For the first time in years, I feel OK coming out of a loss. Of course, you always want a win, but for the majority of this game the Titans were the better team on the field. Unfortunately, football doesn't work that way, especially in the NFL. A couple lapses can mean the difference between a win and a loss, and that's exactly what we saw here.
Let's first start with the three offensive touchdowns we gave up.
Browns come out in 21 personnel in their first possession of the game. They are going to create run action to the strong side of this play. Travis Benjamin is at the bottom of the screen he's going to run a deep post.
Cleveland has gotten the exact look they want. The Titans are in Quarters coverage. This means what it sounds like. The deep parts of the field are cut into quarters, and each safety and corner takes their 1/4. However, it's a little more complex in function. There is a lot going on with the safety here.
Griffin is the safety to the bottom of the screen. He's going to watch the #2 receiver to his side, in this case the TE. If that TE gets vertical, he carries him and converts to man. If he doesn't get vertical, he's going to read #2 to #1 and double the outside receiver when he can.
On top of all this, the safety in quarters has outside contain responsibilities in the run game, and has to get down hill if the back gets the ball. This is why a quarters safety is usually flat footed. They have run responsibilities. Cover 2 Safeties don't.
In fairness to Griffin, this play is meant to bind him, but it's also designed to attack his tendency to get a little in front of his skis when attacking downhill.
Griffin is no help inside on the backend, and Sensabaugh just doesn't have the skillset to keep up. TD Browns.
Following this TD, the Titans get the ball and turn it over a few downs later at mid field on a West fumble. After a handful of plays, the Browns find themselves in 1st and 10 on the Titans 11.
Browns run a misdirection play here. The line steps down and makes it look like inside zone, but then seals all the defenders inside. The FB fakes left and then works backside to block.
Morgan gets caught with his hand in the cookie jar here. He's overpursuing the back despite the fact that he has backside contain. This can't happen. The FB cannot reach his outside shoulder like this. Morgan needs to stay outside the FB and spill the play back inside to help if he can't make it on his own.
This obviously doesn't happen. The safeties aren't much help on the backend, and end up giving up extra yards which results in a TD.
The Crowell TD happened with 6:33 left in the 1st quarter. From then on, the Titans defense pitched a shut out (one other TD was given up on special teams to end the half), until the final minutes of the 4th quarter.
After battling back from a 21 point deficit to get within a touchdown, the Titans faced the Browns in a critical 3rd and 6 from the 50 yard line.
Browns line up in trips right. They are running a 3 level sail concept. You can see it to the right side of the screen (the 3 WRs end up at three different levels). It's a cover 3 beater. Not that any of this matters considering how the play works out.
The Titans bring the house. They are in man free cover one. Griffin comes off the edge with Orakpo. The extra defender allows Orakpo to come untouched. Orakpo has to be smarter here. The sack is all his, but he needs to be under control given JFF's tendencies. But, he isn't under control, and Manziel spins out of the play. Maybe sour grapes, but Griffin is blatantly held on this play. I'm not generally one to point these things out. In this case, I'm surprised it wasn't called.
At this point, it's a scramble drill. Benjamin converts his vertical route to a post. Searcy is in a bind as there's a running back wide open underneath as well. TD Browns.
Now, all these plays aside, the Titans generally played a good game.
Mariota was the total focus in last week's post, so I'll just touch on his play this week.
His game only reinforced my opinion of him. Rookies have a tendency to breakdown when they take a beating like Mariota did. Phantom pressure. Hurried throws. Not cycling reads. We saw none of this from Mariota.
As Delanie Walker noted, Mariota was a "warrior" on Sunday. He played within the system, despite being under constant pressure. (I won't get into the pass blocking breakdowns. Kyle Harris wrote an excellent post on this earlier this week. If you haven't already, read it. You'll be a smarter fan.)
All this said, Mariota must be smarter carrying the football. Fumbles were a problem at Oregon, and they were a problem Sunday. This is not uncommon with quarterbacks that look to extend plays. Romo and Rodgers have had these issues over the years as well. Nonetheless, this will have to get better.
We will, of course, review at least one play of Mariota's. This is my favorite play of Mariota's to date.
4th down and 6. Down 14. 6:48 to play. Ball is on the Cleveland 16.
Titans man a 3 man route combination to the field (bottom of screen). To the boundary, Coffman runs a drag. DGB runs a dig. The play is intended to go to the field. Neither of the primaries - Douglas on the slant, or Wright on the flag - are open. McCluster eventually breaks open late in the route. By this time, Mariota has moved his attention to the backside of the play. In a split second, he identifies DGB in single coverage. The compact delivery allows this ball to get out as pressure bears down.
DGB is manned up against Joe Haden, one of the best corners in the NFL. We see here, though, that all the technique in the world can't overcome 6'5" 230.
The endzone view does a better job of showing the reads being cycled and the ball placement. Full field read, and the ball is placed perfectly for DGB's skillset. It's Mariota's processing speed that makes him special, and it's on full display here.
Mariota still shows signs of being a rookie. There will be growing pains. But, plays like this show that he's light years ahead of some of his peers in areas that matter.
One last thing I thought was worth touching on was Dexter McCluster and the running game. He played well enough to get more looks in a traditional RB role. He didn't give up anything inside, and he showed the ability to be a dynamic playmaker in the open field.
Titans run a simple zone play here. This was the exact same play that went for 17 yards later in the game (and 6 yards on a different play after that). Fasano does a nice job essentially taking on two defenders on the outside. Poutasi finds his way back inside and seals off the pursuing linebacker. (And, on that note, Poutasi did look good in the run game.)
Dex does the rest, and takes this play for a gain of 46.
I don't think McCluster is a cure all, but it makes sense to keep giving him the ball until he shows you why you shouldn't.
A few other thoughts worth pointing out.
- The run game in general looked good. To some extent, the game got out of control early, but I would have liked to see them lean on the running backs a little bit more.
- Whisenhunt really needs to take a careful look at his playcalling tendencies from shotgun/under center. This is alarming, and you can be sure DC's are taking notice.
- The sooner McCourty can get back the better. Corner is a position of weakness, and will continue to be picked on.
- A lot of the pass protection issues were specific to scheme and trouble identifying free rushers. I think this may be problematic against other creative 3-4 teams like the Jets and Bills, but I don't see it being a weekly problem...at least not to the extent it was this past week.
- That said, Mariota must be protected this year until we get protection shored up. He's the future. This staff needs to not lose sight of that. I'm sure the team rallies around him being a warrior, but I'd prefer he not have to prove it often.
- Bottom line, the Titans aren't going to win many games with a bunch of turnovers and 3 explosive plays given up for TDs. But, the team played well for a good stretch of this game. There are things to build on heading into their first divisional contest.