The Titans seem to be back on track. After that Week 1 mashing by the Cardinals, they now have put together two straight wins. Some key injuries aside, they are entering a part of their schedule that might be considered ‘soft’ if you will. Still, it is most important to check out what they are doing well and what is still going wrong for them on both sides of the ball. After all, results are great, but the processes of football are the predictive part. Cutting out all the checks and puffery, it appears the Titans are straight-up the favorites in the AFC South. They look like the best team, they are churning better than anyone else, and there are significant contributions from all the units on the team as it stands. With some struggles at the strong safety position with Amani Hooker’s absence, the Titans turned to Dane Cruikshank. To say the least, that guy has showcased some promising traits.
There is the something valuable about a defensive back that blitzes as well as Cruikshank has proven he can. He can slide out to the slot and defenses have to treat him almost as a strong side linebacker at times. However, on this one, he just comes straight up the middle and runs right over Jonathan Taylor. Stuff like this is flashy on tape, but it is also a clinic on blitz timing and disguise. Cruikshank times this snap up and as a result is absolutely flying through the A-gap as he comes through on this blitz. Shane Bowen has done a nice job of getting his stunts and exact blitz types similar looks, and this is a completely different look from what he is has given from this particular stunt. Most importantly, he never really had someone like Cruikshank at defensive back to do this with. Even without a sack, Cruikshank showcases great speed-to-power conversion, and knocking Taylor back into Carson Wentz makes this play a net negative.
Continuing with the pass rush from multiple angles, the rise of Ola Adeniyi has been an impressive and fun one to watch. He said he watched lots of James Harrison film, and you can see just how that translates on the field just by his low center of gravity. The left tackle gets to his spot and has a fine pass set, but he has exceptionally high pad level and his hands get up around Adeniyi’s neck because Adenyi plays so low. There is that instinctive James Harrison-esque trait where he can get low, force near holds like this, and bend around the edge to convert it into a sack. There are still times where Adeniyi never truly knows what he is doing with his hands, but he has the balance, flexibility, and pad level to be a real threat around the arc. That is exactly how he wins on this one.
Adeniyi has the great trait of pure relentlessness. Two of his true sacks have happened on stunts this year. This one is not truly just him alone. Using Harold Landry from an off-ball or standing is role is a great call from Bowen. This is a very similar stunt to the one where Cruikshank ran Taylor right over, but it is fundamentally different because of Landry’s presence. When a spinner goes from the opposite B-gap to the opppsong A-gap, and the left side of the offensive line is sliding left as a result, this is the type of stuff that sends everything into haywire. Landry, as a result comes through. However, Adeniyi’s powerful hands to crunch that left end of the offensive line also play a role here. His pure relentless with that power nets both of them half a sack.
This is quarters coverage and this could have ended extremely badly for the Titans. Kevin Byard and Janoris Jenkins do a nice job of exchanging the #2 and the #1 on the corner route. Wentz thus has to look off that route. However, by the function of the route concept, it is going to leave that post safety in man coverage. So, with the flat taking that corner help down in case it turns into a wheel route. That gives the receiver a two-way go as long as he can attack the inside leverage. A head swivel and hard cut to the outside draws Cruikshank to the outside because he has to respect both ways with no help to his outside anymore. He may have gotten away with a holding call here, because the receiver makes a sharp, explosive step off the in-seam of his foot to come back inside. Either way, the ball falls incomplete partially due to the hold and partially due to a bad throw by Wentz.
The Titans probably got a bit lucky the Colts did not decide to give Jonathan Taylor more carries as the game waned on. On only 11 carries, he racked up 72 yards for incredible efficiency, and a lot of it was not due to improper run fits. For the most part, the Titans seemingly just could not tackle Taylor when they needed to do so. Simmons does get crunched here on the double team to open up this hole, but he does so at the expense of freeing up the linebackers to come in and make the fill. Teair Tart also gets turned around because he plays too high off the ball and gets outleveraged. However, this far more on Rashaan Evans. Acting as the spill defender, Evans comes down unblocked and fills the hole. However, he simply whiffs on the tackle instead of breaking down and playing through tackle rather than trying to nip at his ankles. This play goes for a lot more than it should have, but Evans never came down with a properly physical run fit.
For the most part, the offense had a fine day, however, there were some struggles. Jeremy McNichols nearly got Ryan Tannehill killed here. With the entire offenisve line sliding left for the most part, McNichols has to known to scan to the backside of this blitz and work in tandem with Nate Davis to facilitate this so Tannehill does not get crushed like this. Instead, he does not properly read the front, and allows the free rusher to come in and hit Tannehill hard. Pass protection is always hard for running backs because they have to identify the front, the protection slides, and then go through those reads to decide who the most dangerous defender is, but McNichols never seemed to go through the entire process, as he chipped and released instead. It’s an ugly rep that will get heavily scrutinized in the film room.
This play is nicely designed by Todd Downing. Putting Julio Jones into this stacked look really allows for a number of route combinations, and forces the defensive backs to back off and give Jones space. However, running a short curl and the flag route puts the flat defender in conflict, and the safety really has no chance to get over to this. It is a pretty call agaisnt a Cover 2 defense, and Jones makes a great contorting catch flashing his body control. Downing sometimes is not a flashy offensive coordinator, but this is a great call to free Jones at the line of scrimmage and then use his magnetism to open up opportunities.
There is so much that is ‘pretty’ about this play. However, the offensive line blocking is phenomenal. Ben Jones sends his guy into the turf. Rodger Saffold does a fantasic job of turning the edge defender around and taking away his angle for contain. Taylor Lewan gets out of front of Derrick Henry in space and allows Henry to keep running free. However, Nate Davis’ reach block of the backside linebacker is what really makes this great. Henry is able to not even get touched until he is about ten yards downfield because Davis executes that reach block up to the second level. The running game was churning at times, and it is because the offensive line put out reps such as this one.
This ia really impressive pull by Saffold to lead the way for Henry. This counter play is not one that is schemed up to let Henry run roughshod and free all the way until he reaches the endzone. More so, the Titans are trusting the offensive line to seal off the most dangerous defenders and trusting Henry with thie rest. He makes a nice lateral cut to force a defender to miss. It is still amazing that a guy at his size can move like that. Overall, the blocking on this is solid and Henry wins his one-on-one spot in alley, which is exactly what a running back’s job truly is the modern NFL on most rushing plays.
With Jones and A.J. Brown both out this week, highlighting this route by Nick Westbrook-Ikhine seems natural, because this thing is a beauty of a deep curl route. Watch how Westbrook-Ikhine works into the blind spot of the cornerback. Since he naturally has outside leverage on Westbrook-Ikhine, he has to somehow attack that leverage. Needless to say, tracking the route right into the cornerback’s blind spot is how this would be taught to be attacked. All he has to do at that point is snap the route off sharpy, which he does, and he has a ton of separation. This is textbook route running from Westbrook-Ikhine.