The big news that rocked the Titans’ world was the loss of Derrick Henry, who has a jones fracture that will keep him out 6-10 weeks. Perhaps, that would suggest that the Titans are no longer in the upper echelon of AFC teams. After all, Henry is a game-changer who changes the way defenses play against the Ttians. That much is true. However, it should not be forgotten that the Titans have A.J. Brown and Julio Jones. Still, what did the tape against Indianapolis showcase that the Titans could perhaps exploit the more they continue to rely on Ryan Tannehill and their passing game. First, there are some things that went awry in the game, and not everything was perfect.
Ryan Tannehill completely gets baited and switched here. Really, it was a great call by Matt Eberflus. The Colts rotate from a Cover 1 look pre-snap to a two-high shell. They will play Cover 2, but it looks like it is Cover 2 man initially underneath. In actuality, it is a trap coverage through Marcus Johnson. The #2 receiver is supposed to be passed off by Johnson to the safety with the linebacker guarding security over the top as Johnson peels off underneath. By doing so, the window that would have been open on the dig route is no longer open. That is exactly how Johnson gets this interception and Tannehill gets fooled. It is absolutely a hard thing to read, but to be relied upon it is one that he will have to make in the future.
The Colts got really tricky with the Titans on a few plays, and they forced two turnovers as a result. On this play, TyQuan Lewis drops out on a creeper pressure. It looks like the Colts will send the entire house, and the hot read for Tannehill is the quick hitch over the middle of the field. However, with Lewis now in that throwing lane, it is not open for Tannehill to hit. Still, he fails to process the change from pre-snap to post-snap picture and a turnover results. Luckily, Lewis fumbles, and the Titans get bailed out as a result, but Tannehill has to be sharper mentally.
This is the play right after, and as any good veteran has to have, Tannehill must have a short memory and get right after it. However, his pose and demeanor have never been an issue. It remains to be seen how teams will play the Titans with Henry out, but this read was easy for Tannehill. The Colts run a single-high look and absolutely stack the box. A.J. Brown is singled up against Xavier Rhodes on the outside. Rhodes is playing with outside leverage. Brown makes one heck of a play at the top of this stem, though. Using the arm over and getting physical with Rhodes, Brown is able to create great separation on this out route. Tannehill can easily fire it to him, and Brown uses his great YAC skills after that result. That is the type of stuff that Tannehill and Brown can do at a high level as a connection. Even on these intermediate connections, Brown’s elusiveness makes these explosive play opportunities.
It is really hard to limit Brown from the variety of alignments that the Titans use him from. Even with Jeremy McNichols and Adrian Peterson, expect the Titans to use play-action as the bread and butter to their game. It stresses the second level of the defense and can get Tannehill in moving pockets. This offensive line is still built to run the football, so Todd Downing should still rely heavily on the running game. Thus, these rollouts with Tannehill make a lot of sense with little backside pursuit. Brown wins his matchup on the out route from the slot and Tannehill makes the throw on the run. He is incredibly comfortable throwing on the run, so getting Tannehill in a comfort zone is huge.
It often feels that people around the league take for granted the true talent they watch when A.J. Brown plays on the field. The Ttians got a ton of single-high looks in this game, and Brown just ate them up from multiple alignments and on different stems. The Colts give him the inside lane here, and he takes it with ease and gets wide open on the slant route. They had no answer for Brown, and playing this aggressive man coverage was clearly not the answer. After all, both of their interceptions came on disguises and not out of their one-high series. That should serve as a lesson for teams that face the Titans in the future.
In fact, that might be where Henry’s loss will affect the Titans the most. Teams may respect the running game, but not be scared of it. It will be interesting to see how effective it will be. If it is not effective, teams will live a two-high world and force the Titans to methodically move the ball down the field through the air with little explosive plays, even with Brown and Julio Jones on the team. Still, the Titans have more than enough weapons to be dangerous through the air even without Henry’s influence. It just depends on how talented secondaries are if they can match talent for talent. On Tennessee’s schedules, not many teams can truly do that.