This week saw the Tennessee Titans move to 5-0 with an overtime victory over the division rival Houston Texans. There have already been a few articles written talking about the some of the coaching “decisions” with Mike Vrabel taking a penalty to preserve time and the offense’s stellar performance overall.
Later this week, we will see breakdowns of the offense and defense both. In this piece, though, we take a look at some of the impactful moments and decisions that could get lost in the shuffle but deserve a spotlight for their huge impact on the game.
Jonnu Smith Second Effort
With 8:00 to go in the second quarter, the Titans faced a 3rd and 12 from their own 14-yard line. The Texans had just scored a touchdown to cut the Titans’ lead in half at 14-7. You could feel the momentum beginning to swing, and a quick three-and-out would have given the Texans a chance to drive to tie the game.
On this play, the Titans set up a design that has twice burned them on defense this season. On what is essentially a screen pass, all of the receivers are looking to block except for Jonnu Smith, who is running a shallow crossing route.
What is key here is for the blocking receivers to not engage their blocks prior to the pass being completed. As the pass is across the line of scrimmage, making contact too early would be a penalty (which the Titans were called for on Tuesday night against the Buffalo Bills).
The Texans defenders are sitting at the first down marker, conceding the underneath route with the expectation that they would make the tackle prior to the first down.
The Titans execute the play relatively well, but the Texans ultimately crash down on Smith about two yards short of the first down.
The strong tight end keeps his feet, though, and is able to break the tackles and fall forward to get the first down.
This little extra effort was the possible difference in the Titans driving down to take a 21-7 lead, and the Titans possibly taking a tied game into halftime, with the Texans set to receive the second half kickoff.
J.J. Watt Batted Pass
On the same drive as the Smith broken tackle, the Titans run a play action pass that has a seemingly innocuous result. With 6:13 left in the quarter, Tannehill attempts a swing pass to Derrick Henry as a checkdown into the right flat. J.J. Watt, as he is prone to do, knocks the pass down at the line of scrimmage.
This is an easy play to write off. However, if you fast forward to the overtime drive, the Titans run the same play and the end result is a 53-yard reception to Henry. The Titans would go on to score the game-winning, walk-off touchdown. This earlier play helped set up that opportunity.
The play design calls for Adam Humphries to take a reverse motion behind Tannehill after the snap.
On the earlier snap in regulation, the Texans actually leave Humphries unaccounted for as the defender does not follow Humphries across the formation; the Texans are playing zone coverage.
The Texans learned from this, and in overtime, the defense adjusted to this formation, having the nickel back defender follow Humphries in man coverage. By doing this, however, they left middle linebacker Zach Cunningham to account for Henry. Henry’s delayed release allows him to get lost by Cunningham, who had decided to attack in a “green dog” pass rush.
53 yards later, the Titans were in prime position to score the game-winning touchdown.
The Blocked FG Attempt
At 9:16 to go in the third quarter, the Titans lead the Texans 21-10 and were driving again deep into Texans territory. The Texans manage to force a 4th-down decision at the 9-yard line when receiver A.J. Brown is stopped short coming back for the pass. The Titans choose to attempt a field goal on 4th and 3. Ultimately, this field goal attempt is blocked, and the Texans would drive down the field to cut the lead to 21-17.
Its easy to say the Titans should not have kicked in hindsight, but I actually feel kicking was the wrong decision regardless of outcome. Had the Titans made the field goal, they would have held a two-score lead on the Texans. They already had that at 21-10, though. On a day where the offense put up over 600 yards, it would have been a pretty calculated bet that they could have picked up three and had a chance to take a likely insurmountable 18-point lead. Even if you fail on the 4th-down attempt, you leave the Texans with over 80 yards to score a touchdown.
The Texans made several decisions throughout this game that maximized their chance of victory: by going for it on 4th downs and attempting a two-point conversion to try to take a two-score lead late. Often, teams with losing records play with an edge of “nothing to lose” and catch better teams off guard who are playing “safe.” Vrabel has made a name for himself by going for it in situations and believing in his team to make plays. On a day where he made some great strategic decisions, I believe he could be critiqued for taking the safe route in this situation,.
What other unsung moments throughout the game had an impact on the game? Leave your feedback in the comments.