchdown pass, hitting Mason Kinsey for a 20-yard score. He finished the night 12-of-16 for 115 yards and two touchdowns, good for a 134.1 quarterback rating.
It was a strong showing, especially considering Barkley signed with the Titans just over two weeks ago.
“I’m a pro – this is kind of what I’ve had to do for the last eight years of my career,” Barkley said. “I was semi-familiar with this offense, don’t have a whole lot of experience with it. But those things are kind of starting to come back. I’m starting to get used to the play calls, and that’s really the toughest part is just being able to spit out play calls and being able to visualize everything.”
It wasn’t as productive a start for Woodside, who went four-for-five for 23 yards in the first half. He said afterward he felt frustrated at halftime, but that Ryan Tannehill helped settle him down prior to the second half. Woodside stepped things up a notch, hitting Dez Fitzpatrick for a 20-yard touchdown. He finished the night seven-of-eight for 64 yards and a touchdown, posting a 139.6 quarterback rating.
“Start of the second half, I really tried to challenge the guys that we needed to put a drive together, and we were able to go down and do that,” Woodside said. “So that was nice to see.”
Said Vrabel of the quarterback rotation: “I think they handled it well. There’s always going to be plays you’d like to have back whether it’s reads or checks or throws. But I thought they both capitalized on the situations the defense put them in.”
2. Molden makes his mark
If the Titans’ first preseason game proved an opportunity for rookie Rashad Weaver to showcase his skills, the second preseason contest highlighted the play of another rookie – cornerback Elijah Molden.