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Not Using The Empty Backfield This Year Will Yield Problems.

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Not necessarily a statement of fact, but I have a hunch that this could be the case.

Recently, we all learned something that most of us already knew: the Tennessee Titans were not good at moving the football last year, especially out of an empty backfield set. It confirmed our creeping suspicion that the ol' Dinger just wasn't getting it done when it came to versatility or effectiveness which spelled disaster for a young team who's strength was definitely not grinding out the tough yards inside. This year, the team looks similarly, if not even less well equipped to pound the rock. How well they run up the middle will depend on just how good Javon Ringer is and/or how much Jamie Harper improves. While it's always nice to have the option to run up the gut and control the clock, that's just not how this team is built. They're weak on the interior line and their top running threat is a scat back who can run inside but is at his most effective when he can create space and get separation from defenders. 

I'm not 100% caught up on my Chris Palmer studies, but I do know that he was a member of the coaching staff that ran the Run n' Shoot offense of the Oilers back in the 80's and that prior to that, he was in charge of an offense that featured a quarterback who was in some ways very similar to Jake Locker, Doug Flutie. To quote our new coordinator:

"I also believe in running the football and the Titans have historically done such a good job of that, whether it was Eddie George or Chris Johnson. Running it creates opportunities in the play-action game and helps the quarterback."

Thanks for that, Chris. Really, awesome, that's going to allow us to look deep into your coaching philosophy and make all of our jobs SO much easier. So we know that he's a big time play-action guy, (maybe?) but play-action doesn't often, actually, never, comes from an empty backfield, so the problem is still present. 

Allow me to maybe over simplify this a little bit. This is a pass-happy league. To win in it, you need a good quarterback. That means, whatever you can do to make your quarterback better and put him in a better position to succeed needs to be done. In some cases, it's improving the offensive line or the run game, but in this case, it's utilizing the weapons he has around him like, oh I don't know, the league's best running back and one of the better tackle tandems in football, but that's just from the personnel standpoint. From a schematic standpoint, we need to create space for Jake to work, both in the pocket and past the line of scrimmage. To accomplish this, using an empty backfield to spread the defense (spread offense anyone?) would be highly beneficial. He could work with high completion passes underneath the linebackers and then take deep shots down the field with play action when the time is right. 

Simple, right? If I were running a team with a QB like Jake Locker, I'd probably at least try to implement an offensive package along these lines every once in awhile. It just makes things easier and could probably slow things down a good bit for any quarterback, not just a rookie with accuracy problems. I'm so confident that this will help in fact, that I've even got stats to back it up. 

A couple of days ago, we were treated to a page that showed the frequency of empty backfield formations by team in 2010. Unsurprisingly, the top seven teams all had freakin' awesome QBs in 2010. It should be noted that using empty backfield formations didn't automatically translate to further success in the passing game, but the fact remains that the worst QB on that list of the top seven was probably Ryan Fitzpatrick who had a fine 2010 campaign. The others in no particular were Tom Brady, Michael Vick, Matt Ryan, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, and Big Ben. Conspicuously absent is Peyton Manning whose run game is just...awful, but he's just got a superhuman tendency to get the ball out in record time, so I'm not terribly surprised. 

Now, much of this is based on pure speculation that Palmer is even comfortable running such a package, but I think it's hard to deny that spreading things out a little bit with the offense would make for a smoother transition, despite the fact that Locker may not fit perfectly into a spread scheme.