It would be easy to call these past couple of weeks a roller coaster for Titans fans, but that doesn’t completely capture what happened in week 1 and 2. Really, at least on paper, the Titans have put together 6 truly awful quarters of football, and 2 exceptional quarters to follow those. While most of the game against Arizona was just flat bad, second half highs and lows against Seattle are less polarizing than one would expect.
As fans, there’s certainly a tendency to look for some kind of an event that caused such a seismic shift in results; a halftime talk, or some creative schematic change. Yet, that’s not what the tape showed. Instead, it revealed a fairly consistent pattern, which this staff should be able to learn from. While no team wants to come out of the gate with 6 awful quarters, I think the methods used against Seattle create a framework moving forward. Offensively the recipe is there, and this past Sunday should reinforce that a good process will yield good results eventually.
This offense must be organized around the run game
This point cannot be overstated. Somewhat counterintuitively, this does not mean running Derrick Henry constantly. What it means is that the threat of the run must remain a constant pressure point for the defense to contend with. Even down big at halftime, this staff recognized that running Derrick Henry – and the play action game that accompanied it – were critical to maximizing offensive efficiency. And, they were right.
Ryan Tannehill was the highest graded PFF passer off play action throws in week 2 with a grade of 99.4. And, the stats above speak for themselves.
Really, those numbers could have been even better:
An easy drop here early on, but, back to the original point, they stuck with this formula.
This play comes at the start of the team’s first drive in the 4th quarter as they find themselves down 30-16. Despite some early struggles from AJ Brown, the targets continued, as they always should. And, even when down 14 points in the 4th quarter, this staff stuck with their bread and butter. Before we move on to the next play, please admire Henry here. In both of the plays above, his pass protection is critical to making the play work. This happened more than a handful of times on Sunday.
So, after a big play action gain, what’s next?
The Titans run a windback. An old Mularkey staple. It’s functionally a zone counter play. The goal is to get the defenders to move with the zone action of the offensive line, and then the entire line washes them down and the runner works backside. Hell of a block by AJB here.
Then, of course, we just have to admire Derrick Henry. And, I mean that seriously. Be sure to take notice that you are getting to watch one of the all time greats every single Sunday. Men this large should not be able to make these kinds of cuts and have this type of straight line speed.
Much of Henry’s production, however, was just an incredible individual effort.
Henry consistently had to beat defenders at or near the line of scrimmage, which leads to the next point.
The offensive line needs work
It’s hard to say the offensive line (and, this includes blocking TEs here as well) is outright bad. That wouldn’t be true. Still, they aren’t the life engine this team has come to expect in years past. At least, not at this point in the season. As mentioned above, in spite of this, Henry still found ways to make it work.
Titans run outside zone here, and every gap is covered. This is especially true of Swaim who was routinely driven in the backfield this game. Henry makes it work because he’s not of this world. Even so, this isn’t the type of execution that will yield consistent results.
That said, if you want basic answers for the offensive woes in the first half, it mostly involves pass protection.
Late in the 1st quarter, the Titans are in the redzone. They get the look they want with Chester Rogers coming open on 2nd down in the back of the endzone. However, Saffold gets beat and allows the defender to disrupt the throw.
Later, the Titans are knocking on the door again. It’s 3rd and 5 from the Seattle’s five yard line.This play doesn’t have a chance before it even starts. Nate Davis blows this protection and Bobby Wagner gets a free shot at the quarterback. The team settles for a field goal.
Finally, to put the cherry on top to close the 1st half, the Titans run play action here. Swaim is left to block Robinson – a defensive end – one on one. Sack fumble, and the Seahawks score a touchdown 2 plays later to go up.
A few things here:
- The offensive line has taken time to get in sync before, so I don’t think this is necessarily something that the team can’t overcome. That said, it’s obviously something to monitor that needs to improve.
- The plays above highlight the negative, but teams don’t score 33 points with abysmal OL play. They were serviceable.
- There are schematic things that need to be addressed. I know wide zone asks the tight end to be a key blocker. There isn’t much of a way around this, but at least acknowledging this weakness would be wise. Swaim is a negative as a blocker, and if he’s asked to continue his current role in the run game, the team is only asking for problems.
- This is even more true in the play action game. Don’t rely on tight ends to protect against true edge rushers in pass protection. While this may be better than the naked play action that caused the fumble against Arizona, it’s not by much (as you can see above).
The staff needs to get out of the defense’s way
Above are all the plays pre-snap on the final series of the 1st half by the Seahawks. They get the ball with 1:05 on the clock and two timeouts. An eternity in todays NFL. The Titans deploy a defensive strategy that gives them a layup AND the sideline on nearly every play. It’s astonishingly poor strategy, especially given that the defensive front had been mostly solid and even had 2 sacks in the first half.
I recognize that there’s no need to necessarily go hyper aggressive with 1 safety and press coverage, but the coverage above is so safe that it’s actually harmful. And, the problem is that it’s also happening in traditional situations.
Then, of course, there’s the situation above where Landry lines up over Lockett and (incorrectly) passes him off to McDougald. The Titans are going to run zone. No team runs straight man coverage, as this would be entirely too easy to dissect. Still, common sense playcalling that puts an actual defensive back on dynamic receivers would be wise. Don’t overcomplicate things.
The team would be wise to get to more looks like this. Play aggressive and allow your defensive backs to cover…well, unless they are Molden…
Note, I understand the irony of posting the clip above after suggesting the team should move to more man coverage with less cushion. But, with the explosives given up in back to back weeks, I’d hope that the staff doesn’t put Molden in these types of situations, and instead they get Chris Jackson more playing time. This isn’t to say the team needs to bail on Molden. However, in the immediate term, I think Chris Jackson is a better player. And, hopefully, we get to see Caleb Farley soon, which likely involves neither Jackson or Molden on the field as often.
Odds and Ends
- I like Pruitt the most of the TE bunch. He wasn’t a great blocker on Sunday, but he probably edged out Swaim. And, he’s a much more dynamic threat receiving.
- Jackrabbit still needs to keep looking for new cleats.
- Chris Jackson is violent in pursuit at the LOS. He made a couple of these plays. I think he’s a clear upgrade over Molden at this point.
- The defensive line looks solid to me. Autry, Simmons, Dupree, and Landry all flashed at different times. Tart and Murchison look much more explosive as well.
- Given the opportunity, I’d go to mostly 2-high with mixed man/zone looks, and allow lighter boxes. Make teams nickel and dime you to death, and rely on the defense to make plays.
- AJ Brown will bounce back. Keep feeding him.
- Oh, and Julio too.