Tennessee Titans’ weekly offensive breakdown

The 3-2 Tennessee Titans are coming off a dominant 37-19 AFC South victory in Jacksonville. Now they get their first real test of the season against one of the AFC’s elite teams. Tennessee hosts the 4-1 Buffalo Bills in a massive Monday night showdown inside Nissan Stadium. As with every offensive breakdown article, I’m going to be discussing some of the things I liked from last weeks victory, didn’t like, while also listing the things I want to see implemented against Buffalo.

But before we start, there’s going to be a lot of terminologies used that may sound subjective so 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, positive penalties, etc., count as positive.

Also: Any sack, Tackle for loss (TFL), incompletion, negative penalty, or short gain counts as stable and/or negative.

Now that we have covered all that, let’s take a deep dive into Tennessee’s personnel packages from last Sunday’s game.

11-personnel (3WRs, 1TE, 1RB)

Out of the 28 plays called out of 11-personnel, 19 of those play calls netted a positive result (≈67%)

To get more specific, here’s a breakdown by quarter: 

1st quarter – 8 plays were called out of 11-Personnel, 3 of those netted a positive result (≈37%).

  • 2/8 were positive pass plays (25%)
  • 2/8 were negative/stable pass plays (25%)
  • 0/8 were positive run plays (0%)
  • 2/8 were negative/stable run plays (25%)
  • ONE penalty on EACH team (25%)

2nd quarter – 10 plays were called out of 11-personnel, 6 of those plays netted a positive result (≈60%)

  • 2/10 were positive pass plays (20%)
  • 2/10 were negative/stable pass plays (20%)
  • 4/10 were positive run plays (40%)
  • 1/10 Negative run plays (10%)
  • ONE sack allowed by the Titans (10%)

3rd quarter – 10 plays were called out of 11-personnel, 7 of those netted a positive result (≈70%)

  • 3/10 were positive pass plays (30%)
  • 1/10 was a negative/stable pass play (10%)
  • 4/10 were positive run plays (40%)
  • 1/10 were negative/stable runs (10%)
  • ONE sack allowed (10%)

4th quarter – 6 plays were called out of 11-personnel, 3 of them netted a positive result (≈50%)

  • 0/6 were positive pass plays (0%)
  • 2/6 were negative/stable pass plays (≈33%)
  • 3/6 were positive run plays (50%)
  • 1/6 were negative/stable run plays (≈16%)

Final 11-personnel numbers

  • 28 total plays 
  • 19 positive plays (≈67%)
  • 15 negative/stable plays (≈53%)
  • 14 total pass plays.
  • 7/14 pass plays were positive (≈50%)
  • 7/14 pass plays were negative/stable (≈50%)
  • 16  total run plays
  • 11 of those were positive run plays (≈68%)
  • 5 of those were negative/stable run plays (≈31%)
  • ONE penalty on each team
  • TWO sacks allowed by the Titans out of 11-personnel (2/3)

12-personnel (2WRs, 2TEs, 1RB)

Out of the 15 plays called out of 11-personnel, 6 of those play calls netted a positive result (≈40%).

To get more specific, here’s a breakdown by quarter: 

1st quarter – 4 plays were called out of 11-Personnel, 1 of those netted a positive result (≈25%). 

  • 0/4 were positive pass plays (0%)
  • 2/4 were negative/stable pass plays (50%
  • 1/4 were positive run plays (25%
  • 1/4 were negative/stable run plays (25%)

2nd quarter – 3 plays were called out of 11-personnel, all 3 of those plays netted a positive result (100%)

  • 2/3 were positive pass plays (≈66%)
  • 0/3 were negative/stable pass plays (0%)
  • 1/3 were positive run plays (≈33%)
  • 0/3 Negative run plays (0%)

3rd quarter – 4 plays were called out of 11-personnel, 2 of those netted a positive result (≈50%

  • 0/4 were positive pass plays (0%)
  • 1/4 was a negative/stable pass play (25%)
  • 2/4 were positive run plays (75%)
  • 1/4 were negative/stable runs (25%)

4th quarter – 4 plays were called out of 11-personnel, 0 of them netted a positive result (0%)

  • 0/4 were positive pass plays (0%)
  • 1/4 were negative/stable pass plays (25%)
  • 0/4 were positive run plays (0%)
  • 1/4 were negative/stable run plays (25%)
  • ONE sack allowed (25%)
  • ONE Titans penalty (25%)

Final 12-personnel numbers

  • 15 total plays 
  • 6 positive plays (≈40%)
  • 9 negative/stable plays (≈60%)
  • 6 total pass plays.
  • 2/6 pass plays were positive (≈33%)
  • 4/6 pass plays were negative/stable (≈66%)
  • 7 total run plays
  • 4/7 were positive run plays (≈57%)
  • 3/7 were negative/stable run plays (≈42%)
  • ONE Titans penalty 
  • ONE sack allowed

13-personnel (1 WR, 3TEs, 1RB)

  • 10 total plays 
  • 5 positive plays (≈50%)
  • 5 negative/stable plays (≈50%)
  • 2 total pass plays.
  • 2/2 were positive passes (100%)
  • 7 total run plays
  • 3/7 were positive run plays (≈42%)
  • 4/7 were negative/stable run plays (≈57%)
  • ONE Titans penalty

21-personnel (2WRs, 1TE, 2RBs)

4 total plays

  • 2 positive run plays
  • 2 negative run plays

22-personnel (1WR, 2TEs, 2RBs)

1 play called:

  • First down run by Derrick Henry

23-personnel (2RBs, 3TEs)

1 play called:

  • Derrick Henry touchdown run

What I liked

Todd Downing’s creativity when utilizing the strengths of his available weapons

One thing I really liked about last week’s game was how creative Todd Downing was with his available receivers. The group was without Julio Jones while A.J. Brown was on a pitch count. Therefore, a ton of young receivers got their fair share of snaps last Sunday.

Downing was able to find different ways to utilize the strengths of his receivers to help put them in positions to succeed.

Switch releases

The first one I’m gonna break down is this beautiful switch release the Titans executed on a crucial third down. The Jaguars’ defense plays a ton of man coverage so Downing frequently used stacked combos and switch releases to force the defense to define their leverage and coverage before the ball is even snapped.

I like switch releases because they help attack defenses from a variety of positions and they can naturally alter the timing of pass plays, which ultimately affects the way defenders in coverage react to routes. Switch releases also force defenders to be extremely disciplined with their eyes and technique because natural rubs and picks are created.

In the play below, Marcus Johnson (No. 88) and Chester Rogers (No. 80) are stacked while the Jags are manned up on each of them. However, the switch release naturally backs the corner up so, at the snap, Johnson crosses Tre Herndon’s (No. 37) face while Rogers attacks underneath. This then puts Johnson in a situation where he just has to beat the deep defender one on one who already has bad leverage to begin with. Johnson then does a terrific job of selling the deep route before cornering to the sideline for an easy first down.

Switch release

Motions

This next isolation tactic has become one that is relatively common in Downing’s offense. Against the Jets, Tennessee used a similar concept where they motioned Cam Batson (No. 13) in order to get the defense off-balanced. This allowed him to use his speed and momentum from the motion to beat everyone to the pylon.

Motion Ex. 1

This week, Tennessee didn’t score with this technique but they did convert a couple of crucial first downs with it. In this particular play, the offense identified the defense pre-snap and took advantage of what the defense gave them.

Motion Ex. 2

Josh Reynolds (No. 18) motions from right to left and no one follows him hinting that they are in some type of zone defense. Given the defense’s look, Reynolds is now in a situation where he will likely have to outrace Josh Allen (No. 41) to the first-down mark. At the snap, Tannehill and Reynolds both recognize this so once Allen slightly hesitates after seeing Marcus Johnson hitch at the sticks, Reynolds freely catches the ball in the flat to race towards the sideline to pick up the first down.

Wildcat 

This was something the Titans did a couple of times and I really enjoyed this variation of it. Usually, the Titans run the King-cat with Derrick Henry (No. 22) being the one to take the direct snap. However, this time around, Tennessee allowed the shifty 5’8 Cam Batson (No. 13) to take the snap.

Wildcat

It’s a beautifully executed play all around. Batson receives the snap and runs the read-option with Henry while reading Jaguars’ defensive end, Jihad Ward (No. 6). As Ward starts to creep towards Henry, Taylor Lewan (No. 77) viciously seals the edge with his block on Malcolm Brown (No. 90) while Batson pulls the ball out and bounces outside.

The Texas Tech product already has Ward beat off the initial zone-read so Batson just follows Khari Blasingame (No. 41) who pulled around to lead block for him. Johnson then cracks and beautifully seals Rayshawn Jenkins (No. 2) to create the alley for Batson to comfortably get the first down.

Bunch sets to isolate a struggling corner 

Jaguars’ cornerback Chris Claybrooks (No. 27) was having a rough day, Downing recognized that and tried to pick on him anytime he could. The Titans used bunch sets quite a bit to help their receivers get open. In this first example, the Titans used their bunch set to isolate their most effective receiver on the day with arguably the Jaguars’ biggest liability.

Isolating struggling cornerback
Marcus Johnson beating Chris Claybrooks one on one after being isolated

Johnson is pressed up as the only receiver on the right side of the formation. The Jaguars actually have a good defense called for this, but the success Tennessee had with bunch formations throughout the day created just enough confusion and hesitation to allow Johnson to uncover. 

Dawuane Smoot (No. 91) surprisingly drops into coverage instead of rushing and plays the middle zone. Fortunately, the eye candy of the bunch formation grabbed his attention as he focuses on those three while turning his back to Johnson coming underneath. Smoot eventually attempts to help with Brown when he realizes Johnson is running away from Claybrooks underneath him. Once the Texas product crosses Smoot’s face, Tannehill rips the throw and hits his target in stride so Johnson can pick up more yards after the catch. 

Bunch sets to beat man

This play-call was beautifully designed by Downing in which he used a little of everything to help create natural leverage for his receivers. Rogers pretends he’s motioning left before coming back and creating a bunch look right as the ball is snapped.

Bunch sets to help beat man coverage

This forces Shaquill Griffin (No. 26) to switch assignments with Claybrooks. Rogers does a good job of clearing Griffin out of the area, while Johnson’s hitch route causes just enough of a pick on Herndon to give Brown the separation needed for Tannehill to make a beautiful throw to keep the drive going. 

The type of creativity that was displayed on Sunday gets me excited for when Jones and Brown are both healthy and on the field together again.

Drastically improved Red zone efficiency

One of Tennessee’s biggest points of emphasis last week was to start improving on their red-zone efficiency. Coming into the game, the Titans were 26th in the red zone scoring percentage (≈50%).

Last Sunday, Tennessee had their best day in terms of finishing drives with touchdowns. In total, Tennessee had five trips to the red zone, four of them ending with a touchdown. The one possession that didn’t end in a touchdown still produced three points so points were put on the board on every trip. 

Following the win, the Titans bumped their red zone efficiency up from 50% to ≈56% on the season. Tennessee must continue to find ways to put the ball in the end zone on long drives instead of settling for three. Fortunately for them, they are much better at executing at home than they are on the road. In fact, Tennessee is currently tied for the seventh-best red zone offense whenever they play at home (≈71%). 

If the Titans can continue improving their red zone offense on the road while being able to at least maintain their red-zone production at home, then they should see their overall efficiency continue to rise as the season goes on.

Taylor Lewan looking like the former Pro Bowler

It’s no secret that it’s been an up and down start to the season for the three-time Pro Bowler. Taylor Lewan had a less than stellar first two weeks of the season. Since then, he has steadily improved his consistency and has been building towards that game when he finally puts it all together again.

Last Sunday in Jacksonville was that game. For the first time in about two years, Lewan looked dominant in both pass protection and run blocking. According to PFF, Lewan had the second highest grade among all offensive tackles last week with an 86.9.

It seemed like the former perennial Pro Bowler was out there thriving again rather than just trying to survive. Lewan looked confident in both run blocking and pass protection, once again providing a legitimate anchor along the blindside.

The Titans’ star left tackle received a pass-blocking grade of ≈89. This third-and-long play below is an example of why he was so dominant on the day. Lewan was often times more cognizant and physically superior than the man across from him. The former Michigan Wolverine immediately eliminates the Jaguars’ biggest threat along the edge with this beautiful cut block. Lewan sets up Allen with two kick slides before confidently shooting low to viciously cut Allen at the thigh pads. 

This following play was a beautiful pass-set by the three time Pro Bowler. The Jaguars try to confuse him by showing blitz along the edge with Smoot (No. 91). At the snap, Smoot drops into coverage. Lewan recognizes this and instantly gives his attention towards Ward (No. 6).

Ward attempts to rush the B-gap but is met with two quick and powerful punches by Lewan. He then attempts to use his speed to get around to the C-gap, but Lewan beats him there and stonewalls Ward once again.

This next play had me ready to run through a wall, not because it was some extremely productive play or anything, but because we’re starting to see that nasty bully version of Lewan that makes him so damn good when he’s on his game.

Lewan simply physically manhandles Smoot at the point of attack. As he moves and seals the defender, Lewan recognizes that Rodger Saffold is closely zoning his guy as well. The Arizona native then throws Smoot into Dakota Allen (No. 53) and as Smoot bounces off the defender, Lewan then cleans him up by viciously pancaking him with all his weight.

Those types of plays might not mean much in terms of yards gained, but its bully plays like those that set the tone for an offense as physically imposing as Tennessee’s.

In this next play, Lewan shows off his physical superiority on this outside zone run to the left. The Bussin’ with the boys’ cohost maintains excellent pad level throughout the rep as he gets both his hands inside for leverage while using impeccable leg drive to seal his guy enough for Henry to pick up a big chunk on Lewan’s backside.

This last example is a beautifully blocked play all around. It’s a simple toss to the left while Lewan and Mycole Pruitt (No. 85) pull out as lead blockers for Henry.

As Lewan reads and reacts to the defense, he cracks and seals Jaguars’ Shaquille Quarterman (No. 50) right at the numbers which then allows Henry to get the first down as he goes up the sideline.

It should be noted that Pruitt, Corey Levin (No. 61), and Chester Rogers also had incredible blocks on this play.

As the season goes on, the sky could be the limit for this talented offense if Tennessee can continue the type of physical superiority that they displayed upfront against Jacksonville. 

Did not like

Wasting a drive with a messy sequence

One of the most confusing sequences of the game happened in the middle of the first quarter. The Titans faced a third-and-12 to extend the drive, this isn’t ideal by any means, but what happens next was simply unexplainable.

As the play clock starts to tick away, for some reason, Tannehill just decides to walk away from the play and takes a delay of game penalty rather than calling a timeout. This put the Titans in a nearly impossible third-and-17 which all but ended that specific drive.

The real gut punch came on the next snap when the Titans completed a pass for about 13 yards, one more than the original yards to gain prior to the penalty.

The only logical explanation I can come up with is Tannehill realized his offense only had 10 guys on the field as you can see by the gif below. 

That still doesn’t explain why they didn’t just sacrifice one of their time outs though. Instead, they chose to take the penalty, sacrificing another five yards on an already unlikely down and distance.

You can’t even say they just waved the white flag for the drive either because on the next play they clearly tried to get the first down.

It was a very confusing and messy sequence that this team must avoid going forward. 

Getting Ryan Tannehill unnecessarily hit

As the end of the third quarter approached, Tennessee already possessed a 31-13 lead and were already in field goal range. To this point, Ryan Tannehill had only been sacked one time on a play that really should have been a one-yard gain rather than a sack.

With the game likely out of reach, there is no reason to be putting Tannehill in any type of danger considering you’re already within range to put at least three more on the board. Just run the ball, do a quick pass, throw the ball away, anything but allowing your quarterback to take unnecessary punishment in a blowout. Especially when he’s already been sacked 21 times. There’s absolutely no need for him to be taking any unnecessary punishment in a 31-13 game.

Unnecessary sack on Tannehill during a 31-13 ballgame

Instead, Tennessee allowed Tannehill to get sacked twice in those final 20 minutes of play. This brings his total to a league-leading 23 sacks on the year. I understand the aggressive coaching mindset, but you have to recognize that the comeback by this opponent was highly unlikely. The offense created a gigantic cushion while the defense was more than holding their own. At that point, protecting Tannehill was just as important as walking away with the victory.

Fortunately, nothing happened, but going forward I hope to see fewer Tannehill sacks in meaningless moments.

6 things I want to see against the Bills

  • Second straight dominant performance by the offensive line.
  • Feed Julio Jones and A.J. Brown early and often so it forces defenders out the box
  • Allow Derrick Henry to wear them out 
  • Throw some haymakers off play action to your two star receivers
  • Protect the football
  • Continue to find creative ways to get your best weapons an advantage (switch releases, bunch, etc.
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