Every Titans fan remembers this one. It might have been the most exciting finish of the entire NFL season. It certainly was for Tennessee followers. But, as a fan, it provided so much more.
I've probably watched the clip 10 times this offseason. And, it wasn't only how we won it that made it so special. It was who won it for us. The youth movement for this organization was front and center. Vince. CJ (maybe just as a decoy, but there nonetheless). Cook. Hawkins. Britt. We saw that in the most difficult of situations they could dig deep as a team and find a way to win in a way they hadn't been able to all season; through the air.
Follow me through the jump for a look at this drive on a play by play basis and what it means for the team moving forward. Some plays have been omitted, ie. Most of the incompletions.*Note: Every video is the same youtube clip. However, if you click on the video to start, it will begin at the play described each clip.
The Play: 1st and 10 from the one yard line. The team is under center in a base, two TE formation. CJ's at tailback. Both Kenny Britt and Nate Washington are split out wide.
It appears that Nate Washington is the primary read. He runs a stop and go pattern, but nothing's there. Vince checks down to his second read, Kenny Britt, who appears to be running a hitch in route. The play goes for a solid 6 yard game, and more importantly gets them out of the endzone.
The Play: After two incompletions, the team is faced with a 4th and 4. They line up in the shotgun in a 3 WR set with 1 TE and 1 RB. The package is the same as before, but Cook is substituted out for Hawkins in the slot. Scaife is just outside Big Country in a stand up position.
Vince has one read the entire play, Kenny Britt, and doesn't look off him. Britt is running a 10 yard dig route (basically a longer version of a hitch/hook route). The ball is thrown perfectly, though it's unclear if this is intentional. In any event, the ball sails over Bryant McFadden's head and into Britt's hands, breathing more life into the drive.
The Play: 1st and 10 from the 17. The formation looks roughly the same, though Scaife appears to be split out in the slot position. The personnel package is definitely the same.
Vince makes the right read here to CJ underneath, but the pass gets tipped at the line. In the luckiest play of the game, the tipped ball falls right in to Bo Scaife's hands for a 19 yard gain.
The Play: 1st and 10 from the 36. Personnel is the same as they are still in hurry up mode. Scaife is back in the Flex TE spot.
Vince makes the right read on this play. It's a high-low read, which is basically a two man game. Britt runs a go route (actually more of a skinny post) between the corner and safety. Hawkins runs a quick out underneath. It's a simple read for the QB. If the CB chooses the underneath guy, Vince sticks it over the corner but away from the safety. If the corner, sticks with Britt, Vince hits Hawkins for the quick out. That's exactly what happened this play. It wasn't an explosive play, but it served a purpose in stopping the clock and letting the offense regroup.
The Play: 2nd and 8 from the 38. Stopping the clock has allowed the offense to give Scaife a rest, putting Cook back in the game at tight end. This time, however, they put the slot man on the strongside of the offense. With Cook lined up in a flex (ie. standing up) position, this is almost a trips formation.
Cook appears to be his primary read the entire way. The rest of the receivers are running deeper patterns, clearing out a large portion of the field. Cook runs a drag route. The only defender in his way is Strong Safety Adrian Wilson, who appears to be in man coverage against CJ. He slips behind him and Vince hits him for a nice 12 yard gain.
The Play: 2nd and 10 from the 50. Following an incompletion on a deep pass to Nate Washington, the Titans line up in the same formation as above.
All of the receivers run deep routes, which again opens up most of the field. Vince gives his patented pump fake, and scrambles for an easy 6 yards.
The Play: 4th and 4 from the 44. After a blitz that resulted in an incompletion, the team is in a 3 WR set (still Nate, Lavelle, and Kenny) with one TE which is now Bo Scaife. They're no longer in the "trips" formation, but have now moved Lavelle back to the weak side.
It's one read the whole way to Lavelle Hawkins. Vince recognizes the man coverage, and Lavelle beats his man on a quick out. He then goes on to show us why we drafted him, turning a 4 yard gain into a 13 yard pickup and getting out of bounds. This was an encouraging play for the young player, as he showed us not only that he can make plays, but that he can step up in big situations.
The Play: 1st and 10 from the 31. They've basically flipped the formation from above, now putting Scaife on the short side of the field closest to us.
Again, it's one read the entire way. Scaife runs a quick out in man coverage against the strong safety for an easy five yards.
The Play: 3rd and 5 from the 26. Following a deep incompletion intended for Nate Washington, the Titans line up in a unique position. Nate Washington is split out wide on the line of scrimmage. Cook is off the LOS in the "flex TE position". On the weak side of the ball, they've lined up Britt in the slot, but on the line of scrimmage, with Lavelle Hawkins in the flanker position. They put Lavelle in motion and snap the ball when he's "stacked" on top of Britt.
Vince looks off his primary read on the weak side of the field and checks down to Cook who's in man coverage against a linebacker. VY hits him at the 20 and Cook glides to the 9 yard line. This is why fans were so excited about Cook. The guy is an absolute nightmare to defend. Case in point here, where he torches a LB in man coverage.
As a side note, I think Dinger should look to implement more "bunch" formations like the one above. It's the opposite philosophy of the spread, but a powerful one nonetheless. When you have speed on the field, bunching the offense concentrates most of the defense to one area of the field. In man coverage, this makes them particularly susceptible to plays that get our speed players to the edge of the defense.
The Play: 4th and 10 from the 10. Leading up to this play were three unsuccessful attempts to move the ball. The first was a misread by the receiver or QB on post route to Scaife. Second down, Vince tried to run the ball when he probably should have hit Nate Washington across the middle. Third down, Nate gets his chance at a ball over the middle, but drops it. The pass came in hot, however it's still one he should have caught and would have resulted in a touchdown.
So, that sets the stage for the play of the game. The Titans line up with Kenny split out wide on the weak side of the formation on the line of scrimmage. On the strong side, Scaife is on the line of scrimmage with Hawkins off the line in the slot and Nate out wide off the LOS as well. Vince puts Lavelle in motion to the weak side of the field.
It's hard to tell too much from the play based on the angle. But, it looks like Scaife is his primary read. Vince quickly looks checks down to Lavelle Hawkins. Still nothing there. Vince buys time with his feet, keeps his eyes down field, and steps up in the pocket. He sees Kenny running a deep in pattern in the back of the endzone. Puts it up to let Kenny make a play and he does. Ball game.
What can we learn from this game
Keep it simple. The majority of the yardage in this drive is a result of very simple patterns. Hitches. Outs. Drags. Go patterns. There's no reason to complicate it. About two years ago, there might have been. Now, with all the physical tools we have at our skill positions, it's unnecessary. Put your players in a position to make plays in space and let them do the rest.
Jared Cook and Lavelle Hawkins are playmakers. We didn't see much of these guys throughout the season, but they were certainly on display on this drive. Hawk showed his elusiveness and speed that we've heard so much about. And, Jared Cook. Wow. The guy is a man among boys. His ability to get on the field is crucial to this offense firing on all cylinders. He's physically able to do things that Scaife can't, and creates all sorts of matchup problems for defensive coordinators.
This spread can work. Obviously one isolated incident isn't a reason to move to a whole new offense. However, the offense did a great job of spreading the field both horizontally and vertically on this drive. With the amount of speed we have on the field, I hope we see more of this in the upcoming season.
We can pass the ball and win football games. It's time to take the training wheels off Vince. This game showed what he's capable of. And, the reality is that if he can't win games for us in the passing game, he's not going to be the Titans franchise quarterback. I think he's ready to take a big step forward, but that's just one man's opinion.
Hope. It's hokey. After the start last season, though, that's really how I felt. This team stared adversity in the face and refused to lose. Not only that, everyone that is the future of the team contributed. In addition to the second half turn around of last year, watching this drive and seeing what this team is capable of really gives a silver lining to an otherwise disappointing 2009 season. For the first time in a while, the future looks bright for this offensive unit.