In Week 12 Vince Young led the Tennessee Titans on a 99-yard game winning drive as time expired against the Arizona Cardinals. With 2:37 remaining in the game, the Cardinals downed a punt at Tennessee's 1-yard line with a 17-13 lead. What looked like a victory for Arizona instead turned into the latest chapter in Young's return to prominence. Eighteen plays later he hit rookie wide receiver Kenny Britt in the back of the end-zone for the go ahead score and his fourth consecutive game winning drive.
Overall, Young threw for a career high 387 yards in the game, and was named AFC Offensive Player of the Week for his efforts. Since he has taken over as the starting quarterback in Tennessee, the Titans have gone 5-0. They are the first team in NFL history to win five consecutive games after starting the season 0-6. While nobody can discount the impact that Chris Johnson has had during the winning streak, the improved play of Vince Young has been just as important.
To quickly illustrate how far Young's quarterback play has come, let's take a look at his DVOA for 2007, his last full season as a starting quarterback. That season he had a DVOA of -8.4%, which ranked 31st in the league. That put him just ahead of J.P. Losman, who isn't even in the NFL anymore. However, since regaining his starting job in 2009, Young has posted a DVOA of 28.7%. That's the leagues 8th highest DVOA, and ranks him ahead of players like Ben Roethlisberger (9th), Tony Romo (10th), and Carson Palmer (11th).
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It has been over a year since Vince Young lost his starting job after the 2008 season opener. During that time he had an opportunity to watch and learn from the sidelines while veteran Kerry Collins led the team on the field. Despite the criticism leveled against Young for his inconsistency throwing the ball, head coach Jeff Fisher never wavered from the 3rd pick in the 2006 draft, insisting that he remained the franchise quarterback and that he was taking advantage of his opportunity to study the game. For his part Young has credited Fisher with helping him mature as a person, explaining that after spending so much time as Collins' backup, "I grew up a little bit."
While there were reports that the team was unenthusiastic about the move to start Vince Young initially, a five game win streak will do wonders for your credibility. In his first few starts the Titans employed a more conservative offensive approach in order to keep Young at or below 25 passing attempts. Fisher had this to say after the Week 8 victory against Jacksonville, "This is the first start he's had where he has not had a sack or interception. He has learned to check-down, get rid of the ball or take off when it is time to go take off."
In recent weeks Young has proven that he is also capable of throwing the ball down the field with accuracy. He has career highs in completion percentage (62.9%), yards per attempt (7.7), and quarterback rating (90.2). His ability to complete passes for big gains will ultimately determine his fate. If he can continue to convert his attempts efficiently he will continue to have success. If not, he could revert back to the 2007 version of Vince Young that was benched after one game in 2008.
His arm will be the ultimate indicator of whether or not he should be the Titans starting quarterback in 2010, but his legs are still one of his most valuable weapons. Young's ability to scramble and extend plays has always been a strength, and that has proven especially true in the red zone this season. Because he can create plays with his legs when his receivers are covered down field, the Titans have been able to improve their time of possession and cut down on their turnovers. Offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger has even incorporated some option plays into Tennessee's playbook, which have already led to big runs for both Chris Johnson and Vince Young.
Whether or not Vince Young is the long term answer at quarterback for the Titans is yet to be determined. However, he has clearly given the team a spark on offense and is proving game at a time that he has in fact matured by sitting and watching. As the season draws to a close, it is imperative that he continues to develop and progress as a player and as a person to secure his starting job for next season. Even if Tennessee is not able to get themselves out of the six game hole they dug, and they end up missing the playoffs, being in the race down the stretch could be just the kind of learning experience this team needs. Perhaps next year their return to prominence will mirror that of their quarterback's.
* DVOA statistics taken from footballoutsiders.com
** All quotes taken from the Nashville Tennessean