Why have the Titans struggled to run behind the left side of their offensive line?

Run left.

These two words were synonymous with the Tennessee Titans and their successful rushing attack for a better part of three seasons in Nashville.

For good reason too.

With Taylor Lewan and Rodger Saffold holding down the fort on the left side of the offensive line, no one blamed the Titans for leaning on that specific sector of their offensive line to spring their running game forward.

The main benefactor of this success was none other than Derrick Henry, as his improved numbers from year to year were somewhat a result of this heavy intent to run behind the best side of this offensive line. Those numbers include a record setting 2,000 yard season in 2020, a mark that arguably remains as Henry’s greatest achievement in his career to this day.

But the run left mantra has ran into a bit of a hiccup lately, more specifically during the 2022 season, as the Titans have found it increasingly bothersome to run behind their new pairing on the left side of the offensive line

And it’s mostly due to the severe decline in personnel at both left tackle and left guard.

Diving into the numbers

How do we know it’s the result of the new duo on the left side?

Well, a quick look at the numbers should do the trick for you.

In the past, the Titans tried to diversify their run blocking scheme by running a variety of run plays and different run schemes. From pitch plays, to counter plays, inside zone blocking schemes, duo, and even outside zone (although this has gradually been eased out of the Titans’ tendencies), the Titans gave teams multiple run looks to keep defenses on edge.

When those plays were ran behind the left side of the Titans’ offensive line, they generally found a lot of success, with 673 of Derrick Henry’s 2,027 yards in 2020 coming from Henry running behind the left side of the line.

In 2019, the numbers were even better, with 726 of Henry’s 1,540 yards coming from running behind the left side.

2021 was a bit of a skewed amount, since Henry didn’t even manage to register 100 carries behind the left side of the offensive line, but for formal matters, his amount that year was 401 yards on 82 carries. Again, a skewed amount because of the eight regular season games he played due to a foot injury.

2022 is where things get a bit dicey. With four games to go, Henry’s rushing total when running behind Dennis Daley and Aaron Brewer stands at 425 yards on 109 carries. The worry might not be as significant since a couple of big performances could increase the total number, therefore ending all concern regarding this subject.

But when you take into account the struggles Henry has had over the last month — excluding the most recent game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, a team Henry has historically dominated against — you find it hard to confidently say he can increaser those numbers in time to prevent the worst statistical scenario from ever happening.

With remaining games against the Houston Texans and the Jaguars again, maybe the said worry is a bit off the mark, or even completely off.

But the left side duo brings no reason for confidence, especially if you take a look at just how underwhelming they’ve been as run blockers this season.

Daley and Brewer have been underwhelming

Daley and Brewer have been the Titans’ official duo at left tackle and left guard for about two months and some change now.

For the most part they’ve struggled, specifically in the pass protection area, an area Daley himself has looked completely awful at during his time as a starter.

They also haven’t shown much room for confidence as run blockers, as both have been very underwhelming in that aspect as well.

Daley has struggled the most, as according to Pro Football Focus, his 51.7 run blocking grade is below the average grade of 60. To make matters worse, his run blocking grade is the 69th best among all qualified tackles, a list that includes exactly 79 tackles across the entire league.

That’s not just a mark below average, that’s a putrid, vile, rancid mark for a starting NFL tackle on a team that wants to run the football effectively. Which continues to make Daley’s starting spot questionable, as the Titans love Daley for his, wait for it.

Run blocking.

We’ve known about Daley’s struggles for a while, as they’ve been put on a wide screen for the masses to see all year long.

His mate beside him has been a smidge better, but not much better by any means.

Brewer’s run blocking grade is a little better, coming in at 62.0, which is a little bit above average. His grade ranks 39th out of 87 qualified NFL guards, which isn’t as bad as some might’ve expected. But the struggles have still been there for Brewer, as his undersized frame has left him plenty vulnerable at times against stronger interior defensive linemen in the run game this season.

It’s one of the main reasons why there was such confusion regarding Brewer starting in the first place.

For a team that loves to run the ball, throwing an undersized guard in the mix is by no means smart. You can love heart, grit, toughness, and determination. But that won’t stop a 320+ pound NFL defensive lineman from throwing a 274 pound guard around like a rag doll.

And when that happens, you’re left with an inconsistent run game that seemingly can’t find any type of footing or ground, which spells nothing short of death for a team that can’t throw the football around with the best of them.

That isn’t to say Brewer is a bad football player, he’s had way more flashes of brilliance than Daley this season — although that isn’t the best benchmark to judge a player’s success.

But it is to say, that maximizing your success in the run game isn’t possible when you have an undersized guard like Brewer. That isn’t based on opinion, it’s simply based on facts.

And until the Titans realize that, they’ll be stuck struggling for yards whenever they decide to run behind one of the smallest guards in the NFL.

This season’s downfall of the “Run Left” mantra has been unexpected, yet expected at the same time. No one knew Lewan was going to see his season end in Week Two, although many did expect Brewer to struggle with consistency because his extremely small frame allows him to do so.

Whatever the case may be, running behind the left side of the offensive line has been a big struggle this season, specifically over the last month. Will that change? It remains to be seen.

But if we’re using recent rushing totals as an indicator, the answer is a big time no.

Featured image via George Walker IV-USA TODAY Sports

All stats via SportsInfoSolutions and ProFootballFocus

Author: TreJean WatkinsTre Watkins is a writer who has covered the Titans since 2019 for BlackSportsOnline, The Brawl Network, and now Broadway Sports Media. FC Barcelona and Yankees baseball are his two loves, Forca Barca!

Leave a Reply