Well, to say the least, the Titans did not look good in essentially any phase against the Arizona Cardinals. So, combing through the performance of each individual unit is a slog, to say the least. With such little positive to take away from a 38-13 drabbing, this is where the analytical eye needs to take the forefront. What can the Titans do to improve in each specific area? For this one, trying to highlight plays that can showcase what went wrong feels apt. That never necessarily means one specific area. Sure, it is a big picture viewpoint, but there are so many individual problems in every play, that a macro view is the only thing that actually makes sense to overview. Take this rushing play, for example.
Take it for what it is, and it highlights the absolute destruction that Chandler Jones left in his path on Sunday. Taylor Lewan is a good tackle, and it would make sense for this game to be an outlier. However, he has always had a bad habit of lunging forward. In fact, Lewan has terrific pad level. But as an offensive lineman, this is when Lewan gets into trouble. The punch becomes frontal, and since Jones is quick enough to evade this, Lewan overextends, drops his head, and allows Jones to get by with ease. Against elite players like Jones, subtle things like high hands, which in turn cause the lineman to drop their head, will be taken advantage of repeatedly.
Jones is a terrific player, and going off of that theme to look at how he wrecked the gameplan as badly as he did on Sunday, there are plays like this that leave the viewer scratching their head. Play action has long been a staple of the Titans offense, and that is all good. They had run this outside zone play with Henry on the play shown before this one. Todd Downing was trying to build on a series of play calls. However, there is a serious schematic question to any scheme that leaves Jones as a free rusher coming into the face of Ryan Tannehill. Most edge rushers are going to be aggressive and run down the line with the zone action, but Jones is one of the savviest pass rushers there is. In no way does this play call make any practical sense at any level of the game. Maybe, this falls on Tannehill for not changing the play. However, overthinking things like this are exactly how game-changing turnovers happen. Not to mention, this was in a 2nd-and-11 scenario, making the call even more baffling.
Okay, one more Chandler Jones specific reckoning, but this time in pass protection against Lewan. Lewan tries to get extremely aggressive and right up on Jones. He executes what is known as a jump set. There is one basic rule when using a jump set, and that is to set your feet before you punch as an offensive lineman. Notice how Lewan’s feet are still moving, and instead of having a set base, his base is too narrow and displaced. With that occurring, it gives off a lunging effect yet again, and Lewan fails to have a stable base of balance to stop Jones from running around the arc. Jones might be too wide to even use a jump set here, so it would be nice to see Lewan use a 45-set on this play. The aim is for Tannehill to get the ball out quickly, which is why Lewan uses a jump set. However, a 45-set would allow far more flexibility for Lewan. So, it just feels like there is a lack of true strategy here with the plan to stop Jones.
Okay, enough of Chandler Jones. Let’s take a trip to the opposite side of the ball to see what in the world happened to the Titans’ defense in some aspect. Something that was interesting in Shane Bowen game plan is how often he decided to keep his cornerbacks on an island. Seriously, it was far more than you would think when you are a team going to face DeAndre Hopkins. Leaving Jackrabbit Jenkins on an island against Hopkins is asking for a problem. Playing with outside leverage, Hopkins attacks that leverage right away with a shuffle release to get right up on Jenkins’ toes. This allows Hopkins a two-way go to either come back down towards Kyler Murray or work a move to the inside. With a sharp turn back inside, Jenkins is forced to flip his hips, and simply gets his ankles broken. That is what happens when a mismatch like Hopkins gets put on an island against someone like Jenkins. This is not an egregious schematic decision, but it sure felt a little bit like careful negligence at times.
On the other hand, it was not exactly like they were fantastic in Cover 2 all day, either. Kristian Fulton is at fault for this play every time. In Cover 2, there is one basic principle and that is to keep everything in front of you. In no way is the out route more threatening than the go route that A.J. Green is running on this play. These guys should be coached to stop the explosive play at all costs. Biting on that out route should not be done until Green is adequately passed off, and the Cover 2 safety was not allowed to get enough depth towards the sideline for that to happen. There are just little things like this, but it makes such a world of difference when looking at what could have been throughout the game, and what could be in the future. This is a learning experience for Fulton.
The defense was a bit of a jostled mess at times. To say the least, there were a lot of plays that just left you scratching your head when watching them. Now, this is a fun version of the windback reverse that Kyle Shanahan has run for years in San Francisco. However, instead, this is a quarterback keeper version of that. While it is hard to fault the Titans for going with the outside zone action, nearly the entire right side of the defense takes too long to recover because they commit to the other far too early. They are backside pursuit and always have to have their ears perked up for things like this. So, to not be square when the situation was not a pursuit drill yet is a coaching point that has to be hammered home, otherwise, misdirection can be a big issue for the Titans defense all year.
Kliff Kingsbury did a great job at getting his players into great positions to win. Football is a chess game of mismatches, and man did the Cardinals find them at will. Going with straight man coverage in this area, with such a huge cushion between Hopkins and Kevin Byard is asking for trouble. Especially, even more so, when the team can see a blitz possibly coming. Hopkins is the hot route here on a quick slant. There is no way Byard can win this, and against someone like Hopkins, you are just feeding them easy yards. This is something to pay attention to in the future. Maybe the blitzes become more simulated blitzes. In this type of situation, when the Cardinals spread to empty, they like to hit on this quick in-routes, so the call for a blitz was a little curious on 2nd-and-5. Still, dropping some of those guys out would help. But, the Titans have to prove they can get home with four guys more consistently, and they did not do it nearly enough on Sunday.
Back to the offense, and the running game was not just being blown up by Jones. Rather, it felt like a lethargic offensive line could never truly put everything together into one, big nice run on one play. At times, there were some individual flashes. However, someone would always get smoked so bad that the play was blown up before it even started. Just look at all the blocks across the board here. There is almost no push, the entire offensive line pops up right at the snap, and they simply get out leveraged on this play. Nothing feels coordinated or driven, and it gave the running game a lifeless feel.
This play does not have a ton of push, but there is enough here for Derrick Henry to work with something on the frontside. If it is a one-on-one situation, trusting Henry to win that battle at the goal line is always a good bet. However, David Quessenberry getting schooled by J.J. Watt is not what you want to see at all on this play. To say the least, Watt fires off this ball like he is shot out of a cannon, and Quessenberry gets caught leaning. Quessenberry has a tendency to get on the balls of his toes and lurch forward at the waist, which carries his momentum too forward. Watt very well might have noticed this and executed a quick swim move to get in on the backside pursuit.
Alright, let’s end this off on a positive note. There was not much to be positive about on Sunday, but this is one of those things. The passing offense felt horribly underutilized in Sunday’s game, but this is what the offense could look like with things at its peak. Tannehill does a phenomenal job to look off the safety and open up a tiny throwing window for A.J. Brown. He fires an absolute missile for the dime and a touchdown. The passing offense should be a strength for this team the entire year. Just looking at it overall, this is an encouraging sign if things get cleaned up and the passing offense can become far more expansive.
So, overall, the Titans were just a sloppy team that made too many mistakes on Sunday. It is Week 1, so none of this is a true and tried problem yet. However, the defense looked eerily similar to how it looked in 2020, and the offense seemed to have little to no life in the running game. Those are concerns, but the ship can still be righted this week.