The flip side to my recent pick of Derrick Morgan the biggest surprise for the Titans in 2012 is picking the biggest disappointment. While Morgan wasn't the only player I considered for that honor, after a 6-10 season following up 2011's 7-9 mark, the disappointment field is sadly a competitive one.
The problem with picking a disappointment (and also a surprise) is that it is relative to expectations; one man's disappointment may be another's reasonable performance. Take, for instance, Karl Klug. He had a very productive rookie year with 7.0 sacks, and many Titans fans were looking for that many or more again in 2012. He slipped to only 3.5 this year, and many people might rate him a disappointment. As I wrote before the season, though, he was lucky with how many sacks he got relative to how much total pressure he had, and 3-4 sacks would be a more reasonable expectation for his 2012 production. That's right in line with the 3.5 sacks he ended up with as a fourth defensive tackle who tended to play situationally. That doesn't make him a disappointment in my book.
My pick for the biggest disappointment for the Titans in 2012 is quarterback Jake Locker. I wrote before the season that "whether Hasselbeck or Locker is the starting quarterback will not dramatically change how good the Titans will be in 2012." As far as my predictions go, this isn't the worst one I've made, but it certainly wasn't the best one either. Through much of the season, it was relatively close to true, but the Titans ended up a better offense with Matt Hasselbeck under center than they were with Jake Locker thanks to a string of six consecutive below-average offensive performances to end the season .
I'm not going to try to turn this post into a full evaluation of Locker's 2012 season. That's something I'm sure I'll be spending time on, and it's a multi-post project I'll work through over time. Obviously, the entire blame for the second half of the season doesn't fall on him. Nevertheless, Locker's performance over the course of the season was little more than a disappointment to me. His shoulder injury against the Texans came off a slot blitz where he failed to identify the blitzer, a situation similar to the Saints game his rookie season where he suffered a similar injury, albeit one he was able to return from.
Locker was pretty efficient as a rusher and, as I predicted, more efficient on a per-play basis than VY was a rookie. What was disappointing, though, was research by my colleagues at Football Outsiders has indicated running backs who play with a mobile quarterback tend to experience a slight boost in productivity, even if the team calls very few rushing plays. That wasn't apparent in the Titans numbers in 2012, as Chris Johnson tended to run more efficiently in the games Matt Hasselbeck started.
Meanwhile, the two things I identified as weaknesses for Locker relative to Hasselbeck before the season were both issues for the Titans. The Titans were an excellent red zone offense in 2011, ranking fifth in the league in points per red zone possession. They remained similarly turnover-light in the red zone in 2012, but it came at a tremendous cost in overall efficiency. I'll break down the Hasselbeck and Locker possessions later, but the Titans as a whole came out tied for 23rd in points per red zone possession this season. That inefficiency cost the Titans about half an expected win last year, and the first Jaguars game is a good example of just how red zone inefficiency costs teams.
Avoiding sacks, meanwhile, was an area where Hasselbeck excelled last year. Locker was sacked at a raw rate (sacks + attempts, not including scrambles) of 7.0% last year in his limited sample size last year. In 2012, he got worse, being sacked at a raw rate of 7.4%. I plan to break down sacks later this offseason in a way similar to what I did last year, and I'll have more thoughts about how many of those were on Jake Locker and how many on an offensive line that saw some non-starters play and struggle. Still, it was a preseason concern of mine as something Locker needed to improve at, and I'm not seeing the improvement.
Oh, and as I noted on Twitter a bit ago, the Titans scored more than 20 points on offense in regulation once in the ten games Locker started, that being against the Dolphins. That sort of productivity makes it very, very hard to win games in the NFL unless you have a very good defense, which of course the Titans did not. Even though my expectations weren't high, add the numbers and what I saw up, and Jake Locker is the clear choice as the Titans' most disappointing player in 2012.