NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Jake Locker leads the Titans in rushing and passing yardage, prompting defenses to be aware of his arm and legs.
The second-year pro, however, is developing another way of gaining yards in his first-year as a starting quarterback: with his voice. Locker is seeing first-hand the benefits of an effective hard count to draw penalties against defenders.
Locker recorded his first NFL victory Sunday in the Titans' dramatic 44-41 overtime win against the Lions. He posted career highs in completions (29), attempts (42) and yards (378). Locker also rushed four times for 35 yards, including a career-long 31-yarder near the end of the first half.
Tennessee also benefitted from four 5-yard neutral zone penalties against Detroit that improved field position, set up scoring opportunities and helped the Titans hang onto the ball longer.
"They had, obviously, a good defensive front, and we were trying to slow them down a little bit and help the offensive line," Locker said. "We were able to actually gain, pick up some yards offensively as well in some key situations."
Neutral Zone Penalty 1: The Titans faced third-and-10 from the Detroit 18-yard line in the first quarter and were awarded third-and-5. The next play fell incomplete, but Rob Bironas followed with a 31-yard field goal.
Neutral Zone Penalty 2: The Titans faced second-and-17 from their own 34 in the second quarter and were awarded second-and-12 from their 39, and Locker connected with Jared Cook for a 61-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown.
Neutral Zone Penalty 3: The Titans had first-and-10 from the Detroit 25 late in the first half and received first-and-5 from the 20. Locker lost the same yardage when Detroit stuffed a designed run, and gained it back two plays later with a short throw to Kendall Wright. The drive halted but resulted in a 38-yard field goal by Bironas.
Neutral Zone Penalty 4: The Titans had third-and-9 from the 50 and were awarded third-and-4 from the Detroit 45. Locker completed a 5-yard pass to Craig Stevens to gain the first down, and the Titans kept the ball for an additional three-plus minutes. The drive, however, ended with a wayward 41-yard field goal attempt.
Locker said it can be more effective at home because the offense doesn't have to fight crowd noise the way that it has to on the road.
"It's something that we always practice," Locker said, "and we try to switch the snap count up as much as we can just to give ourselves an advantage, especially at home."
Center Fernado Velasco, who is also in his first year as a starter, said offensive linemen must maintain focus to avoid committing a false start.
"You've just really got to prepare your mindset: 'This play is on two, or we're going with the quick play. I credit Jake," Velasco said. "He did a good job with that (Sunday). Usually, the older, veteran quarterbacks — Kerry Collins, (Matt) Hasselbeck — those are the guys with the great hard counts that can really get guys offsides because they've got the grind in their voice because they've been doing it forever."
Velasco said the Titans tried to use the aggressiveness of the Lions' front four against them.
"That was something that Coach (Chris) Palmer had been preaching to (Locker) all week because these guys like to rush the passer," Velasco said. "They're looking for any little tendency, any kind of niche, anything that can give them an extra step to get up field."
The Titans (1-2) will face an aggressive defense again this week when they visit the Texans (3-0). Houston has nine sacks (tied for sixth in the NFL), with defensive end J.J. Watt already tallying 5.5 to lead the AFC and rank second in the league in the category.
Titans coach Mike Munchak said he's been impressed with how Locker has handled the less conspicuous aspects of what many consider the most difficult position in sports.
"I just think the way he's controlling the huddle, the line of scrimmage, the way he's adjusting to what defenses are doing, the way he — (Detroit) likes to pass rush and he got them four times on a hard count," Munchak said. "That really takes away some of their aggressiveness when you can do that as a quarterback, so he's aware. He's not just so caught up in what he's doing. He's aware of the game within the game and how those things make a difference. He's checking plays. If it's Cover 0 Blitz, he's going to other things. He's aware of what's going on around him, so that's fun to watch a young guy be able to do those things already."