We are less than 30 hours away from watching the Tennessee Titans open their season against the Arizona Cardinals. Now that the regular season is here, I will be doing weekly offensive forecast articles where I will be discussing what I liked from the previous week, didn’t like, and what I expect to see in the upcoming week.
Since this is the first week of the season and there is no previous week to review yet, I will only be discussing what I expect to see out of the Titans’ offense this season. With that said, let’s dive right into it.
Foundation of the offense
One of the narratives that has annoyed me all off-season is this chatter that the Titans lost the architect of their offense and no one knows what the team is going to look like in 2021. Mostly because that is usually followed by the same exhausting Ryan Tannehill disrespect that has been outdated since 2019.
No one is denying that Arthur Smith is an incredible coach, he helped elevate this offense to heights that this franchise has never seen. With that said, that doesn’t mean he deserves ALL the credit that the national media tends to give him.
In reality, current Green Bay Packers head coach Matt LaFleur is the one who laid the foundation for this potent offense that we see today. It’s one of the main reasons why Mike Vrabel continues to hire his offensive coordinators from those already on the staff rather than hiring someone completely new who could try to change the brand of football that the Titans believe in.
This allows the team to keep their continuity by ensuring that no one new tries to drastically change what LaFleur created and what Smith helped evolve.
The Todd Downing era begins
Now that both LaFleur and Smith have moved on to become head coaches, Todd Downing is the latest man to get the offensive coordinator promotion to run the show in Tennessee.
It’s highly unlikely that Downing changes the offense that much, but it will be exciting to see what kind of wrinkles he adds to the offense. You can still expect a heavy dose of Derrick Henry throughout the year, but I’m curious to see if he opens it up more and provides more targets for the two superstars out wide in Julio Jones and A.J. Brown.
Since joining the league, Brown only averages one game per year where he has gotten at least 10 targets. For comparison: Justin Jefferson had seven games last year alone where he saw 10 or more targets.
In those two games where Brown saw at least 10 targets, Brown has averaged nine catches for 132.5 yards and one touchdown. To expand on that even further, Brown only has six career games where he has seen at least eight targets. In those six contests, Brown has averaged seven catches, 107 yards and he has scored at least one touchdown in every single game that he has seen at least eight targets.
If Downing is smart, he will stop overloading Henry with a drastic amount of carries and start feeding his young superstar much more often. This doesn’t mean to completely change their identity, this team is always going to thrive off the play-action attack that is set up by Henry. But it’s time to be more creative and evolve this offense even more by finding ways to get the playmakers out wide the number of targets they truly deserve.
This should be even more tempting now that he has someone of Jones’ caliber on the other end who will undoubtedly draw a ton of attention of his own. Whichever one of these receivers sees the opposing team’s No. 2 cornerback needs to be fed early and often.
How Downing can evolve the offense in 2021
One wrinkle I hope to see out of Downing is more RPO’s (run-pass option) out of this offense. Often times defenses overly sell out to stop Henry and very seldom does it seem like we take advantage of it. Forcing defenders to think and hesitate even for half a second is enough time to allow one of Tennessee’s stars to find a crease in order to make a play.
During his brief stint in Oakland as the team’s offensive coordinator, RPO’s were an integral part of Downing’s offense. It’s definitely the main wrinkle I hope he adds to this offense that already has most of its foundation in place. I believe that will allow Tannehill to use his legs as the weapon they truly are while giving defenses a ton to think about as the haymaker can come from any angle if they aren’t on their Ps and Qs.
Downing has a lot of powerful talent at his disposal, but with great power, comes great responsibility and that usually corresponds with a ton of pressure. If Downing is able to handle all of the expectations that are on his offense, this could be a special year in Tennessee.