Well, the Titans certainly are not feeling good about themselves about their debacle on Sunday. Losing to the Jets and an upstart rookie quarterback in Zach Wilson, who unleashed himself as BYU Zach Wilson, is never a fun thing to have happen to you. The Titans are still the likely favorites in the AFC South since the division looks like a chaotic mess. Especially after two weeks of promising signs, there were certainly steps back from this Titans team. In previous weeks in which they have capitalized on their opportunities, this game felt a lot like a ‘what if’ game. If only a few things had happened differently, this would have gone a little bit differently. That is exactly what this game felt like to all levels. They certainly missed the presence of A.J. Brown and Julio Jones, but their absence was not the only reason the Titans lost this game.
The Titans love to utilize play-action, even with Arthur Smith now out of the building. Well, it certainly makes sense. You get to put the second-level defenders in constant conflict with a running back like Derrick Herny, and that opens up shot plays over the middle of the field and potentially deep as well if the safety bites on the underneath route. The Ttians really tried to establish in this game. However, it never truly worked consistently. There were plays that it would do as designed and work wonderfully. However, the protection was often suspect, and even more so, the receivers straight up could not separate. That takes out a large portion of a strong gameplan where you are trying to help out receivers, but they never rose to the occasion. This ball should be out in four or five beats at the most, but Tannehill has no one open here. Sure, David Quessenberry allows pressure, but he too was expecting this one to get out right away as referenced by his jump set. Honestly, the pocket is clean enough to where Tannehill could get this off if the guy is open, but he is not. The blitzing free linebacker, who at this point is no longer in conflict, just nabs that sack because on this type of play, holding the ball for too long is often a sin.
Tannehill himself will have mulligans with his performance. To be very fair, he was not his usual sharp self from a mental perspective. This play reeks of pre-snap determination of a read. Maybe because he was feeling the pressure a lot all day he felt he would not have time to work off his reads, but targeting Cam Batson on this play is the right read if that is the case. At best, this is a single-high coverage and he has a chance on the boundary to hit Batson for a big gain. However, this is a straight blitz and no one drops out, which is something Tannehill has to be cognizant of in his post-snap reads. That hook route in the middle of the field is going to be wide open with the safety backed up deep and no one playing hard towards the middle of the field. Tannehill misses what could have been a chunk gain as a result of the pre-snap-read determination. When the picture changes for the better post-snap the quarterback has to process that fact.
One thing that was not the issue was the running game. Derrick Henry had what could be described as a monster game and for good reason. Not only was Henry running with ease, but the offensive line was creating some serious lanes in the running game. On this wide zone play, Henry gets as much as he could have ever asked for on this play. Even the wide receivers come in to help seal off the edge a little bit, and Henry gets blockers in front of him as he weaves through traffic. This is the type of all-team effort that coaches will love to see from their offensive line. They blew this thing wide open for Henry to rip off a big run, and rip off a big run he did.
This toss is a gorgeous example of blocking by the Titans. Geoff Swaim gets out to seal the edge in a wonderful way. However, the huge block here is from Aaron Brewer, who gets way out in front of this block and reaches the second level with ease. With so many second-level blockers, Henry has to do almost nothing but follow these blockers on this play. He nearly breaks all of those tackles right into the endzone. This is about as picture-perfect from a personnel execution standpoint that Mike Vrabel could have asked for on this play.
On defense, the Titans were shredded for explosive plays far too often in coverage, and it was in a variety of different ways. When you face someone like Zach Wilson who can make great plays out of structure, it is a challenge. However, this one is right in the pocket and as easy as any throw Wilson may get all year. As a cornerback, you have to play to your help, and when you’re playing outside leverage and have a single-high safety, you can’t flip your hips so blatantly to the inside to give up that outside shoulder. Corey Davis takes complete advantage and runs wide open for the out. Then, there’s the missed tackle on top of it. Overall, it is horrible eye discipline and not playing to where the help was on the play. This one will get dissected heavily in the film room.
This at its core is a wild play from the start. It is literally an out-of-structure play the moment that Wilson drops the snap. However, on what was supposed to be a play-action shot play, that route combination is still lethal against the right coverages and personnel. This is a play where they try to rob the middle of the field, but since the deep over the route is continuing to be run and the protection is great, Wilson gets all the time in the world. Kevin Byard just overplays his hands by trying to rob the middle of the field. The slot cornerback does a great job of playing to his help and leverage, but this is one that should be carried, not jumped upon and sat on like a robber would be. It’s a clear coverage error that is fixable, but it causes an explosive play to be allowed.
The thing with playing quarterbacks like Wilson is that they can be coaxed into creating pressure on themselves. Wilson sometimes will escape out the backdoor early and run into sacks. So, controlling the edge and collapsing the pocket is key for an easy stack and shed to force a sack, throw away, or potentially an interception. Simply put, the Titans did not get enough push upfront to get this accomplished. The throw here by Wilson is absurd and it is hard to put much blame on the secondary when they are being asked to cover for more than eight seconds against NFL wide receivers. The pass rush has to collapse the pocket and not let Wilson perform his magic.
So, the Titans’ issues were pretty far-ranging. The secondary struggled at times with sloppy, undisciplined play. The pass rush did not do their jobs to contain Wilson in the ways that would have been outlined. The passing game struggled without its top two wide receivers. Derrick Henry still was phenomenal. This is mostly correctable and nothing has to be a thorn in their side all season, but this is a tough loss they have to learn from.