As usual, great drama in the NFL playoffs this weekend. I’m sure tons of Titans fans were pondering how far their team is from this level as they watched. The franchise has raised questions as to whether they know what the heck they are doing, changing position coaches without coming up for air to discuss their direction publicly.
While Mike Munchak is deep in the lab, here is my outsider’s take on the most critical issue tied to his success: getting the most out of Jake Locker. Two of the most exciting and effective players who stood out were Russell Wilson of the Seahawks and Colin Kaepernick of the 49ers. In putting Locker’s game up against the QB’s performing this postseason, I kept coming back to the same conclusion: the Titans have to consider using Locker as a runner more often. It’s time to Kaepernikize him.
There is still room to grow as a pocket passer for Locker, but the more he plays the more the book on him coming out of college looks accurate. He may never be a tremendously accurate passer or wizard at reading defenses. Tom Brady he is not. But Jake Locker can run. Is it ideal to have a QB running all over the field? Probably not (See: RGIII). But watching Kaepernick and Wilson got me thinking: Are the Titans taking the wrong approach with Locker?
Forget about the passing numbers for a minute. Let’s just agree for now that Locker, while still a work in progress, is at least not awful. He has at least had his moments that give you some hope. So let’s say he is on his way to being at least an average NFL passer. What can elevate him? Let’s look at this year’s rushing stats of some QB’s who will always be compared to Locker (we’ll include playoff games):
ATT YDS Yds/Rush Starts Starts Rush Att/start
1. Russell Wilson 109-616 5.65 18 6.05
2. Robert Griffin III1 125-836 6.68 16 7.81
3. Colin Kaepernick 79-596 7.54 8 7.25 *
4. Jake Locker 41-291 7.10 11 3.72
• Kaepernick played in 6 other games in which he came off the bench in spot duty. His rushing totals are in full on the left, but I only looked at games in which he played the whole game to get a read on how often the 49ers are using him to run. That is reflected in Rush Att/Start.
As you can see, Locker has similar tools as Wilson, Kaepernick and RGIII in terms of yards per carry. His long run of the season was 32 yards, so it’s not as if he gotthe bulk of his total from one run. But he is running only roughly HALF AS OFTEN in terms of attempts per game. Now lets look at another QB Titans fans can relate to:
ATT YDS Yds/Rush Starts Rush Att/start
Steve McNair (’97-’02) 479-2,827 5.9 89 5.38
Postseason (’97-’02) 48-322 6.7 7 6.85
Why did I only look at 1997-2002 with McNair? If you recall his MVP season of 2003, his injured calf rendered him virtually immobile by the end of the season, and bothered him throughout the year. This very much skews his running totals by a surprising margin. By that time he had become an elite passer to overcome it. McNair’s numbers during early to mid stages of his career are a better comparison to Locker, Wilson, Kaepernick, and RGIII currently.
So as the Titans decide how do design their offensive philosophy from coordinator on down, the question is this: Is Locker more like Tom Brady, or Steve McNair? Obviously there are many other factors (supporting cast, etc). But a weapon like Wilson not only produces the rushing yards, but the added value of passing yardage resulting from extending plays, threatening to run, then hitting a receiver downfield.
Take a look at Kaepernick’s long pass to Frank Gore Saturday Night as an example. McNair devastated defenses with this ability. It’s hard to tell if Locker can get to this level, but he clearly can move well enough. He needs to keep his eyes downfield better than he currently does. At this point, when he decides to run, he’s running.
But that can improve. It’s a dimension the Titans simply must discover. The methods Munchak could use to get more from Locker’s legs are multiple. Like McNair, they can serve him well as he develops his passing skills. Whether it's simply a mindset, more freedom to run, or a read option design similar to what the 49ers used to carve up the Packers Saturday night is out of my league. It just seems a few more runs for Locker per game could elevate the Titans offense. Kaepernikize.
Photo: JAE S. LEE / THE TENNESSEAN