For a seconds straight week, I’m here breaking down a 42-point outing for the Titans offense. However, this time there are no caveats about short fields to water down the performance.
In fact, the Titans have an incredible seven drives of at least 70 yards against Houston’s defense, the most this team has produced in a single game since Pro-Football-Reference started keeping drive stats in 2001. Those seven included back-to-back 76 and 82 yard drives to tie the game and eventually win it on either side of the end of the fourth quarter.
More records the Titans took down on Sunday?
They became the first team in Titans/Oilers franchise history to record 600 yards of total offense, posting 607 yards of offense on Sunday. That’s the highest total for any NFL team this season and it’s just the second time that a team has exceeded 600 since 2016 (the other being the Ravens 59-10 romp over the Dolphins on opening day last season).
This was not only an extremely prolific performance for the Titans offense, it was also very efficient. Tennessee’s 8.67 yards per play in this game ranks second among all NFL single game outputs so far in 2020 and checks in as the fifth-most efficient game in Titans/Oilers franchise history. That’s now the third time in the last 11 regular season games that Ryan Tannehill and the Titans offense have etched their name into the top-five performances in franchise history in this category.
Tannehill and Derrick Henry combined to become the first teammates in NFL history to go for at least 350 passing yards and 200 rushing yards in the same game.
It’s fair to call this one of the best offensive performances in NFL history. Only 15 teams, including the Titans on Sunday, have scored at least 42 points and gained at least 600 yards in a single game since the NFL-AFL merger in 1970.
However, it also wasn’t perfect. Two second-half turnovers helped create the need for the furious comeback at the end. Fortunately, the turnovers seem to be outliers for this group, who fell from first in the league in protecting the ball to second after their grand total of giveaways now stands at 3 for the season.
We will take a quick look at the turnovers in our breakdown below, but there is far more good than bad to look at from a record day in Nashville.
Creative play design in the run game
Arthur Smith is starting to get some real head coaching buzz in the national media and deservedly so. He’s taken the foundation that Matt LaFleur laid in 2018 and built upon it beautifully over the past year and a half, consistently adding new wrinkles and variations of familiar concepts that test the rules and discipline of opposing defenses.
Here is an example of one of those wrinkles that was extremely effective this week. The Titans come out in 12-personnel with Jonnu Smith and Geoff Swaim as the tight ends tight to the tackles on each side of the formation. Adam Humphries and A.J. Brown are both very tight to the formation as well, creating a very condensed look. All 22 players on offense and defense are visible in this shot (the safety’s red shoes just barely making it in the screen at the top).
The Titans like to use these condensed sets for a few reasons. One is that it gives Derrick Henry easier access to the edge when they run their outside zone looks. Another is that it allows the wide receivers to work into that pocket of space behind the linebackers quickly when they go play action, as well as giving any vertical route concepts a two-way go.
The concept that the Titans run here is a familiar one. It’s a split zone run that exists in every playbook that runs a scheme similar to the one Tennessee employs. The five offensive linemen — mostly — follow their typical zone blocking rules. Taylor Lewan and Rodger Saffold double the three technique and work to the Mike linebacker. Ben Jones, Nate Davis, and Dennis Kelly all reach block to the “playside”.
Within the guard-center-guard triangle that linebackers are often taught to key, this looks a lot like a regular inside zone run to the right (one of the Titans favorite calls). However, this is a counter to that play so instead of trying to reach the outside shoulders of the defensive linemen that they’re blocking, the offensive line looks to wash down their assignment and push them to the right of the screen.
Meanwhile, Jonnu Smith has a sift block assignment, working against the grain of the offensive line flow, he is responsible for kicking out the backside defensive end. The interesting thing is what happens with the Titans other tight end — Swaim — who steps like he’s going to block down (selling the inside zone again), but then peels off and runs a flare into the flat.