The Titans may have taken hearts and upped people’s blood pressure as they roared back to win in Seattle on Sunday. However, on tape, there are lots of positives, and still, some question marks to answer as the team goes forward. However, the crux of the narrative around this game is the complete opposite of their Week 1 loss to Arizona. There were quite literally almost zero positives coming out of that game. In this one, there are things that showcase a team that may be growing and starting to gel on a few levels. The offense beat Seattle both through the air and on the ground. The defense had rough patches, no doubt, but their improvement down the stretch as the game went on was promising. Everything seemed to come together the longer the game went on.
The early portion of this game reeks more of missed opportunities than the Titans outright struggling as they did against the Cardinals. In that game, they could barely move the football, and the offensive line looked like a straight-up disaster. That was not nearly the case in the first half of the game against the Seahawks. However, missed opportunities like this one, and the touchdown the referees took away from Julio Jones was simply the story of the game up until the Titans finally converted on their opportunities.
The Titans got a very favorable Cover 3 look against this bunch set. They put the safety in conflict by having Julio Jones run a post while Chester Rodgers run this crosser. Given that Jones is who he is, they cheat over towards him and Rodgers runs wide open on the crosser. Ryan Tannehill could have hit this, but the pressure got there just a second too late. These are some missed opportunities that the team will look in the film room at wish they had converted.
However, there were the signs that showcased the Titans could break through at any second. Now, that might not have been on the ground as much as it was through the air, but when Jones started to get going, the Titans moved the ball well. When you end up facing single-high safety looks, whether that ends up being Cover 3 or true Cover 1, the Titans are going to end up eating. The shot plays they had under Arthur Smith are still here and good to go. A.J. Brown is as dangerous as anyone to take a house call on the dig route. Then, adding Jones as the threat over the top puts the safety in a tough bind. He is just a second too late to react and Tannehill fires a dime to Jones. That is the magnetism that having two great receivers can bring to an offense.
For the defense, it was the art of allowing explosive plays. Even after the defense clamped down in the second half, explosive plays might just be the chief concern against this team in the future. Both the Seahawks and Cardinals have had the ability to get plays down the field. This looks like a quarters call and they isolate Tyler Lockett on Bradley McDougald. McDougald takes a hard leap inside when his real threat was outside. He is a safety in man coverage, so he does have to guess a bit because this is a mismatch, but realistically if Lockett sits down, he has more help from Kevin Byard than he does to the boundary. On the other hand, the pass rush has to disrupt this pocket at least a bit more.
The Seahawks always cater to Russell Wilson’s strengths. It just so happens that one of those strengths is hitting the deep ball at an unreal rate. There is no true perfect coverage, but the frequency of which they throw deep post routes to Lockett is staggering. Thus, playing him with a single-high safety is not a bad idea. It gives the slot cornerback help to the inside while he plays outside leverage. This is on McDougald. He had no true reason to commit so hard to the left when he was supposed to be the help to the inside. Granted, he has now been released, but plays like this are why the Titans felt they could cut ties with him. It is a truly poor play by a guy who is the last line of defense for his slot cornerback.
However, the tide began to change as the pass rush came to life and out of the woodshed. The Titans do a great job of disguising their four-man blitz as a five-man blitz. What it does is it essentially takes the left guard out of the play. So, when Jeffery Simmons and Denico Autry are executing a stunt here, it truly is two against two. Well, when you get a crasher of Autry’s caliber who just explodes into the center and creates so much havoc, it allows Simmons to loop around freely. That is a combination of great play up front with speed-to-power conversion, and schematics by Shane Bowen disguising that early to win the numbers game. Simmons finishes, and that is that.
Meanwhile, on offense, they started to convert their drives into points. However, while lots of the skill position players will get the credit, it is somehow easy to overlook what Tannehill did on Sunday. Getting the tight ends involved so heavily in the game plan had fruits in the running game and passing game. Seeing the two-high safety alignment pre-snap and the picture not changing post-snap, Tannehill knows where this is going. He fires a bullet over Bobby Wagner and to MyCole Pruitt. This is the definition of a dime and great processing. Tannehill turns that processing into good anticipation and puts this where only Pruitt can pull it in.
No Titans’ offensive performance is complete without a big play by Derrick Henry. He had been quiet up until the second half when he simply went nuclear on the Seahawks’ defense. Running 12 personnel more often helped the Titans create mismatches in the passing game, and more importantly, open up more running lanes for Henry in the running game. Geoff Swaim and Pruitt get a ton of movement on the edge here. Brown does not get his block, but it essentially becomes Henry against a guy in space, which is something Henry should win every time. Making that guy miss is a running back’s job, anyway. The blocking on this play is solid, and the rest of the play is Henry showing what a freak he is. The fact that he beats out the safety down the sideline and into the endzone is insane for his size and power combination. It is why Henry is such a unicorn and special football player.
This is run is not nearly as flashy from Henry’s perspective, but it is great to see what is going up front. This is a phenomenal block by Ben Jones. There are a few pancakes by Titans lineman scattered throughout the game, but this is the best block from the Titans all game. He has the core strength, leverage, and hand placement down pat here. To completely turn that defensive tackle around and clear the lane for Henry is great stuff. It helps with Aaron Brewer working to the second level and cutting off the backside linebacker as well. This is about as well as a mid-zone would be blocked, and Henry gets a solid gain out of it. However, the most important part of the offensive performance on Sunday was how well the offensive line played. They were good.
Heading back over to the defensive side of the football, the run defense was yet again rather solid. Even better, they were active and stout. This part of the team should not be much of an issue, and if anything, a staunch strength of the team at large. There is so much good going on during this play. The hard edge set by Janoris Jenkins is delightful to see. Willing participants at cornerback help run defenses a ton. Teair Tart completely sheds his blocker with a chop-swim combination and comes on the backside pursuit to help make the tackle. Simmons takes on a double team marvelously well and frees up the second-level linebackers to come down and make a play. David Long sets a hard edge, keys in on the run, and avoids all the trash down the line to make the tackle. Overall, this is textbook run defense with great run fits on top of it.
One of the breakout performers of the early season is Ola Adeniyi. His key play here is a massive boon to the Titans pass rush that already looks much improved. The Titans lined him up standing up over the guard and had him loop all the way around behind the right tackle. That is some crazy stunt schematics by Shane Bowen, but effective. Because the Titans have such effective crashers on their interior, their loopers on the edge can run freely and make plays such as the one Adeniyi makes here. His high octane energy is infectious in environments like this one. He may need to prove he can win one-on-one consistently, but he has a spot to get rotational snaps on the edge.
The Titans Week 2 performance was extremely promising on a few fronts. While the defense still looks a little questionable on the back end of things, personnel changes and a pass rush starting to step up hopefully can alleviate these concerns. If they can play as they did in the second half of the game, the Titans look like a playoff team.