Last Sunday the Tennessee Titans won their second game in a row after beating the Indianapolis Colts 25-16.
There was a lot to like and dislike about last Sunday so let’s recap what went well and what didn’t. However, before we start, let me do a quick reminder of what qualifies as a successful, stable, and negative play.
When you hear something qualifies as a “positive play” that means at minimum, the player netted enough yards to stay ahead of that particular down and distance.
Example: To keep it simple, on 1st and 10, if the runner gains four or more yards with no penalty, that would be considered a positive play since two similar results on the next two downs will give the team a first down.
Second example: Should the runner get three straight plays of three yards or less on a 1st and 10, that would then be considered either a stable or negative play depending on what happened in that particular situation.
Note: ALL big gains, first downs, touchdowns, etc., count as positive.
ALSO: Any sack, TFL, incompletion, or short gain counts as stable and/or negative.
Keep that in mind as we discuss Tennessee’s most effective and ineffective personnel packages.
With all that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the things I did like from last Sunday’s game.
What I liked on offense against the Colts
Todd Downing is attempting to get creative with multiple personnel groupings
One thing I talked about last week was how I wanted to see them continue to run this offense through 11-and-12-personnel and that obviously didn’t change much. However, this week we saw a lot more creativity out of those packages, including more spread and empty formations.
I also emphasized that I wanted to see less of the often predictable 13-personnel and Tennessee did just that. Against Seattle, the Titans ran plays out of 13-personnel a total of 13 times, only producing four plays with positive results.
Last Sunday against the Colts, the Titans only ran 13-personnel three times and not a single play produced a positive result.
Outside of their most common 11-and-12-personnel, Tennessee also got more creative and ran eight combined plays out of 00, 10, 13, & 21 personnel packages.
Below is an in-depth breakdown of how each of those packages was produced in last Sunday’s quarter.
11-personnel (3WRs, 1TE, 1RB)
From the 32 plays Downing called out of 11-personnel, 56% of those plays netted a positive result. To get more specific, here’s a breakdown by quarter:
1st quarter – 13 plays were called out of 11-Personnel, six of those netted a positive result (46%).
2nd quarter – seven plays were called out of 11-personnel, five of those plays netted a positive result (71%).
3rd quarter – three plays were called out of 11-personnel, one of those netted a positive result (33%).
4th quarter – nine plays were called out of 11-personnel, six of them netted a positive result (66%).
12-personnel (2WRs, 2TEs, 1RB)
Out of the 25 plays out of 12-personnel, 56% of those play calls netted a positive result. Here is the breakdown by quarter for 12-personnel:
1st quarter – six plays were called out of 12-personnel, three of them netted a positive result (50%).
2nd quarter – seven plays were called out of 12-personnel, five of those netted a positive result (71%).
3rd quarter – four plays were called out of 12-personnel, three netted a positive result (75%).
4th quarter – eight plays were called out of 12-personnel, three of them netted a positive result (37%).
10-personnel (4WRs, 1RB)
One play was called out of 10-personnel, 0% of those plays calls netted a positive result.
- interception off Chester Rogers deflection
13-personnel (1 WR, 3TEs, 1RB)
Out of the three plays out of 13-personnel, 0% of those play calls netted a positive result.
- two 1-yard runs
21-personnel (2WRs, 1TE, 2RBs)
Out of the three plays out of 21-personnel, 33% of those play calls netted a positive result.
- 19-yard run
- Two-yard run
- One yard run
The Titans called one play out of 00-personnel, 0% of those play calls netted a positive result.
Offensive coordinator Todd Downing likely goes back to this exact formation more often if A.J. Brown doesn’t get injured on the only 00-personnel call of the game.
Downing is starting to use more spread and empty sets
One thing many Titans fans have been asking for out of the offense is more empty sets. Tennessee has an extremely deep wide receiver room that may not be full of household names outside of the top two, but they are all capable of impacting the game at any moment.
Downing called five empty sets throughout the game. He called one play out of empty sets in the first quarter, three in the second quarter, and one in the third quarter.
The two plays called out of empty sets from 00-and-10-personnel resulted in an incompletion and an interception.
The play below is out of a 00-personnel package with Racey McMath, Nick Westbrook-Ikhine, Chester Rogers, A.J. Brown, & Julio Jones out wide. Unfortunately, this is the play that Brown hurt his hamstring on and they never returned to this specific package after this.
The Titans saw much better results with the three plays that were called out of an empty set from 11-personnel. Those three plays netted seven, 11, and 25 yards.
Hopefully, once the Titans have all their receivers healthy, they can revisit more of these empty sets to get the ball to their playmakers with room to run afterward.
Offense took advantage of Ryan Tannehill’s legs
Back in my first offensive forecast article, I mentioned how I wanted to see this offense take advantage of the threat that Ryan Tannehill’s legs pose on defenses.
Through the first two weeks, we’ve gotten the occasional Tannehill run, but last Sunday was the first time that the Titans’ quarterback truly showed what he’s capable of.
Tannehill set a career-high in rushing yards with 56 on five carries (11.2 YPC) last week. The Texas A&M product broke free off beautifully designed bootlegs intended to take advantage of an overly aggressive defense while also using his incredible improvisational skills.
Tannehill is way too good of an athlete not to be using his legs as a threat. He must do a better job at sliding in order to protect himself, but if this offense is able to sprinkle in the occasional Tannehill run, it will help open up everything else as defenses now must account for another potential ball carrier at any moment.
Taylor Lewan bounce back game
After a disastrous outing in Arizona, and being forced to miss Week 2 in Seattle, left tackle Taylor Lewan had a fantastic bounce-back game against Indianapolis.
By no means was Lewan perfect, he had plenty of plays that he probably would like to clean up, but overall his performance was night and day compared to the season opener.
Lewan didn’t allow a single sack on the day and helped the ball carriers rush for 79 yards on 13 carries when running to the left. The Bussin’ With the Boys’ co-host played with the type of confident aggressiveness that we are used to seeing out of the three-time Pro Bowler.
It was awesome to see Lewan get back on track and show glimpses of his old self. Now, the important thing is that he starts stacking good games on top of each other while consistently getting healthier and stronger with each passing week.
Julio Jones embracing blocking in this offense
It’s no secret that playing wide receiver in Tennessee’s offense is going to require you to block maybe more than you would like. One of the more absurd notions going on around the internet right now is how some fans are insisting that Jones isn’t capable of blocking.
Some go as far as to say outlandish things like they’d rather have Davis over Jones at WIDE RECEIVER because he’s “a better blocker”. I don’t even have time to go into why that’s an absurd statement when it comes to catching, route running, tracking the ball, releases, size, speed, fundamentals, production, etc. Therefore I will just keep it at blocking.
Throughout his career, Jones has historically been one of the most physical receivers in the league. He’s been a consistent blocker throughout his career and a ball-hawking defender whenever needed after a turnover.
More recently against Seattle, Jones made a huge block that helped lead to a score.
Jones is cognizant enough to recognize that Henry is reversing fields, he then seals off the cornerback as Henry reads the block and gets in the end zone.
Last week, Jones helped Henry break off a crucial first down run as he cracks one of the Colts’ best run stoppers in Kemoko Turay to seal him off just enough so Henry is allowed to get outside to pick up the first down.
Obviously, the hamstring injury Jones suffered to end the game was a real bummer, nonetheless, it was very promising to see signs that Jones is starting to fit in and make plays for this offense even when the ball isn’t in his hand.
Wide receiver depth showed up
Both A.J. Brown and Jones ended last week’s game with hamstring injuries that ultimately prevented either of them from finishing the game.
After an entire training camp of hyping up how deep the Titans’ receiver room is, it was nice to see the hype carryover when the team really needed them. Wide receivers Nick Westbrook-Ikhine, Chester Rogers, Cam Batson, & Racey McMath, all stepped up and played valuable snaps last Sunday.
Rogers contributed the first touchdown of the game meanwhile Westbrook-Ikhine led the team in catches (4) and receiving yards (53 yards).
The Titans may be without their top two receivers on Sunday so that room will once again have another opportunity to prove just how deep that group really is.
Consistent long drives, especially one to end the game
Out of Tennessee’s eight offensive drives on offense last Sunday, seven of those produced at least seven-play drives.
The real dagger came when the Titans ran a 14-play drive on their last possession of the fourth quarter that ultimately put the game out of reach after a short field goal.
The drive started with a six-point Titans lead with 10:14 left in the fourth quarter. Tennessee didn’t give the ball back until there were less than three minutes on the clock and held a nine-point lead.
Last Sunday, we got to see the type of aggressive coaching this team needs out of Mike Vrabel in order to put games away.
In the first quarter, the Titans needed a first down on fourth-and-four in the territory that’s often considered too close to punt, yet too far to kick a field goal.
Tennessee’s offense chose to stay on the field and picked up a first down after a massive 15-yard conversion to Julio Jones.
Going for it on 4th-and-4 in the first quarter was the fifth-best coaching decision of the week according to EdjSports. This Improved the Titans’ chances of winning the game by approximately 3.3% according to their data.
The biggest decision came following a fourth-quarter touchdown pass to Jeremy McNichols. Vrabel and company chose to go for two to give the Titans a two-possession lead in the fourth quarter.
Tennessee converted the two-point conversion on a Henry run and took a late nine-point lead that was too much to overcome for the Colts.
Did not like against the Colts
Last week, the Titans survived despite turning the ball over three times against the Colts. This is, unfortunately, starting to turn into a worrisome habit through three weeks. On the season, the Titans are a minus-6 in the turnover differential category (1/7).
Rogers must clean this body catch habit of his up. He almost did a similar play in overtime against Seattle that essentially would have given the Seahawks the ball in field goal range. Fortunately for him, that pass safely fell to the ground and the Titans were able to live another play. That was not the case on Sunday.
To add the cherry on top of a three-turnover day, Tennessee fumbled like they have done a ton this season. Nick Westbrook-Ikhine has been a pleasant surprise for the Titans thus far but this was not one of his best moments.
Colts cornerback Rock Ya-Sin strips the Indiana product in what could have been another backbreaking turnover. Fortunately for Tennessee, they never trailed in a game where they turned the ball over three times. A huge indictment of how well the Titans’ defense is starting to play right now.
Tennessee must fix this habit sooner rather than later because they won’t be able to survive that type of turnover output against the NFL’s elite.
Injuries are piling up
Last Sunday the Titans left Nissan Stadium with a record of 2-1 but they also left much more battered and bruised than when they arrived.
Julio Jones, A.J. Brown, Bud Dupree, Kristian Fulton, Rashad Weaver, & Brett Kern, all left Sunday’s contest with Fulton being the only one to return to action.
Tennessee has a laundry list for an injury report at the moment. Hopefully, the injury bug starts to slow down because the Titans can not afford to lose any more key players for the long haul.
Eliminate annual kill shots
Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill has played fantastically to start the 2021 season despite having a turnstile for an offensive line. Tannehill has been sacked 10 times on the season, five of which came from the same player in a disaster of a season opener.
Since then, the Titans have settled down and protected the quarterback much better, but they have allowed at least one sack in each game.
The really worrisome thing, it seems like the offensive line has at least one mental lapse a game which often leads to a free kill shot on the quarterback.
Both Tannehill and the offensive line have to do a better job at identifying and getting into the correct protections. If Tannehill is going to survive the entire season, Tennessee must eliminate these B-lines towards the quarterback.
The Titans’ offensive line must take advantage of a Jets defensive front that has only produced six sacks on the year in order to start building some momentum for the long haul.
Be on the lookout to see if this o-line unit can pitch their first sack-less shut out this Sunday.
Five things I want to see from the offense against the Jets on Sunday:
-Offensive line protects Ryan Tannehill, give Tannehill his first game without a sack.
-Offense enforces their will with Derrick Henry.
-The wide receiver depth on this team takes advantage of the opportunity to play extended snaps.
-Fundamentally sound football, eliminate penalties and turnovers
-Continued variety with multiple personnel groupings. Don’t just go to 13-Personnel now that Jones and Brown are out. Continue to be creative.