In the Trenches: Titans Offense vs Colts Defense

This weekly article has focused on how the Tennessee Titans are playing in the trenches on both sides of the ball. I’m switching things up a little bit here. I will still be looking at how they faired in the trenches on offense….while expanding a bit to other players and talking about performances for the entire offense.

This was a tough game to watch. The offense missed several opportunities along the way. We will take a look at some of those here. The offense was not as bad as I thought they were during my initial viewing. They moved the ball well when they weren’t making mistakes. Due to the downfalls of the other units, this offense has to be perfect in order to survive a game.

Typically, the Titans offense has been able to cover up or at the very least stay in games in spite of defensive play. The second half was a different story. This performance doesn’t fall at the feet of just one unit. This was a team effort and the blame should be shared by all involved.

The stats tell a weird story that does not match the performance. The Titans possessed the ball just two minutes less (28:42) than the Colts (31:18) did. The Colts also had 26 first downs versus 25 for the Titans. Third down efficiency was also very close but there was a huge difference on 4th down as the Colts went 3-5 on those downs while the Titans were 0-1.

The big difference comes down to the total yards for this matchup (Colts 430 / Titans 294). I am digging into these numbers as it shows that the Titans did find some success during the game, but overall the short drives and three-and-outs were what hurt the most.

Special teams didn’t help. Two short drives turned into a shanked punt and a blocked punt on back to back possessions. If the offense finds a way to put something together on those possessions, this is a different game.

Rodger Saffold was dinged up once again and will miss tomorrow’s game against Baltimore. Ben Jones also left with an injury but was able to return and will play against the Ravens tomorrow. Even with a couple of starters missing time, Derrick Henry found a way to inch over the century mark for the day, finishing with 103 yards.

The offensive line as a whole gave up one sack that was not their fault. It was more a play design issue and it resulted in a 10-yard loss. However, there were more pressures than I am sure Ryan Tannehill was comfortable with.

Lets get into it.

Whiteboard Reviews:

The Good Boot
  • I hope the Titans start mixing in more of these easy plays for Tannehill. They’re the kind of plays that result in decent gains. They’re also confidence builders.
    • 1st play on offense, Titans outside zone action.
    • The key to this boot is Geoff Swaim on the backside. He focuses on getting a temporary block on the end man before releasing and allowing Tannehill to cleanly get into his rollout.
    • Khari Blasingame starts out with his lead action to the left before ducking under Tannehill’s fake motion and escapes to the flat on the right.
      • This first action and fake to the left causes the linebackers to flow with run fake allowing Blasingame to release freely.
    • Note here that Tannehill could have forced a throw to Jonnu Smith but kudos to him for taking the simple / available throw instead of potentially forcing a throw.
      • Routes are a levels concept with Smith running the mid level and he is open, but Tannehill would be throwing back across his body a bit.
      • Levels or flood routes attack short, intermediate and deep areas of the coverage.
    • Clean first play of the game results in a 13 yard gain to get the Titans rolling.
The Bad Boot
  • This possession occurred right after the Titans defense stopped the Colts on 4th-and-goal from the 1-yard line.
    • 3rd and 1 for the Titans and they run a play action fake to Blasingame.
      • Based on a gut feeling, I think the Titans might have been trying to set up a seam throw back to Blasingame (you can see A.J. Brown really influencing the coverage on him to get out of the middle of the field or on a hybrid mid screen).
      • Like I said earlier, it’s just a feeling but all of the other routes were covered up and I am hoping the Titans had other options for Tannehill on the play.
    • Unlike the above boot, Swaim does not get a piece of the end man at all and it allows a free rusher to get a clear path to the QB.
      • The end also does not bite on the fake to Blasingame at all and goes straight for Tannehill.
    • Swaim, Smith and Brown are once again running a levels concept.
      • Swaim running a corner route.
      • Smith on a lower drag.
      • Brown intermediate drag.
    • This play is successful if the offense is able to fool the defense, but it didn’t work out that way.
    • It results in a 10 yard loss setting up 4th down and welcoming shank-o-potu-mus on the punt.
Play Action Crosser
  • Smith is running clear out to the numbers with a deep out underneath Smith by Swaim.
    • These routes help clear out the hash to the number for the crosser to come underneath.
    • Brown and Corey Davis are both running crossers at the mid level.
    • Tannehill looking for the hole in the coverage.
      • Great job anticipating the route coming open into the area on the hash marks.
      • Brown does a great job snagging this ball away from the crashing defenders.
        • The Colts seemed to have this routes number as they were dropping and watching for the drag/crosser in the middle of the field.
    • Play Action run fake from the line.
      • Saffold pulls and blocks the right end.
      • Ty Sambrailo is one-on-one with the left end.
      • Nate Davis and Dennis Kelly are working that backside A and B gap. They’re looking for an immediate blitz threat from second level.
      • Jones is blocking back and responsible for the gap that Saffold is vacating by pulling.
      • Henry is helping Saffold chip the end after run fake.
    • Results in a 21 yard gain.
Successful Toss play
  • Offensive line working outside zone blocking rules
    • Kelly is wrapping around the down blocks coming from the outside WRs.
    • Kelly works hard to the boundary, unsure of where Henry will break the run.
    • Kalif Raymond motions in on the snap then fakes the reverse.
      • Eye candy to help freeze the linebackers.
    • Westbrook-Ikhine and Brown are both blocking down to the gap on the inside of both players, targeting end man and next inside leakage.
      • Westbrook-Ikhine does a great job to continue working and staying with the block.
      • This allows Henry to cut inside for a big gain.
    • Jamil Douglas working from center gets out and helps work his block to the outside allowing a cutback lane for Henry.
      • Offensive lineman will always try to overtake the outside/play side shoulder in outside zone scheme.
      • However, if the reach can not be obtained, then goal is to stay on defender and stretch block to the boundary.
    • Big gain for Henry of 20 on a successful toss play.
Henry Off Tackle
  • Starting with Kelly who takes a step outside and sets up inside wash block to set the corner for easy read for H back block.
    • Davis and Jones work the 1 tech to the backside backer.
      • Davis does a great job pushing the 1 tech off on to Jones.
      • Davis then works up to the second level and is able to hunt and cut the linebacker.
    • Douglas and Sambrailo are responsible for the backside cut off to not allow quick penetration.
    • Swaim is at the H-back position.
      • His lead is made easy by Kelly washing the defensive end down into the interior of the line.
      • He is then able to block the front side backer giving Henry a clean path to attack the safety.
Jet Sweep touchdown

  • Great play design I wanted to include.
    • Smith goes in motion pre-snap and drags a defender in man coverage across the formation.
    • At the snap, Smith crosses behind Tannehill to take the hand off on the Jet sweep.
    • The rest of the offense is blocking off tackle/outside zone in the opposite direction.
      • This traps the backers and end players into sucking into the line, allowing Smith to get around them.
    • Another finger roll attempt that could have ended up being bad. But style points I guess!

Second Half Drives

As I mentioned above, the Titans did not do themselves any favors by following up a 4th and 1 goal line stop by the defense with anything of real positivity. Here is a break down of the play results:

  • 1st & 10 from the 1, Henry 5 yard gain on an inside zone dive
  • 2ne & 5, Henry 5 yard gain on another inside zone with a cutback
  • 1st & 10, Henry 9 yard gain on an off tackle stretch to the left
    • At this point it is 2nd & 1. The Titans are starting to roll, then the wheels fall off.
  • 2nd & 1, D’onta Foreman is stopped for no gain on another inside zone play
  • 3rd & 1 is the bad boot play mentioned in the White Board Review section

The next act in this play is the shank of a punt from Trevor Daniel. The Colts have an extremely short field to work with. The ensuing easy score on this short drive has to be defeating for a defense that had to come back out after the 4th & goal stop.

The Titans get the ball back after the Colts touchdown. They proceed to go 3 & out:

  • 1st & 10, Incomplete pass to Smith who was open on a delayed corner route
    • He had a step on the defender and it was an overthrow from Tannehill
    • Not sure if it would have been a touchdown or not, but a big gain was left on the table here
  • 2nd & 10, Henry stopped for 1 yard gain on a power play that either Henry bounced too wide or Nate Davis did not pull wide enough
  • 3rd & 9, Tannehill Incomplete pass to Anthony Firkser on a hook route on the hash mark

This leads to the blocked punt and all of a sudden the game is turning into a disaster. To add insult to injury, the Titans do put together a nice drive on the next possession that saw multiple successful funs from Henry. The drive stalls out thanks to a holding penalty on Nate Davis that wiped out an 11 yard Henry run that would have placed the ball on the 7 yard line with a 1st & goal upcoming. Tannehill has back to back incomplete passes (one a bit behind Brown but got his hands on the ball, and the other missed on a perfect throw that Firkser slipped on) and the drive ends with a missed field goal.

Disappointing result on a drive that the Titans absolutely needed to stay in the game. Points of any kind brings it to a one score game and all of a sudden the Titans could have stimmed the tide.


It was a mixed bag. The Titans were not awful on offense and were able to move the ball when avoiding miscues. Finding themselves 6-3 after going 5-0 is not great but it could be worse. Imagine if some of those close games during that 5-0 stretch had gone the other way. Where would the Titans be now? The “what if” game is pointless to play (even though it is good food for thought) and the Titans need to improve in all areas of the game to get back on the right track.

Look for the offense to get back to basics a bit and try to help out their defense by sustaining long drives to attempt to keep the game in a better balance.

The Ravens game tomorrow should be a good one. Both teams are dealing with a ton of injuries in addition to their inconsistent play.

Hopefully the breakdown of that game will be less depressing to go through.

Author: Ryan WatsonThe resident Old Dude who's found a way to still be involved with football after years as a college and high school football coach. An O-line truther who cut his teeth coaching wide receivers. A Titans fan since he started paying attention to football again after coaching, roughly 2008. The other half of the greatest podcast you've never heard of (the numbers were very telling) Taking It To The House Sports. Currently involved in multiple podcasts on Broadway Sports Network talking shop on Coaches Corner and trying to guide fantasy football decisions on The Flex.

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