I went back and reviewed every offensive and defensive snap from Sunday’s game against the Raiders and here are some of the major takeaways I found,
By the Numbers
- The Titans defense was on the field for 65 snaps on Sunday. Out of those 65 snaps, they were in their base 3-4 front for 8 of them. EIGHT. And 4 of those were on the Raiders final drive when they were trying to grind out the clock. It was pretty clear watching the game again that the Raiders strategy was to spread the Titans out, hit them with short passes, and then pound their light fronts with Lynch and that big offensive line.
- The other 57 snaps saw the Titans in a 40 front with Jurrell Casey and DaQuan Jones as defensive tackles between Brian Orakpo and Derrick Morgan as defensive ends. The two linebacker spots behind that line rotated pretty evenly between Avery Williamson, Wesley Woodyard, and Jayon Brown. The defensive backs were almost exclusively Byard and Cyprien at safety — Searcy after Cyprien got hurt — with Adoree Jackson and Brice McCain outside at corner and Logan Ryan in the slot.
- Out of those 57 nickel snaps, 13 of them featured Brian Orakpo as a stand up joker lined up somewhere between the guards. These sets showed up most often on 3rd downs and usually featured Jurrell Casey, Derrick Morgan, and Erik Walden all on the field as pass rushers with Orakpo. I loved what I saw from this look and I think it will be very effective for rushing the passer on key passing downs as the season goes on.
- Speaking of the pass rush, PFF tracks average time from snap to pass for all quarterbacks and Derek Carr averaged an incredibly low 1.89 seconds on Sunday. The lowest average in the entire league last year was Alex Smith with 2.23 seconds. No pass rush is getting home in 1.89 seconds. Watching the tape back, I actually thought the pass rush looked excellent.
- We’ve talked a lot about whether or not a change in personnel would bring a change in offensive philosophy for the Titans in 2017. Last year the Titans were tied with the Jets for lowest percentage of snaps with 11 personnel — 1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WR — in the game at 40%. Against the Raiders, that number surged over 65% which would represent a significant departure from the 2016 team. This is partially due to game script. The Titans finished the game with 26 consecutive snaps with 3 or more receivers on the field as they were trying to play catch up late. If you remove those 26 snaps from the equation, the Titans settle back in almost exactly at that 40% rate from last year, however the Titans had to play catch up in quite a few games last year too. This is a number that bears watching as we move forward this season.
After going back and watching the tape I was probably a little too hard on Mariota’s game in my immediate reaction. I left the game after watching it live feeling like his accuracy wasn’t up to par, but I only counted 7 passes that I would consider “misses” and 2 that I would consider “forces” out of 41 attempts, and 4 of those were influenced by pressure from the defense. Mariota didn’t play his best game, but he played well enough to win the game. His pocket movement was better than ever as he helped his offensive line throughout the game. Also, his struggles throwing to the right did not show up during this game.
Speaking of pressures, the offensive line held up really well in pass protection, partially due to the aforementioned pocket movement of Mariota. Mariota largely had clean pockets to throw from. He was sacked just once and hit on three other plays. That’s not bad when you’re playing against Khalil Mack, Bruce Irvin, and Mario Edwards. Not to mention Justin Ellis and Eddie Vanderdoes, who both played really well for the Raiders on Sunday. That defensive line is going to be a problem for a lot of teams. I’ll give credit to Josh Kline as well. After an offseason in which he received a lot of criticism, he came out and played very well overall in Week 1. He had a bad snap on the first offensive play of the game, but outside that he was solid. I thought Ben Jones and Jack Conklin both had below average games relative to their usual level of play in pass protection, but neither were terrible.
The run blocking has received a lot of criticism in the aftermath since the game. The Titans definitely failed to establish the run early and that rippled through the remainder of the game. Considering they were within one touchdown for the vast majority of play, a 2-1 pass-to-run ratio is pretty shocking for this team. I don’t know if it was the game plan coming in or a function of constantly being behind the down-and-distance during the game (which they were), but you can bet the team will come out looking to run against Jacksonville to slow down that pass rush. However, not all the blame should lie with the offensive line for the struggles. The backs missed a few lanes that could have resulted in huge gains. Here are a couple examples.
On this first play Murray is running outside zone which is a play the Titans had a ton of success with last year. It is well blocked and there is a crease there, but Murray sees it too late and seems to hesitate making the cut which allows the backside defender to chase him down before he can get to the second level. He looked like he got caught in between trying to take this play outside and cut it up field. Murray is usually a very decisive runner so seeing this happen to him a few times during this game was odd and may be a reflection of not getting very much work in the preseason.
The next example is pretty similar. Here Murray has, at the very least, a solid 4-5 yard gain if he runs behind Kline and Jones (check out Kline’s excellent block here), but he stops in his tracks and tries to cut back to the back side. Jones needs to do a better job with the middle linebacker here, but there were yards to be had.
This last one is the one that really kills me. This is a inside zone counter split with Supernaw lined up as the H-back coming across to kick out the end while the rest of the line blocks down. Everyone up front executes here and there is a huge lane right where this play is designed to go, but Murray instead tries to take it wide despite Mack clearly having outside leverage against Supernaw and an unblocked corner waiting behind that. If Murray hits this up inside he’s got 10 yard minimum and maybe more if he can beat a defensive back in the open field. Also, this is pretty clever play design from the Titans. It is an unbalanced line with Jack Conklin and Taylor Lewan lined up next to each other on the left side and Dennis Kelly in Conklin’s usual right tackle spot. The Titans are baiting the defense to go left thinking that they’ll run behind their stud tackles on the left side, but they counter back right.
Murray wasn’t the only culprit here. Henry wasn’t perfect either. This play is a little more nitpicky than the Murray ones because the hole opens up a beat late, but if Henry is a little more patient behind the line of scrimmage, there is a crease between Lewan and Kelly.
Overall the line play was pretty decent from the Titans, especially considering what we saw around the rest of the NFL in Week 1. The issues I did see were more execution related rather than ability or scheme related. The Titans need to clean some things up and they will be just fine moving forward.
Ultimately I think Murray missing time in camp and the preseason hurt some of the timing and chemistry with his blockers in front of him. I expect it to get better as the season goes on. That being said, Henry looked much more explosive against Oakland and if that continues to be the case, he is going to need to get a larger share of carries.
Corey Davis is going to be awesome in the NFL. We’ve all seen that first catch, which was incredible, but check out this route from Davis on a deep comeback. The suddenness of his breaks are special for a 6’-3” 210 lbs receiver. Check this route out at the bottom of the screen. He needs to be on the field as much as possible for this team.
That being said, he’s still a rookie and he made a couple rookie mistakes on Sunday. He had at least one (maybe two) routes where he wasn’t on the same page as Mariota leading to an incomplete pass. Those both came when they were in no-huddle on the final drive of the game. He also missed a key block on one of the bubble screens to Eric Decker. I’m on the record as being against throwing bubble screens to a guy who isn’t exactly dynamic after the catch, but Davis didn’t really give Decker a chance here. That is also something that he probably didn’t get much work with in camp thanks to the hamstring injury. That will get better with time. Davis was a very willing blocker in college and you can believe that Mularkey and Co. will demand more of him as a blocker.
While we are on the subject of Decker, he did have a bad game. The other bubble screen they ran near the goal line was well blocked and he just didn’t take advantage of it. He also slipped and fell on a crucial deep out on 3rd down in the first half which cost the Titans a chance to continue a drive. When you only get a total of 9 drives in a game — I doubt the Titans are in single digits again for the rest of the year, but still — you can’t afford to give one away because of a slip. Below is an example of a play that should have worked for the Titans and Decker. The Titans came out in 21 personnel with both Henry and Murray on the field with Decker, Matthews, and Walker, but motioned them both out wide which left Decker one on one with a linebacker in the slot. That’s a mismatch in the Titans favor and Mariota reads it right away, but the linebacker gets away with a pretty blatant grab on Decker as he comes across that causes an incompletion. This should have been a penalty. I think the Titans will continue to look for opportunities like this with Decker and the other receivers though.
First off, Adoree Jackson played very well for his first NFL game. He was targeted early but held his own against a pair of really outstanding receivers from the Raiders in Crabtree and Cooper. He had two pass breakups and probably should have had another on the pass interference call that Crabtree drew against him. I can see why they called the penalty, but there was a lot of hand fighting both ways there. It could have just as easily been a no call. Jackson was sticky down field in man-to-man and allowed very little separation all game. He also had a few nice open field tackles on both Cooper and Cook. He deserves to remain a starter going forward.
The secondary in general played pretty well in my opinion outside of Cyprien. Most of the Raiders catches down field were well contested and there weren’t any huge busts in coverage. Logan Ryan played almost exclusively in the slot with Adoree Jackson and Brice McCain outside. The fact that McCain played outside instead of Ryan tells me that there is a really strong likelihood that the Titans will use Sims and Jackson outside with Ryan in the slot in nickel packages when Sims comes back this week. It will be interesting to see whether it is Sims or Jackson that lines up across from Ryan outside in the base defense. I think Jackson deserves to be there, but we will see all three quite a bit.
Sylvester Williams is a guy that has gotten beaten up a lot in preseason as he struggled to win the starting nose tackle job despite being given a 3 year, $17.5M deal during free agency this offseason. He didn’t get many snaps during the Titans-Raiders due to the Raiders game plan keeping the Titans in nickel for almost every snap, but when he did play, he looked worth the money.
Here he is early in the game getting great push against one of the best centers in the league in Rodney Hudson. That forces Lynch to widen his approach to the line of scrimmage and Williams actually keeps hustling down the line to make the tackle on this play. This is exactly what you want from your nose tackle.
Here is another example where he does a great job versus Hudson. I’ve highlighted both Williams (on the right lined up over center) and DaQuan Jones (on the left lined up on outside shoulder of right guard) here, but Williams gets great push in to the backfield here. Jones knifes through before the right tackle can get a finger on him and they combine to make a stop in the backfield.
It’s no mistake that these are two of the four plays in the early part of the game where the Titans got a chance to line up in base defense. They were much much stronger against the run than they were in nickel. The Jaguars are a team that wants to line up in heavy personnel and run it right at the defense based on their tape from their Week 1 win against Houston. That should play in to the strength of the Titans run defense. Sly Williams gets another great center this week in the Jaguars Brandon Linder, but based on his performance against Hudson, he appears to be up for the challenge.
Erik Walden was another free agent addition to the defense and he also had an excellent game against the Raiders. He was used extensively as a pass rusher on obvious passing downs and did a good job of getting a rush despite the fact that Carr got rid of the ball so quickly. Here he is working against Pro Bowl left tackle Donald Penn and he knocks him in to Carr’s feet with a great straight arm power rush. That flushes Carr from the pocket despite the Titans only giving a 3-man rush. Walden consistently looked good as a pass rusher and I’m excited to see what he can do against a quarterback that holds the ball a little longer.
He also had a great play on run defense which was his weakness in Indianapolis. Here he defeats the tight end’s block immediately and crashes down to make the tackle for a short gain.
Obviously it all wasn’t good for the Titans additions as Jonathan Cyprien had an awful game tackling. He put himself in good positions to make plays, but then he just didn’t make them. Cyprien is out for this week against Jacksonville, but he will need to be much better when he returns. Speaking of Cyprien’s injury, after he went down and Searcy came in, Kevin Byard spent a lot more time near the line of scrimmage. I’m guessing that continues against Jacksonville.
Jurrell Casey also struggled in this game to make an impact, but a lot of that was due to almost constant double teams and the quick release passing attack the Raiders employed. It is clear that they game planned to take Casey away from the Titans defense and it worked. LeBeau needs to find a way to more effective punish teams for paying so much attention to his best player.
Overall, watching the game tape back made me feel better about the Titans performance. The Raiders came in with a good game plan and executed that plan very well. Most teams will not be able to do the things that the Raiders were able to do on offense simply due to personnel, and the Titans were just a play or two away from a completely different result on Sunday. A lot of the offensive struggles can be traced back to guys missing chunks of time in camp/preseason and not being on the same page just yet. The defense actually played pretty well against a Raiders offense that is probably top 3-5 in the NFL. I am looking forward to seeing how they bounce back against Jacksonville this weekend in a game that will give them a very different look than the one the Raiders gave them.