Marcus Mariota and the first team Titans offense only got nine snaps during their preseason opener in Green Bay, but they made the most of them, marching 71 yards in 9 plays for a quick touchdown. While it’s a pretty small sample size for any real meaningful analysis, I wanted to take a look at each play from formation, personnel, scheme, and execution angles.
Play 1: Derrick Henry run for 3 yards
The Titans got started, appropriately, with the play off which this entire offense will be based: the outside zone run. They lined up in 12 personnel with tight ends Jonnu Smith and Luke Stocker tight to the tackles (Delanie Walker was given the night off), wide receivers Taywan Taylor and Darius Jennings outside with narrow splits, and Derrick Henry as the single back behind Mariota.
The play is really well blocked for the most part. Quinton Spain is able to reach the playside 3-tech while Ben Jones and Taylor Lewan work to the second level and neutralize the inside backers. Jones does a particularly great job firing off and getting his man on the ground. Smith is not quite able to pin the edge defender — if he had this run could have gone for more — so Henry makes the right read to bang it up field and gets what’s blocked. This is a positive sign for a back that’s struggled with a tendency to bounce every run outside.
Play 2: Mariota sacked for 0 yard loss
The next play sees the Titans come out in an offset I look with Stocker in the backfield in front of Henry. Smith is lined up as an in-line tight end to the right side while Taylor lines up split out wide left as the X and Jennings goes in motion as the Z.
It is meant to be a quick hitting pass concept with Jennings running a speed out and Smith hitting a hitch inside of him. Mariota looks to Jennings then quickly comes back to Smith, but neither is open. Despite good protection, Mariota flees the pocket and ends up sliding down for no gain. He had time to come back left and look for his checkdown options releasing late out of the backfield, but my guess is he was probably told not to take any chances lingering in the pocket in preseason.
Play 3: Marcus Mariota pass complete to Nick Williams for 38 yards
Play 3 brings us the first 11 personnel set of the game. Nick Williams enters the game as the slot receiver and aligns in a two-man stack with Taylor — stacks and bunches were very prevalent in the McVay/LaFleur Rams offense last season — with Jennings split wide right again. Smith is in a two-point stance tight to the right with Dion Lewis entering the game for the first time to the right of Mariota.
Green Bay’s coverage is blown from the jump as nobody picks up Taywan Taylor running the shallow cross, but Mariota doesn’t see it. To be fair, the cross here more of a clear out route than a read on the play. His job is really to pull the robber or wall defender out of the middle so Williams can work inside with the slant without obstruction.
However, Williams wins inside leverage on his route with a nice club-swim combo and Mariota hits the pass with perfect timing and accuracy, setting up Williams to run after the catch. It was the biggest play of the night for the Titans offense and the key play of the first drive.
Play 4: Derrick Henry run 8 yards
Play 4 is another 1st and 10 and we see the Titans come back to 12 personnel. The formation is similar to Play 1, but this time Stocker and Smith are both lined up on the right. The call is also the same as Play 1 as the Titans go back to the outside zone.
The offensive line and tight ends do a nice job, but what I loved about this play was the block Jennings — lined up to the top of the screen — gets on the strong safety. Alex Gibbs, considered to be the godfather of the modern zone blocking scheme, once had these words of wisdom when speaking at a coaching clinic about the important role his receivers play in blocking zone runs.
“If that wide receiver does not block the safety, he comes to the sideline. I think those are basic principles, and I try not to do it any other way. We don’t block corners, we block safeties. We make corners tackle. They’re as shitty as tacklers in our league as they are in yours.”
It looks like Matt LaFleur feels the same way, although he may not say it quite as colorfully. Gibbs would have been proud of this effort from Jennings. Henry, for his part, did a great job once again of reading his keys — something SuperHorn laid out beautifully here — and makes a sharp cut to get inside the corner and maximize his gain.
Also, take note of Mariota carrying out the bootleg fake on the backside of the play.
Play 5: Marcus Mariota scrambles right for 7 yards
Thanks to a late reaction from the TV broadcast we really don’t know what formation the Titans were in for Play 5 but based on where the players are when we first see them it appears to be a similar formation and exact same personnel as Play 1 up top. This time, however, instead of handing the ball to Henry on the outside zone going left, they fake it to him and Mariota keeps it on the boot. His passing options flood to the right with him, but the backside edge defender collapses a little too hard on the zone fake going the other way and Mariota is able to use his speed to get the edge and pick up an easy 7 yards.
Its a shame that we didn’t get to see the start of this play, because I would’ve loved to compare how similar it looked to the start of Play 1. My guess is they probably were pretty dang similar and that’s the beauty of this offense, particularly with Marcus Mariota. He’s going to torture backside edge defenders this year with those bootlegs and that will only help open cutback lanes for Henry and Lewis as those ends have to stay home to respect Mariota’s speed.
Play 6: Dion Lewis runs for 7 yards
Play 6 sees the Titans go to an 11 personnel package on 1st or 2nd down for the first time in the game. They have Jennings and Williams stacked with a tight split to the bottom of the screen with Taylor split wide right. Smith is tight to the left tackle just inside of the Jennings-Williams stack and Dion Lewis is the lone running back behind Mariota.
Again, the play is blocked well up front. Ben Jones does a nice job helping Josh Kline and then, again reaching a linebacker on the second level. However, the key blocks come from Smith — who absolutely manhandles Packers linebacker Kyler Fackrell at the point of attack — and the stacked wide receivers, Jennings and Williams. Lewis shows off his vision and quickness, getting to the correct hole in a hurry and then bursting suddenly through it.
Play 7: Marcus Mariota pass incomplete to Taywan Taylor
The Titans breakout the 13 personnel for the first time on 1st and goal from the 4-yard line, with Anthony Firkser entering the game for the first time. He’s lined up outside Smith tight to the right side of the formation while Stocker lines up as a fullback in front of Henry. Taylor is the lone wide receiver split wide to the left.
The heavy formation draws a crowd in the box and leaves Taylor one-on-one on an island with Packers rookie corner Josh Jackson. That’s where the Titans attack, looking for a fade in the back corner of the endzone, but Taylor loses his footing and isn’t able to catch what appeared to be a perfectly placed ball. Taylor looked to have a step on Jackson so that should have been an easy touchdown.
Play 8: Derrick Henry runs for no gain
They come back with the exact same look on the next play, but this time they give it to Henry on a dive over the left side. The Packers do a nice job here of muddying up the hole as they cut down Stocker as he’s trying to lead Henry through. Again, Henry resists the temptation to bounce and takes what he can get here.
Play 9: Marcus Mariota pass to Darius Jennings for 4 yard touchdown
For 3rd and goal from the 4-yard line, the Titans went back to 11 personnel and chose to spread the Packers out. Taylor is the lone receiver to the left, while Jennings, Williams, and Smith line up from the outside in on the right. Lewis is lined up slightly ahead of Mariota in the shotgun due to the double A gap blitz look the Packers are presenting pre-snap.
The passing concept is a simple rub route, something that LaFleur’s Rams did a ton in 2017, with Jennings running a quick in underneath the out from Williams. Smith runs a stick-nod on the inside, pulling his defender out of the the picture (and it was a really nice route here from Smith too).
The Packers blitz the look, but the Titans do a good job of communicating up front between the line and Lewis, who steps up to meet the blitzing linebacker in the hole.
Mariota wastes no time getting rid of the ball on this play, quickly firing it out to Jennings after the snap. Mariota’s throw is a touch behind Jennings, but he’s able to adjust, make the catch, and then dive in to the endzone.
The sample size, again, is so small that it’s hard to do a ton with this information. However, here are a few of the things that I noticed watching these plays closely.
- Ben Jones looks really natural on these zone runs. He’s working to the second level and looks like he’s moving really well. This scheme transition could benefit him as much as anyone on the offensive line.
- Its just 3 carries, but Derrick Henry looks decisive on each one, something he’s struggled with the last couple years. He had the chance to try to force a bounce on a couple of these runs and successfully avoided the temptation. Again, small sample, but that’s a good sign for him and his effectiveness in 2018.
- Darius Jennings had a pretty nice drive. Not only did he catch the touchdown, but he threw key blocks on several runs. That will further endear him to the coaching staff and help his odds of making this team. Those odds aren’t looking too long anymore either. I’d say Jennings clearly makes the team if roster cuts were today.
- Nick Williams got the first team reps at the slot receiver spot and helped his cause with his performance. He also chipped in a big special teams play later on. Michael Campanaro had been getting most of the first team reps here early in camp, but it feels like Williams has closed the gap.
- Mariota’s skill set is tailor-made for this offense. Once he gets comfortable in it he could be lethal, especially when he has guys like Delanie Walker, Corey Davis, and Rishard Matthews out there.
- All these plays will be a base part of this offense in 2018 so get used to seeing them. There will be a lot more built on top of this once the regular season begins and the coaching staff starts putting together opponent specific gameplans, but this is a good basic representation of what this offense is at its core.