With Whisenhunt coming to Nashville, Titans fans already know big changes are coming. In fact, they have already begun. The new head coach has put together a stellar staff thus far (from what we can tell), and that is exciting stuff after what this team has gone through the past few years. But that is off the field, what changes can we look for on it? We have already delved in Ray Horton's defensive schemes courtesy of SuperHorn, but what can we expect out of Whisenhunt? While Michaels is now the Titans OC, it is generally regarded as Whisenhunt's offense that we will see in the coming years, with him calling the plays to boot. What changes can we expect?
Obviously there are many more things that go into building an NFL offense than I can pen in a single afternoon. That said, there are a few traits we can glean from Whisenhunt's past offenses to paint a clearer picture of what the 2014 Titans will look like.
Spread Out Attack
Whisenhunt has shown he likes a wide open attack, both horizontally and vertically. His success with the Steelers, Cardinals, and then the Chargers this past season, showcased how he was able to dissect defenses. His offense demands arm strength and accuracy from QBs; it's a must. Whisenhunt likes to operate a quick-rhythm, timing offense, giving the QB quick releases with the mindset of taking what the defense gives (sorry for the cliché)
In Arizona in particular, Whisenhunt's passing attack was multiple, with a strong focus on the short and intermediate routes rather than the deep bombs down the field. There is also a big effort to get RBs involved in the passing attack, and using them to give DBs pause, opening up the field for other players. Danny Woodhead was the perfect back for Whisenhunt's system, given his ability to do just about everything, including pass blocking, and excelling in the passing game. This style of offense takes the pressure off, so to speak.
The Offensive Line
The biggest location that pressure release shows? The offensive line. Whisenhunt's scheme is simplified for the line, with the goal of protecting the interior, giving the QB enough time (not much needed) to complete the "decision" throws, usually no longer than 2-3 seconds. For Arizona's line, even this much was a problem. However; Tennessee's line should theoretically thrive in this style of offense.
Warmack and Schwenke taking the next steps in their development as players will have a huge impact on the Titans 2014 fortunes. Whisenhunt found a way to make life easier for the big guys up front in San Diego, and that includes the ground game, where he mixed and matched his running backs to effect. I would expect more of the same in Tennessee.
How do things look for this Tennessee crew of wide receivers? Whisenhunt had an embarrassment of riches for a time in Arizona, with both Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin. Funnily enough, his offensive philosophy seems to not be dependent on those type of players in the slightest. In fact, there is much more emphasis on strong catching abilities, separation, and after the catch skills than there is on speed or the ability to fight for the jump ball. Wright and Washington should really shine in this system, as both are shifty with solid hands. As for Hunter, Whiz has be known to stretch the field vertically as well, and his work with both that Arizona duo and with Keenan Allen last year should attest to that. Hunter will get his chance to impress.
Another wrinkle that is worth mentioning is Whisenhunt's favor with "stack" formations to create hesitation on the defensive side of the ball. Stacking multiple targets to one side of the field not only uncovers man coverage more often than not, but can create traffic issues much like what we saw with the Broncos this past season. The "rub" play, even if it is unintentional, is a benefit of this play design, and it only takes one guy making a split second mental error to spring a WR or TE quickly into open space. Whisenhunt used this tactic to embarrass defenses, most notably a few years back in Arizona when they took on the Packers in the playoffs.
Long story short, the Whisenhunt offense runs through the QB, so to speak. There is an emphasis on pre-snap reads and decision making, and when that decision is made, it's down to accurate quick throws. There is a reason Rivers has an absurdly high completion % this season, and it's not because he is the second coming of Dan Marino. The system played into his hands very nicely, and his supporting cast was ideal for the task at hand.
Rivers had success with the stack formations I mentioned, and that was a big cause for the emergence of Ladarius Green, who exploited the ensuing mismatches in a big way.
So how does Tennessee stack up? As has been said, these Titans WRs fit very nicely. Both TE, Delanie Walker, and Kendall Wright should dominate in this scheme. The offensive line will be asked to do less. That plus another year of playing together and developing, I think they make a big turnaround in 2014. That leaves us with the running backs and the QB.
Ideally, the Titans pair Greene with a smaller, quicker back, who excels in the passing game. Whoever fills that role will be playing safety valve a lot for the QB, so reliability is key. I don't see Greene as that dynamic RB, but he's definitely one who can fill the power role on this new offense. In today's NFL, running back by committee is the way to go. Not only does that allow you to specialize in multiple areas, it also limits the injury liability, and system backs can be had for next to nothing compared to the feature running back contracts of yore. I can see the Titans dipping into the draft to get a jack -of-all-trades running back.
As for QB, Locker will need to take the next step in his development. While the throws he will be asked to make should be easier for the most part, more importance will be placed on the decision making part of the game, and on his ability to look off defenders to help his guys get separation. I think Locker is a good fit for this kind of passing attack, it limits his time waiting around in the pocket, and can allow him to pull down the ball and run if the play isn't there, which was an issue in early 2013 with slower developing routes. Having more of a safety net in the RBs and a TE like Delanie Walker will be a huge advantage. It will also give him a chance to get in "rhythm", since Locker seems to do better once he's gotten a few completions under his belt. That's just the kind of QB he is at this point; the confidence builders can be hugely important.
I am excited to see what Whisenhunt and Michaels put on the field in 2014, but I for sure know if will look a lot different than the Titans we are all used to. At this point, I couldn't be more pumped to see that on Sundays next season.