In the middle of the 1st quarter against the Patriots, Mariota and the Titans offense faced a long second down after a negative rush on first down. The play that would follow signified so many progressions this entire team has made over the course of the season. This offense continues to be a work in progress, but I thought this play, more than any other this year, showed the hard work this team has put in, and the potential of this offense moving forward.
Titans 7 - Patriots 3
1st Quarter - 6:05
2nd Down and 15
LaFleur and Mariota are getting on the same page more often with pre snap identification. The goal is to understand post snap coverage before the ball is snapped. This is a fairly obvious statement, but with the creativity of NFL defenses it’s not always easy.
To begin, LaFleur motions Davis from the right side of the formation to the bunch on the left side.
A lot of information can be taken away from the way the defense reacts to this motion.
- Gilmore follows Davis, which signals some type of man or match coverage.
- The nickel corner steps up and takes the point position. This gives a pretty good tip to the type of coverage the Patriots want to play in this situation.
To the play side, the Patriots will adapt coverage based on the initial stem of the receiver. The point corner takes Tajae everywhere he goes. However, the outside corner and inside corner won’t identify their man until post snap. The first receiver that breaks outside will be taken by the outside corner, and vice versa. LaFleur clearly understood this tendency and attacked to guarantee a single coverage look for Davis.
Tajae immediately takes a hard stem inside to remove the point defender from the equation. Batson takes an intentional stem outside which forces the outside defender to man up, before pivoting back inside. And, finally, Davis runs a studder and go to the corner.
To the backside of the play, Lewis has a check release. Jonnu’s route is important here, though. His vertical stem forces that single high safety to stay in the middle of the field and away from the shot play to Davis.
Pre snap, the QB gets a picture. The hard part about the position (among other things) is verifying that pre snap picture in a split second post snap and then determining where to go with the ball.
This is the image Mariota gets post snap. The strong side safety at the bottom of the screen on Smith has not rotated. This is a single high look, and that safety cannot reach Davis. Moreover, it’s worth noting that New England has committed Hightower to spying Mariota. Which, in this case, is really a wasted defender. By accounting for Mariota’s legs, the Patriots have conceded an extra pass rusher or an additional safety, both of which could have changed the outcome of this play.
We can start with the execution of this play by Davis. He takes a hard vertical stem to the outside shoulder of Gilmore, who’s been one of the best corners in football this year. Davis sells the studder and go, which allows just enough separation at the top of the route for Mariota to fit this ball in.
Mariota, for his part, does such a great job with his footwork. It’s been something he’s been working on since training camp. And, frankly, he’s struggled with it at times.
In this offense, the feet and eyes need to tie in rhythm to route progression. That is, as Mariota progresses through the routes, his feet should follow his eyes. Here that’s on full display. As he hits the top of his route, he identifies that Jonnu is not coming open. This also holds the safety. He then hitches forward to his next read - Davis - and his feet follow his eyes. These mechanics afford him a base to cut the ball loose immediately when he identifies he has the coverage he wants.
The end result is a beautiful play that happens in just a matter of seconds. As we saw here, though, it was months of hard work, tape study, and repetition that lead them to this execution. Plays like this give a foundation of optimism for this offense as it continues to grow.