The Titans seemed to open up the 2016 season in a rhythm offensively. The entire preseason ran pretty smoothly as the Titans showed an ability to run the ball consistently. So what in the world happened against the Vikings? The Titans outsmarted themselves.
Tennessee got off to a nice start, ripping off a couple of DeMarco Murray runs and adding some easy completions to Tajae Sharpe. The first drive ended in a punt, but the second drive reached the redzone. The big Henry catch and run put the Titans in striking distance. A Murray run and a Matthews catch put them in the redzone.
It was at this time that Mularkey and Terry Robiskie decided to open up their bag of tricks. Here you see Mariota fake a hand-off and a pass then take off running the other way. Notice the three receivers on the left side of the formation carrying out the fake.
It was a pretty nicely designed play with Murray and Ben Jones pulling outside as lead blockers. It ends up netting six yards, setting up a convertible second down. Robiskie put a lot of misdirection into play yesterday and this was our first taste of it. I loved the call here on first down after a pass with everyone expecting Murray.
The second example I've got here appears to be a shovel pass. Watch Delanie Walker. He isn't looking to block and Murray appears to be carrying out a fake eight yards off of the line of scrimmage. He isn't planning on getting the ball. So that leaves Mariota with an option to run or shovel it to Walker.
To be blunt, this play is a disaster. The Vikings have four men ready to meet Mariota before he can even approach the line of scrimmage. It's a first a goal look and you've had success just lining up and running the ball so far. Why even bother with this? The Titans are lucky this didn't go for a loss or a turnover.
Here's the play everyone wants to talk about. It's a fake sneak attempt with a swing to Henry.
It's a nice concept, but the Vikings weren't fooled -- not even a little bit.
Mularkey commented on this play specifically in his presser today. "I've run the play numerous times before. We were looking for a big play against that front, but the linebacker sniffed it out. We had Derrick Henry on the perimeter with a corner to beat."
I'm all for getting Derrick Henry in space, but it's 3rd and 1. Get the first down. I could understand if you were down and in need of a spark, but the Titans were in control of this game at this point. You should convert 9/10 3rd and 1's with Derrick Henry in the backfield.
The next "exotic" play we have is the wildcat look. I like the idea of playing Murray and Henry together, but I want Mariota on the field with them.
The Vikings know what's coming, along with everyone else that was watching this snap. Again, when the Titans ran this play they were squarely in control of the game. There's no need to change up something that's working. At the end of the day, Mariota is your best play-maker. You don't take that guy off of the field.
Here's the nail in the coffin. At first glance this appears to be a simple read option, but watch Tajae Sharpe up top.
Sharpe runs a bubble with Delanie running out as a lead blocker. This is a run-pass option (RPO) that is likely going a long way if Mariota is more decisive with it. We saw Mariota have success with RPOs last season, but I've got to place the blame on him for this one.
He can run this one for a long way behind Walker or toss it out to Sharpe who could have also made a big play. Instead it's a turnover and a back-breaking touchdown going the other way.
I'm not condemning the misdirection or even the trickery, but in five "exotic" plays four went for a loss or no gain. To me, a trick or misdirection play should be used for a spark when your bread and butter isn't working. You can't stall drives with them.
The fake sneak takes the cake. It's the ultimate hero or zero call, but you're up 3-0 and you've moved the ball pretty well so far. If you get the first down there's a good chance that you get into field goal range in the next couple of snaps. The drive instead stalls and you have to punt from inside Minnesota territory. That's unacceptable.
I don't mind thinking against the grain. The Titans aren't good enough to line up and run over teams yet, but there are better ways to do this. I loved how they used Derrick Henry. He was used as a pass catcher out of the backfield, getting space to work with. That's when he's at his best. Defenders won't be lining up to tackle a 6-2, 250 back with 4.5 speed in the open field.
Same goes for DeMarco Murray. They got him out in the flats and let him work in the open field. Mariota even hit him on a wheel route. It wasn't all bad for Robiskie, I just want to see less of the high variance plays. The offense looked too confused out there during these plays.
The good news is that Minnesota is one of the top young teams in the league. That defense is for real and the Titans were in position to win. They couldn't finish the job, but hopefully lessons were learned by both the coaches and the players. It's up to Mike Mularkey to spin this in a positive way and keep the arrow pointing in the right direction.