Good to be back writing about football again, especially after a win. It feels like an eternity since the team played last. And, it was worth the wait. After all the noise about the Titans surrounding COVID, the limited practices, and the key players missing for the team, I don’t think anyone expected this type of a blowout.
Huge credit to this coaching staff. They’re establishing a winning culture built on accountability. In the environment this team faced with limited practice, and no access to the facility, each player holding their teammate — and themselves — accountable is the only way to produce this type of result.
As for the performance itself, it was a smart, disciplined game plan even if it didn’t have a lot of razzle dazzle. The Titans made their plan clear early — they played mostly a four-man rush, soft zone, and allowed whatever the Bills wanted underneath. They didn’t over commit to the run as that was a weakness of Buffalo coming into this game. Of course, it wasn’t just that simple. They did mix in some man looks from time to time, but, in general, they elected to keep everything in front of them, limit explosives, and bet that Buffalo couldn’t beat them with long sustained drives.
It worked. Buffalo couldn’t get the run game going. Josh Allen was off target most of the night. And, the game snowballed on them.
This game plan felt very much like Bill Belichick. Buffalo came into this game as one of the best offensive units in the league in terms of explosives generated. Like Belichick would, Mike Vrabel elected to take away what they wanted to do. Now, traditionally, New England game plans are more specific than “take away explosives”. Obviously, if there were a simple game plan to do that every game, every team would do it. Still, it applies here. Buffalo is the worst team in the NFL at running the ball per Football Outsiders DVOA. Instead of trying to combat Allen with exotic pressures, they took away the explosive play, and gave them all the underneath plays they wanted.
They limited the explosives with a variety of coverage looks. While the coverages varied, they were consistent in that they were zone heavy.
On the first series of the game, the Bills faced 3rd and 4.
Initially, the secondary shows a pre snap either Cover 1 or Cover 3 look. Kevin Byard rotates late to get to a 2-high shell. The team is in their 1-4-6 personnel, which really speaks to how multiple this group can be with their fronts.
Post snap, the Titans convert to a Tampa 2 look. The underneath routes are flooded with 5 defenders. Over the top, there are two safeties, and also Jayon Brown matching the vertical seam route. This linebacker up the seam is the hallmark of what differentiates Tampa 2 from Cover 2. It can be a versatile coverage, but it’s especially good at limiting explosives.
Allen wants the seam ball, but it’s taken away. (In fact, on the very next offensive play for Buffalo on the next series, Allen forces the ball into this double coverage for an incompletion). He’s forced on to his next read, and just makes a poor throw behind the receiver. Credit to Butler for being in the right position and capitalizing on a bad play.
This is important to note. It looks like Butler is beat here, but the intent of the entire Titans strategy is to allow plays like this and take away the explosives over the top.
Later on, in the 3rd quarter, the Bills were putting together a drive. They had reached the Titans 33-yard line and faced a 2nd and 4. Down 11 points, the Bills needed to score on this drive.