Note: Apologies for not getting one of these out last week. That whole "life" thing got in the way.
Tough loss against the Chiefs. Mainly due to the fact that we were in it until nearly the very end, and actually carried a lead in the 4th quarter. There were a number of mitigating factors that contributed to the loss. Perhaps the largest concern for me coming out of this game is our consistent struggle in the run game. At the core of this problem are two things:
1. An insistence from our offensive coordinator to keep a good chunk of runs between the tackles.
2. The fact that those runs are led by Rob Turner.
A couple of examples for illustrative purposes:
Simple enough play, right? Basic inside zone run. Look at Turner though. He gets absolutely worked on this play. Terrible leverage all the way through the play. Levitre doesn't look like a world beater either, but it's Turner's execution that results in the poor play here.
This is a first half run on third down that resulted in one of our many 3 and outs. 3rd and 1. Shocker, Turner gets beat here. The initial penetration allows him to kill Battle's momentum. Teammates pile on to force a 4th down.
So, a few things here:
1. The Chiefs aren't an excellent run defense. Pass defense? Sure. In fact, Football Outsiders has them ranked #1 in the league (27th against the run). The scouting report on these guys - they can be beat with the ground game, but you've got to get the run to the outside.
2. Rob Turner is the weakest link. The whole line has struggled at times, but none like Turner in my eyes, especially when he's head up against a defender and needs to win on his own.
3. What do you do under that scenario? Well, it would seem that the obvious thing to avoid would be anything near Turner given the way Poe has been playing. And, you probably don't want to throw the ball a ton against this secondary. So, naturally, we kept the majority of our first half runs between the tackles, completed 4/15 passing attempts for 30 yards, and ran it 11 times for 52 yards (which sounds great until you see that 37 of those came on one run, which - shocker - came on an outside zone play.)
At the end of the day, players have to execute. I get that. But, it's on the coaches to put their players in the best position to execute. From where I sit, the best way to approach that isn't by making the worst player on this team a focal point of the offense.
With that said, let's segue into the much discussed 4th and 1 goalline opportunity.
(on areas of non-execution on the goal line)
Fourth, again, I thought it was blocked well. Fourth down we should have scored.
(getting stuffed at the goal line)
He’s got to get to the edge on that ball. The play wasn’t designed to go up the middle.
Titans are in 23 personnel here. No wide receivers. 2 Backs. 3 Tight ends. The play call actually isn't all that bad, all things considered. Power run. The line is going to block down (away from the play). Full back kicks out the end man on the line of scrimmage. Levitre pulls to the hole. The play is probably there. It's not totally obvious given the situation. That is, it's tight quarters and this isn't designed to be a huge gain, but there's something there. Problem is, Battle doesn't follow his blockers. He takes it right up the middle after seeing a glimpse of daylight, which is gone as quick as it appeared as both Poe and Johnson fill the gap.
In this case, Loggains did seemingly call the correct play, but the players didn't execute. There's obviously a gray area in assigning blame as it relates to our broken run game. Everyone from the O-line, to the running backs, to Loggains are complicit in this mess. Given that we're with Fitz for the next two games, this will have to get fixed if we're going to have a shot at winning. Not that I'm totally down on Fitz. He just looked how you'd expect a guy to look coming off the bench - rusty (thankfully, not as rusty as the Rusty, who, in so many ways, embodies what a rusty player looks like. God help us if he's asked to come into a game.)
Beyond a penalty late in the game, and the failed 4th down conversion, a large portion of the discussion after the game related to Ryan Fitzpatrick. Incorrectly, in my opinion, accusations were thrown around that Fitz was doing too much. Taking undue risks. Yet, when you put the tape on, this isn't the case at all. He's making the correct reads, and throws as asked...he just isn't executing. Maybe even a better way of putting it (especially on the first INT): the defense just happened to execute better.
Down by 3 with 6:23 left, the Titans are in a 3x1 bunch set. Single high safety. Soft corner. Post snap Fitz knows that he has Nate in single coverage to the playside. And, he takes it. Correctly. The read is right. Hell, the throw is a little off, but it hits Nate in the hands. From there, it's just a fluke play. Fitzpatrick gets some blame here, but I'd say Nate bears the majority of it for not being more aggressive to the ball. If we're honest about it, though, it's just a great play by the defender on a decently thrown ball.
Following the interception, the defense holds the Chiefs to a field goal. Tennessee has the ball, down 6 with 2:50 left following two completions.
The call is 4 verticals from a 3x1 set. Let's start with an image from Shakin' the Southland (a fantastic SB Nation blog, BTW, if you're into X/Os stuff).
This is the play we have called above. The tenets of 4 verticals are beyond the scope of this post, but for our purposes let's discuss what the QB is looking for against a single high safety. Basically, 4 verticals puts a horizontal and a vertical stretch on a defense. Like most plays, the intent is to put a defender in conflict. Against a single high safety look, that defender is the safety. Provided a receiver can get leverage or separation, the fundamental idea here is that this single high safety can't be two places at once. He can't cover both seam receivers. The goal of the TE's route serves this purpose. He's working to get to the others side of the safety and bind him. An even 2x2 set achieves this in the same way by having both inside receivers run seam routes.
Post snap, it's on the QB to identify leverages (ie. does a receiver have position on his defender and/or the safety). He's also tasked with manipulating the safety if possible. So, look to one seam runner and throw the other.
Fitz does all these things. He looks off the safety, sees Kendall with leverage on his defender and room between the safety, and cuts the ball loose. Problem is in the execution. It's poorly placed. Kendall can't reel it in and it ends up in the hands of the safety. Is this Fitzpatrick's fault? Absolutely. It was a bad throw. Maybe not one you'd expect to end up as an INT all that often, but still a poor throw. Was it Fitz trying to do too much or forcing throws outside of what he was asked to do? No. Not at all. If you don't want Fitz making this throw, you don't call this play. In no way, can I fault him for pulling the trigger here.
So, where does this leave us heading into the next couple of weeks. I think this team has a shot at winning one of these upcoming games mostly because the defense is playing at a high level. In order to do so, however, three things need to happen (I promise I didn't intend to have all these numbered lists):
1. Playcalling will need to suit our strengths and hide our weaknesses.
2. Fitzpatrick needs to shake the rust off. The encouraging part there is that he appears to be sharp mentally. Reads look fine. Execution...not so much.
3. The run game has got to get working. Our backup QB cannot be relied upon to consistently sustain drives. Perhaps some wham plays (similar to a trap play) to punish teams for aggression against Turner. More outside zone. More power. Really, minimizing anything that isolates Turner on the interior...namely inside zone.
It'll be interesting to see what the staff learns from this game, and how they adapt moving forward until Jake comes back. I wouldn't call the next two games critical, but picking off one win here would go a long towards getting this team into the playoff mix.