The 2017 Titans regular season was a frustrating and difficult watch for much of the year. There were some really great moments to be sure — the blowout in Jacksonville, big home wins against the Seahawks, the furious comeback against the Colts on Monday Night Football, beating the hated Ravens, the rollercoaster of emotions that was the Bengals game, and of course, Marcus Mariota snatching Barry Church’s soul to sweep the Jaguars and send the Titans to the playoffs — but those were sprinkled in between maddening stretches of play that often featured an offense that appeared to have no idea how to sustain success for more than two or three plays in a row.
All that frustration came to a head in the first half against Kansas City. It was the realization of all the fears Titans fans had coming in to the game. What if we can’t stop the Chiefs’ quick passing game? Who’s going to cover Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill? What if the offense remains dormant? All of that came to life in the first two quarters.
Alex Smith was unstoppable, going 19 of 23 for 231 yards and a touchdown. The Titans had no answer for Travis Kelce as he racked up 4 catches for 66 yards and a touchdown before going down with an ugly concussion near the end of the first half. Tyreek Hill appeared capable of getting open at will — although catching the ball once he got open was an issue. The Titans defense looked completely overmatched.
On offense, the Titans moved the ball a little, but costly self-inflicted mistakes cost them the opportunity to put the ball in the end zone. It wasn’t the worst offensive performance in a half that we’ve seen this year — there is some stiff competition in that category — but it was up there.
But then things changed. As dominant as the Chiefs were in the first half, the Titans were even more dominant in the second. They came out looking like an entirely different team and out-gained Kansas City 272 to 56 over the last two quarters, dominating time of possession and scoring a touchdown on every drive besides the one that ended in victory formation while allowing the Chiefs just 20 offensive snaps total. It was a complete dismantling of a good opponent on the road in a tough environment and it will go down as one of the best moments in the history of the franchise regardless of what happens from here on out.
In his first playoff game, Marcus Mariota became the first quarterback to lead a comeback of at least 18 points since 1957. He managed to create two more iconic moments while he was at it. His touchdown pass to himself was just the second time that has happened in NFL history and the first time its ever happened in the postseason. The other moment — my favorite — was his lead block that paved the way for Derrick Henry’s game clinching 22-yard run. It was the perfect example of what Mariota is to the Titans: Everything.
The game was a tale of two halves and a tale of two schemes on the offensive side of the ball. The first half featured a team that continually got in its own way. The failure of each offensive drive can be traced directly to a self-inflicted mistake by the Titans. I’m going to highlight those real quick before we get to the good stuff. Bear with me.
Drive 1: The Titans throw incomplete on first down (caused by Justin Houston beating Jack Conklin and hitting Mariota’s arm as he releases) and then run Henry for 7 on 2nd down. That leaves this 3rd and 3 play. They spread the field and give Mariota a chance to read pre-snap. They run a great route combination to beat the modified Tampa 2 look the Chiefs give them as Corey Davis is open running a 15-yard out in to the “honey hole” between the deep safety and the shallow corner. However, the timing is just off as Mariota’s ball falls behind Davis and he’s not able to adjust and make the catch. These two are clearly still just a click off from one another.
Drive 2: Ben Jones takes a bad unnecessary roughness penalty at the end of the first play of the drive creating a 2nd and 20 situation — which, of course, causes Terry Robiskie to call his patented 2nd and long run play, followed by a hopeless 3rd and 20 pass short of the sticks. Seriously, why not punt on 2nd down if that’s the plan?
Here is the play where Jones picks up the penalty. I paused the gif where Henry is down and Jones takes two full steps after that before shoving #96 Bennie Logan to the ground. However, when you watch the broadcast version of this play you can hear the whistle is extremely late, not blowing until after Logan is already on the ground next to Taylor Lewan. If the refs want to call stuff like this they need to blow the whistle when the play is dead, not 5 seconds later.
Drive 3: The Titans are down 14-0 at the start of this drive and this is where the scheme starts to change. The Titans started featuring more spread looks and featuring variations of the read option as their primary run calls.
The drive ends with another bad Eric Decker drop on a critical 3rd down, but before we get there we have to take a look at this funky play. This is an unbalanced line left with Taywan Taylor of all people lined up as a tight end to the right side of the formation. Its an RPO concept designed to try to catch the Chiefs sleeping, but it’s hard not to notice when your smallest offensive player lines up next to right guard Josh Kline in a three point stance. At the end of the day it goes for a short gain, but this feels entirely too cute.
After this play, the Titans move the ball out near midfield thanks to a great Mariota scramble for a first down followed by two read option gives to Henry. That brings us to 3rd and 4 at the 50 yard line. Mariota changes the play at the line of scrimmage — again this is the drive where he really took over the offense — but the Chiefs cover it well forcing him to eventually flee the pocket. He keeps his eyes downfield as he escapes and finds a wide open Decker who has done a great job of settling down in a soft spot, but alas, he fails to catch the perfectly thrown ball. This would have put the Titans on the edge of field goal range as well so that drop is worth at least 3 points on the scoreboard.
We will get back to Decker later on and highlight some positives that he contributed to this game. He seems to have a case of the yips at the worst possible moment right now, costing the team three big third down pickups over the past two weeks. As strange as it sounds though, I would like to see the Titans get Decker involved early as a pass catcher against New England to try to give him a little confidence boost. They are going to need him if they want to pull off the upset.
Drive 4: The Titans go back to the no-huddle spread looks on this drive and march effortlessly down the field to the edge of the red zone looking much like they will for the entire second half.
Here is their 1st and 10 play from the 21 yard line. They get a single high, press man look and decide to take a shot to Decker up the seam. Decker is covered well — if you’re asking Decker to separate on a go route you’re going to be disappointed — but I still think there is a play to be made here. Mariota leads him like he’s trying to hit him over the top, but if he places this throw at the corner of the front of the end zone and lets Decker make a back shoulder play its likely an easy touchdown.
The next play is the Peters interception. This is a sail concept between Davis, Decker, and Walker. The Chiefs are in single high man with a robber in the middle of the field which means the outbreaking routes to Decker and Walker should be pure man coverage. The spot where I pause the gif is the moment the ball is leaving Mariota’s hand. Davis stutters at the top of his stem which doesn’t help matters, but Peters is in a bail technique and keeps his eyes in the backfield during his entire drop — something Peters does better than any corner in the league. He simply makes a great read and peels off to make the interception. Davis does need to press this route harder on Peters and get him to follow, but I’m honestly not sure if that changes things or not. This is just a great play by a great player.
Drive 5: This drive builds on the interrupted momentum from Drive 4. Again, it’s exclusively no-huddle with spread out 11-personnel and the Titans are starting to find their rhythm. This play — or a variation thereof — is going to start to look very familiar by the end of this article. It’s a zone read at it’s core, but it has a Taywan Taylor sprint option attachment that makes it function almost like a triple option. This decision was made easy for Mariota pre-snap though as the Chiefs alignment makes for a natural hole right where Henry’s dive goes. Frank Zombo is no match for Taylor Lewan one-on-one on the edge and Quinton Spain does a great job of helping Ben Jones pin the nose tackle inside and then getting up to the linebacker on the second level. Henry takes care of the rest by hitting the hole hard and putting his head down for extra yardage at the end of the run.
Mariota was starting to look more comfortable throwing the ball as well. Last year we saw a ton of examples of Mariota manipulating throwing lanes and defenders with his eyes and that’s exactly what he does here. I included both the All-22 angle and the end zone angle on this one. The All-22 shows the play design which is, again, very nice. It’s a counter off of multiple looks the Titans have shown throughout the season. It looks like an RPO bubble screen to Decker at first, however they’ve also thrown the “9” route to the outside receiver out of this look at times as well — the Matthews touchdown drop against the Bengals was a similar look. This time they have both those elements, but Mariota works all the way back to Delanie Walker running a deep crosser from the back side. When you look at the end zone view, you’ll see why Walker was so wide open. Watch the highlighted linebacker react to Mariota’s eyes. He follows them out towards the bubble screen at first, but then the quarterback turns his head towards the backside post for just a moment which moves the linebacker out of his throwing lane and leaves Walker wide open. This is Mariota in total control.
The Titans were rolling down the field with ease until they reached the edge of the red zone again. They found themselves in a 3rd and 4 situation after a short Henry run, an incomplete pass, and a heads up play by Mariota catching them with too many men on the field in the no-huddle. This has been one of the most talked about plays of the game afterwards. Chiefs fans were rightfully upset with Jeff Triplette’s ruling of forward progress on the play, and Titans fans were upset with Derrick Henry nearly getting Mariota decapitated by missing the blitz pickup.
One thing that hasn’t been talked about that’s relevant to both those arguments is the fact that Eric Decker, the primary read on this play and highlighted pre-snap, gets absolutely mugged by the Chiefs slot corner. I mean the guy has him spun around backwards and is bear hugging him. I have no idea how that doesn’t get called, but the fact that it doesn’t leads to Mariota having to move to his next read, giving Derrick Johnson time to get a big lick on him. That doesn’t excuse Henry’s miss here though. He locks in too early on #49 Daniel Sorensen who appears to be blitzing and moves out of position to the point that he couldn’t have reached Johnson even if he saw him. It’s a well-designed and well-executed blitz by the Chiefs, but Henry has got to improve on this aspect of his game moving forward. Luckily the Titans got bailed out by a bad call here — that was made possible by another bad call — and Ryan Succop hit a long field goal to get them on the board before the half.
So that does it for the first half. As you can see, it wasn’t all ugly. The Titans started to shift towards the no-huddle, spread, zone read type offense as early as Drive 3, but simply shot themselves in the foot too often to finish. They were moving the ball with relative ease though and that continued in to the second half. Each drive for the rest of this game ends with the Titans in the end zone or in the victory formation. Here are some of the key plays that got them there.
This is the first play of the second half and the only reason I’m showing it is that it illustrates the stark difference in Derrick Henry’s play this week from previous weeks. The Titans started off backed up inside their own 10 due to a penalty on the kick return, so they come out with a heavy set and try to bully their way out of the shadow of their own goal line. A few things here before we get to Henry. Luke Stocker, who is lined up as a fullback here, has been outstanding in the “Fasano role” since being picked up about a month ago. He does a nice job on Zombo here — Zombo is a guy that the Titans absolutely worked in this game — and has been a noticeable improvement over Phillip Supernaw as a run blocker. Lewan does a great job on a combo block here as well. He’s fantastic and he deserves every penny he’s going to get this offseason.
But let’s get to Henry here because this is a very different Henry than we’ve seen over the past two seasons. The biggest criticisms of him as a back have always been his work in the passing game and his tendency to bounce too many runs outside if there isn’t a huge hole to work with. Here he shows a willingness to trust his blocks and get skinny through a small hole. He commits all the way on this run and is rewarded with a nice 6-yard gain. If this is the Henry we see from now on, he’s going to be a massive problem for opposing defenses.
The Titans went right back to the same play on the next snap and picked up the first down. With some grass between them and their own end zone, they then immediately went back to the shotgun spread look. They take a deep shot out-and-up to Corey Davis on 1st down as they try to catch Marcus Peters gambling for a pick. Not a bad idea, but Peters doesn’t take the bait.
Some point to this as an inaccurate throw by Mariota, but it’s not. He’s throwing this ball to a spot because he has to release it as Davis is making his break up field. The throw falls incomplete because Davis gets pushed a little wider than he wanted to go by Peters as he turns up field. If he gets a clean vertical release out of the break, he’s likely catching this ball for a huge play. More than anything its really another great subtle play by Peters.
A couple plays later the Titans go back to Davis. This time they get the ball in his hands on a tunnel screen and let him make things happen after the catch. I honestly can’t remember the last time I saw the Titans run a tunnel screen. This one is built off of a zone read fake which holds the linebackers for a beat and allows Davis some space. That’s right, the Titans used their best blocking wide receivers to block for their best run after catch receiver! What a concept! Davis shows some serious wiggle here for a 6’-3” 209 lbs receiver too. Watch him leave Justin Houston grasping at air with that first move. I want to see more of 84 with the ball in his hands.
This play also ends with the worst spot I’ve ever seen in a professional football game. They marked him down at the 39-yard line. That’s a 6 foot miss and it cost the Titans a challenge to correct it. As @AndyAxel said on Twitter during the game, “Being off by six feet is acceptable for a moon landing, not for the AFC wild card game.”
Shortly after the Titans get one of their biggest gains of the day on a simple dump off to Derrick Henry. Mariota does a fantastic job on this play of feeling the pressure from Justin Houston and stepping up to avoid it while keeping his eyes down field. Henry is wide open because the linebackers and safeties all read Mariota’s eyes and try to take away the Decker crossing route. He does a nice job of running after the catch and gets some help from Rishard Matthews blocking Peters downfield.
The next play the Titans go back to running the zone read. Henry presses the hole left, but there isn’t much there so he breaks it back right. From there it’s just great individual effort from 22. He runs through four (FOUR!) attempted tackles on the way to a 12 yard gain. I’ve talked for at least half this season about Henry’s ability to create yards as opposed to Murray’s ability to get “what’s blocked”. This is Henry creating, but as we saw earlier he’s also starting to get “what’s blocked” blending the best of both backs. It was an incredibly impressive day for the second year back out of Alabama.
The Titans ran a ton of zone read in this game, but this was the only time that Mariota actually kept it himself. He catches Justin Houston sleeping on this one and very nearly takes it all the way in for 6. The Titans will need him to keep these every now and then to keep the backside edge defenders honest and this is a good example of that.
The next play is one of the craziest plays you’ll ever see in a football game. We all have seen it a million times by now. Frankly, it’s also one of the luckiest plays you’ll ever see. Not only does the deflected pass bounce right back in to Mariota’s path, but if the pass isn’t deflected, there is a good chance Peters is picking it off as he peels back off Decker. It’s also great awareness and athleticism by Mariota though to keep his eyes on the ball and immediately dive for the end zone. Sometimes you need breaks like that to go your way. The Titans were due to be on the other end of fortune for once.
The Titans got the ball back quickly after this thanks to the defense and got right back to what was working so well for them. This is another look based off the zone read, but this time Mariota pulls it back and fires a quick slant to Corey Davis who absolutely roasts Darrelle Revis with his route and then creates some RAC as well. The Titans making a concerted effort to get Davis the ball in space was one of my favorite things about the second half.
You know Mariota is really feeling it when the no-look passes start showing up. Catch out his eyes on this 3rd and 10 throw and how they move the highlighted linebacker all the way off screen to open up Walker’s window. Beautiful.
Two plays later, the Titans find themselves in the end zone again thanks to Derrick Henry’s 35-yard touchdown run on — you guessed it — a read option from a spread formation. First, watch Mariota pre-snap directing the offense. When the Titans flip Henry from left of Mariota to right of Mariota, the Chiefs D-line follows him and give the Titans a huge numbers advantage on the left side with only three Chiefs lined up to the left of the ball at the snap. The Titans also have three players left of the ball in Stocker, Lewan, and Spain, and they pull Kline around after the snap which leaves 4 Titans blockers against 3 Chiefs defenders. Mariota’s fake fools the unblocked lineman from the right side which leaves Henry with just the safety to beat and his speed causes Ron Parker to take a terrible angle. This is a great job by Mariota of seeing a weakness in the defense pre-snap and then exploiting it, and its also why the quarterback should be given more freedom and time at the line of scrimmage to make these types of adjustments.
So let’s talk about that first 2-point conversion attempt. I don’t know that I would have gone for it, but I don’t have a huge problem with it either. There is 14:08 left in the game and you’re down by 5. You have to figure you’ve probably got two offensive possessions left in the game so you don’t have to get the lead down to a field goal at this point. You will still have the option to go for 2 later if the Chiefs score a touchdown and you need to try to cut it to a field goal and a touchdown with a 2-point conversion.
That being said, the play call actually does fool the Chiefs. They only have two guys out left — with one more coming out late — to cover four Titans players. Worst case scenario they have two guards and a tight end blocking three Chiefs defensive backs. That’s a big advantage for the Titans. The problem is that the throw is low from Mariota which forces Matthews to go to a knee to catch it. That gives the Chiefs defense time to recover. An accurate throw allows Matthews to walk in untouched. Of course Quinton Spain never got set before the snap so it would have come back for a penalty anyway, but the idea isn’t a bad one.
Mariota was great making plays outside of structure all game. I feel like this is a function of his improved health and the encouragement from some of his teammates over the past couple weeks to “take the game over”. This is a huge 3rd and 8 play on the final touchdown drive. The Chiefs lock up in press man coverage with a single high safety again and nobody is able to get free, thanks in part to Marcus Peters holding Corey Davis (this time it gets called). However, Mariota is able to escape pressure from Houston again (he was awesome most of this game) and picks up a key block from Decker before using his speed to get the corner and pick up the first down and more. Arm tackles aren’t getting it done against 8 these past couple weeks.
That allowed the Titans to get back to what was working all night. It’s remarkable how similar these read plays looked throughout the game. The Chiefs never found an answer for it. Lewan and Spain absolutely dominated the game on the left side and Henry took advantage by running hard through the hole and then lowering the boom when he finally ran in to a defender. Look at him get low here at the end of the run to take on Sorensen. He ran angry all game. If Henry can capture that feeling and bring it every week, he’ll be one of the top five running backs in the NFL next year.
This next play could have haunted me for a long time if the game had played out differently. Peters, again, is cheating off to try to make a play, but this time the Titans catch him and have Corey Davis WIDE OPEN for a touchdown. Mariota’s throw is just a touch too far ahead of his receiver and the Titans miss an opportunity to take the lead.
Luckily, I don’t have to worry about that play haunting me because the very next snap Mariota fires a dart to Eric Decker for the go-ahead score. Watch Mariota hold the highlighted safety with his eyes just long enough before snapping his throw back to Decker. It’s a great route from Decker too who gets his man to flip his hips outside just before breaking inside. Mariota’s pass is inch-perfect, drilling Decker between the “8” and the “7” while Decker does a good job of hanging on through contact for the score.
The Titans got one final offensive possession, getting the ball back with 2:09 left and the Chiefs still holding all three timeouts. The first play appeared to be stuffed as the Chiefs loaded the box with 10 defenders and run blitzed like crazy, but Henry bounces it outside — smartly — and makes a phenomenal play to get the first down and stay in bounds.
The next play was a give to Derrick Henry that a run blitzing Marcus Peters stopped for a 2-yard loss, but the refs and ESPN decided to allow all Titans fans to have a mini-stroke while they acted like he fumbled. Seriously, Gruden can’t give us a “sure looked like he was down before that ball came out Sean” or get to a replay quicker? They let us sit there in agony for a good 20 seconds before one replay confirmed he was down for approximately half an hour before the ball came out. I’m still mad about that (in case you couldn’t tell).
Following another short Derrick Henry run, the Titans faced 3rd and 10 at the Kansas City 44 yard line and 1:50 remaining in the game. The Chiefs still had one timeout remaining so they could have stopped the clock and still had plenty of time for a last ditch drive to try to get in field goal range. The Titans spread it out and go back to the well once more with the zone read. Henry takes a quick look right, but decides to break it back left — he’s clearly more comfortable running left. The read end, however, is unblocked by design so when Henry cuts it back he is dead to rights until he gets a huge block from his quarterback. This goes up there with the Barry Church stiff arm in the pantheon of Marcus Mariota moments for me. He puts a shoulder right in to Zombo’s chest and pushes the 6’-3” 254 lbs linebacker back 5 yards. It’s a gutsy, instinctual play from a quarterback who is making a habit of doing stuff like that.
A couple other guys also need credit on this game-clinching play though. Check out Delanie Walker, who goes in motion prior to the snap, and the block he puts on Ron Parker, pushing him nearly out of bounds on the play. Also, Eric Decker does a really nice job of walking Darrelle Revis inside and then pinning the middle linebacker to keep him from being able to come back and try to get to the edge with Henry. As bad as Decker’s drops have been these last couple weeks, he also has made many outstanding plays as a blocker that are making a difference for the Titans.
The offense played outstanding after moving towards a more spread out attack midway through the first half and they stuck with it throughout the comeback win. You can see Mariota’s comfort level directing the offense and making changes at the line of scrimmage. It’s reflected in the confident manipulation of linebackers and safeties. They must continue to move the offense in this direction. If they do, they just might have a chance to shock the world in New England.
The Titans defense got shredded in the first half as the Chiefs came out red hot. They had no answer for Travis Kelce, which to be fair, very few teams do. Jayon Brown got a shot and actually stuck with him pretty well on this play, but a perfect throw to Kelce is always going to be good coverage.
Here you can see different approach to covering Kelce. This time the Titans use a 3-safety set with Searcy back deep as a single high safety, Cyprien covering a short zone, and Byard tracking Kelce man-to-man. Byard does a great job on Kelce here, staying in his hip pocket through the crossing route, but Tyreek Hill gets open underneath on the rub and then does what he does best in the open field. It appears that Cyprien should have picked up Hill on the other side of the rub, but that’s asking a lot of a guy who isn’t really known for his coverage skills.
Also, you’ll notice the Titans rush 3 and drop 8 on this play and that’s something they did a lot of in the first half of this game to little effect. Brian Orakpo is OK in coverage, but he’s far more valuable as a pass rusher. If you are going to drop him in coverage, at least disguise it and use him to confuse the pass protection scheme. I don’t get what they’re doing with him on this snap.
Kelce tortured the Titans regardless of the type of coverage scheme they used. This is an example of great play design from the Chiefs. They use play action and then have a 3 level stretch route combination working on the right sideline. The Titans are in Cover 3 zone, and the combination of play action with Hunt leaking out of the backfield causes Cyprien to be too shallow to interfere with the pass to Kelce. Cyprien is in a lose-lose spot there with two players in his zone.
This was the worst attempt at covering Kelce for the day. There should be no scenario where you’re asking Avery Williamson to cover Travis Kelce one-on-one without help, but that’s what happened on this play. Williamson has played well as a run-stuffer over the past few weeks, but he’s a liability in coverage. This can’t happen with Gronk this weekend.
Adoree Jackson shadowed Tyreek Hill most of the day, but he struggled early. Here he’s matched up with the Chiefs burner in the slot in a press man look with a single high safety behind him. This is a tough spot for anyone as Hill is one of the toughest covers in the NFL. He beats Jackson pretty easily inside, but Adoree does a good job of at least keeping him from taking this one to the house.
One thing the Titans clearly keyed on was the Chiefs’ screen game. Andy Reid is notoriously fond of using a variety of screen designs to get his playmakers the ball in space. Here’s an example of the Titans shutting that down. Watch Erik Walden and Austin Johnson on this play. Both do a great job of recognizing the screen early and making a play to stop it for a loss.
The Titans really struggled in zone coverage during the first half. That’s not abnormal for this team either, but it showed up multiple times early. The Titans are in Cover 2 here and the Chiefs have a good route combo for that coverage called. Tye Smith passes Albert Wilson off as he leaves the curl/flat zone, but Byard doesn’t get over fast enough to pick him up. Smith probably needs to carry him a little further up field here.
Sylvester Williams had one of his best games as a Titan on Saturday. Here he does a great job of penetrating through the Chiefs zone blocking scheme to drop Kareem Hunt for a 1-yard loss.
This is a play that got lost in the broadcast coverage, but check out Sly on this snap. He crushes Kareem Hunt who is trying to leak out of the backfield, completely taking him out of the play. Then he shows some pretty good athleticism chasing Alex Smith out of bounds for a short loss, getting credit for his first career postseason sack as a reward. Well-earned in this case.
In the second half, the Titans simply didn’t have to defend many plays. They got off the field quickly on each drive while the offense held the ball for long stretches of time. A big part of the increased effectiveness from the defense was an increase in pressure on Alex Smith. Jurrell Casey played a lights out second half in particular as he regularly beat the Chiefs line to create quick interior pressure — the most dangerous kind of pressure for an offense.
Here he beats the left guard with a nasty swim move and forces Alex Smith in to a bad high throw.
This is another play that Casey gets credit for, although he had a ton of help on this one. This is a 3rd and 1 on the drive following the Mariota touchdown pass to himself. The Chiefs go to one of their favorite short yardage plays: a sprint option. The Titans saw something very similar last season in a big 3rd and short spot. Here is that play if you don’t remember.
It’s basically the same look for both teams pre-snap. The only difference is that instead of blocking down left and giving a counter look, they just zone block and ask for Smith to find a lane and pick it up. However, Sly Williams, Austin Johnson, and Jurrell Casey all do a fantastic job of pushing the line back and scraping down the line. Johnson in particular is the guy that cuts off the corner for Smith and forces him back in to Williams and Casey. Byard also does a great job of reading the play and taking away the pitch option. Just a well-defended play by the entire defense.
Johnathan Cyprien also probably had his best half as a Titan in the second half. This is the first play after the muffed punt by Adoree Jackson. Cyprien reads run quickly and flies up to take the corner away from Hunt.
The very next play the Titans come up with another big stop for a loss as Logan Ryan stops Tyreek Hill in his tracks on a short swing pass. The coverage by the Titans is excellent in general here, but Ryan’s quiet feet as Hill goes to make his move on him are textbook. He doesn’t lunge or try to make the big hit. He just sits and patiently waits for Hill to make his move and pushes him out of bounds.
The Titans got one more crucial stop in this series on 3rd and 13. This play demonstrates the importance of pressure and how it makes a secondary look better. The Titans are in Cover 2 press man and the Chiefs get a couple guys with good separation, but Brian Orakpo’s pressure off the edge forces Smith up in the pocket and he runs right in to David King and Derrick Morgan. That leaves the Chiefs with a long field goal and they end up missing it. This was a massive series from the defense.
Austin Johnson has really come on since being forced in to a larger role when DaQuan Jones went down. Here he is again making a great play against zone blocking. He rarely gets pushed off his spot, and does a really nice job of discarding the guard and making the stop right at the line of scrimmage on a 2nd and 3 play here.
On the following 3rd and 2 the Titans caught a break as backup tight end Orson Charles drops what would have been a first down catch. However, when I went back and watched this play on the All-22, I noticed that Derrick Morgan actually bumps Charles as he’s buzzing out to the flat and that distracts the tight end just before the ball arrives. The contact happens within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage (barely) and before the ball leaves Alex Smith’s hands (barely) so its a legal play — the same reason that Sly Williams is allowed to deck Kareem Hunt on the play highlighted previously. I’m not even sure if Morgan was trying to get a rub on Charles or not, but it worked.
I mentioned Cyprien’s good 2nd half earlier. Here is another huge play from him late in the game. This is 2nd and 9 with 2:56 remaining after the Titans had just taken the lead. One more first down puts the Chiefs on the edge of field goal range and likely gives them a chance to, at the very least, get a chance at a kick to take the lead. Cyp gets criticized for this coverage often, but he’s actually pretty good when asked to cover tight ends in man. Here he is matched up with Demetrius Harris and tracks him all the way across the field before making a great play to break up the pass. The coverage elsewhere on this play is excellent as well.
Cyp had one more play to make though. After a coverage sack by Derrick Morgan the Chiefs faced 4th and 9 with 2:15 remaining, still just outside of field goal range. Jurrell Casey beats Mitchell Schwartz so fast that it looks like he might not have been ready for the snap. The quick pressure forces Smith in to a quick decision and he puts up a deep shot to Wilson who’s bracketed by Logan Ryan and Cyprien. It’s actually a fantastic throw from Smith, but Cyprien lays a big hit on Wilson to make sure he doesn’t come down with the ball.
The biggest difference between the Titans defense in the first half and the defense in the second half is pressure. They found a way to get pressure on Smith on nearly every pass after halftime. That will also be a big key to slowing down Tom Brady and the Patriots. Jurrell Casey, in particular, needs to have the game of his life in New England. Interior pressure is the single best way to throw Brady off his game. He’s very good at stepping up and moving within the pocket to avoid edge pressure, but he’s not athletic enough to avoid pressure up the middle.