Beating the Baltimore Ravens is one of those things that will never get old for me as a Titans fan. This game could have finished 2-0 Titans and I would have been ecstatic. The 23-20 final score doesn’t tell the full story. The Titans were in control of this game from the start. While they could have done a better job of finishing the Ravens while they had them down, they got the job done at home against a pretty decent team. Here are some of the major takeaways I had from this game.
Marcus Mariota is among the best play action passers in the NFL. On the season he has a QB Rating of 137.5 on play action passes which ranks 2nd in the league behind Kirk Cousins and is a pretty stark contrast to his 68.9 rating on non-play action passes (2nd worst in the NFL). It’s clear that this offense is designed to work best when the run and the pass balance each other.
The run game didn’t work exceptionally well against Baltimore. The stat floating around prior to the game and now after has been that the Titans couldn’t run against a Ravens run D that ranked among the bottom 5 in the NFL. While that’s true, much of those struggles against the run came while star defensive tackle Brandon Williams was out with an injury. The Ravens have the personnel to be a very tough front as we saw on Sunday.
Even when the ground game was failing on Sunday, the Titans play action game thrived from the start by taking advantage of Baltimore’s eagerness to stop the run. Here is the very first play of the game. The Titans come out with two H-backs and DeMarco Murray in the backfield with Mariota and then fake the handoff. Baltimore is in a Cover 2, but the linebackers all get sucked up by the play fake which leaves a nice hole for Mariota to target for a big gain to Matthews.
Later in the 1st quarter the Titans came back to another heavy play action look. This time they have a heavy 13 package in the game with Dennis Kelly and Phillip Supernaw to the left and Jonnu Smith to the right with Rishard Matthews as the lone wide receiver tight to the right. This formation screams run, especially when you consider Delanie Walker is on the sidelines. The Titans completely fool Ravens star safety Eric Weddle. Watch him walk up prior to the snap and sell out on the play action. That leaves a massive hole for Matthews to run in to and an easy touchdown throw for Mariota. The Titans love to bait teams with personnel packages and this is a great example of it working.
One of the best plays in the Titans passing attack is the play action seam route to Delanie Walker. Mariota is a master at this throw as you can see here. This time the Ravens don’t really bite on the play fake, but Mariota is able to gun it in to a tight window anyway. He is among the best in the league at these tight seam throws and he trusts Walker without hesitation.
Here is another example of that same play. This time they run it from under center, but again linebacker C.J. Mosley doesn’t bite very hard. He takes just one step up to stop Henry, but that’s all Mariota and Walker need. Walker gets a free release and a step and Mariota drops a gorgeous dime right underneath the safeties. This is not as easy as they make it look. I love this combination.
Let’s take a look at one of the most popular plays from this game: the Adoree Jackson 20 yard run from the 1st drive of the game. This play was well-schemed and well-executed. Jackson got really good blocks from DeMarco Murray and Ben Jones on the 2nd level to help spring him, but then you can really see his burst. I love Murray and Henry, but its pretty incredible how different that looks than what we normally see coming out of the Titans backfield. I’d love to see them use Jackson and Taywan Taylor to help augment the variety of skills coming out of the backfield more down the stretch. I don’t think you need to see them a lot, but 3-5 plays a game where they can be in there either as a decoy or a ball carrier would be interesting to me.
And last, I can’t write about this game without showing the beautiful back shoulder fade from Mariota to Davis. Davis looks like a 10 year vet on this play with the timing, body control, and toe tap. He’s going to be really fun as these two get more comfortable with each other. Mariota’s throw here is absolutely inch-perfect. I have a feeling “Mariota-to-Davis” will be a common phrase for Mike Keith for the rest of the year.
One item of note on the negative side from this game was an uncharacteristically bad game in pass protection from Taylor Lewan. He got beat badly twice on a couple sacks which cost the Titans drives. He’s usually a rock, but this was a bad game for him. He will need to bounce back quickly against a very talented Bengals front four.
Overall this was a very strong game for the defense. They gave up some yardage, but it was almost all short checkdown type stuff and they came up with the stops when it mattered. Obviously the big story on defense was the continued rise of Kevin Byard. Byard played great, but I’d also like to give some major credit to Logan Ryan. He set up Byard’s first interception on the play below when he peeled back off his man to pop the ball up in the air. Ryan is known as a turnover creator and while he hasn’t picked one off himself yet, he should really be getting the majority of the kudos for this one.
Here is another deep ball where Ryan made the play. This is actually the exact same look from the Ravens — play action double posts — as the Byard interception above. This time Ryan stays on top of Breshad Perriman through the whole route and gets his hands on the ball to break it up at the end. Ryan has been really good this year. I think it is safe to say that was a good investment by Jon Robinson.
Another guy who is getting a lot of credit, and deservedly so, is Wesley Woodyard. He racked up 20 tackles against the Ravens and several of them were among the biggest stops of the game. Here is a 3rd and short in the 2nd quarter. Watch Woodyard start moving before the snap and go directly to where the run ends up going. This is the kind of stuff you can only do if you’re studying crazy amounts of film and trusting your eyes. He absolutely knew what this play was before the snap.
Here is another example of his other-worldly play recognition right now. This is a 4th and 1 in a pretty critical spot for the Titans. Once again Woodyard runs right where the play is headed without even a moment’s hesitation. He’s playing incredibly well against the run right now.