PFF: Tennessee Titans and the Annihilated A-Gap

Pro Football Focus proved to be Titan-centric this Monday. In this case, the Titans are highlighted (lowlighted?) for all the wrong reasons. PFF took a deeper look into production in the inside run game in a post titled, "Gap Control: Interior Offense, 2011." I saw the post pop up on Twitter and thought, there's no way the Titans look good in this analysis. No surprise, my intuition was correct.

The posts looks at success in running plays through the A and B Gaps. So, before we get into their analysis, just a quick refresher on these gaps.

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A run designed through the "A" Gap is between the Center and Guard. "B" Gap between the Guard and Tackle. No doubt most of you knew this, but just want to make sure we're on the same page. With that out of the way, on to the analysis...

The Titans didn't show up in the top or bottom 5 of the "B" Gap analysis, but they were front and center when they looked at success running through the "A" Gap. Good for last in the league, we averaged 2.4 YPC on runs between the Center and Guard.

How times change. Just two years removed from a 2000-yard season by Chris Johnson, the Titans find themselves at the bottom of a rushing category. However, at least in this area, it hasn’t been such a precipitous fall as even at the heights of Johnson’s power at the end of the last decade, the Titans were not a dominant inside running team. In 2009, the Titans averaged only 3.7 yards per carry through the A-Gaps and, in 2010, that number fell to 3.4–even so, dropping a whole yard per carry is a big fall. Johnson at his best can cover for a poor run blocking offensive line, but not inside where he isn’t the type of back that can physically make up for weak blocking.

The Titans have made it an offseason target to improve the run blocking of their offensive line and if they were to start 2012 with a three new starters at guard and center they would be taking a step in the right direction in that regard. A bigger back to complement Johnson might also help the Titans in their search for a more physical inside running game.

The good news? Free agency indications are that the Titans realized they have a problem. The Hutchinson signing is a big step in the right direction. And, while we haven't signed a center yet, we did bring in every top free agent center for a visit. I'd guess that both guard and center get addressed in the draft.

Also, as PFF points out, the inside game hasn't been the strong suit of this team in the past two years anyways. The bread and butter have been the outside zone and zone stretch plays where CJ (2008-2010) showed the patience, vision, and quickness to really make our run game explosive, even if not consistent. Based on just one year, it's too early to call the run game completely broken. Still, 2.4 YPC is horrible, and a trend this team needs to work on ending now whether it be through offensive line improvements, a change of pace back, or both.

Interesting side note: The 2nd worst team in the league at attacking the "A" Gap was New York Giants. Both Palmer and Gilbride (Giants OC) coached in Houston during the Run and Shoot days (Palmer was WR coach during Gilbride's tenure as OC in Houston). Palmer also served as QB coach under Gilbride in New York from 2007-2009.

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