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All-22 Review: Titans offensive struggles continue as Marcus Mariota is benched for Ryan Tannehill

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The end of the Mariota era in Tennessee was sad to see, but could Tannehill help bring the Titans offense back to life?

Tennessee Titans v Denver Broncos Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

The All-22 Review is a recurring feature here at Music City Miracles breaking down the tape from the previous week’s Titans game. The focus will vary depending on where the action on the field takes us, but the idea is to bring insights that may have been missed on the TV broadcast.


Ready or not, here we go.

Ryan Tannehill is the new starting quarterback in Nashville after a terrible performance from Marcus Mariota in Denver led to the coaching staff pulling the plug in the third quarter after a 7 for 18, 63-yard, 2-interception performance from their long time starter.

I’m not going to get too deep into my thoughts on the end of the Mariota Era in Tennessee here, if you want to read them, I wrote at length about them here. It’s a sad day for all Titans fans regardless of whether you were a staunch Mariota supporter or a fan that was already ready to move on from 8. Seeing your team effectively admit that they no longer believe in the guy that was supposed to be the franchise quarterback... again... is always tough to see.

The Titans are 2-4 and in a deep hole in both the division and wildcard races. If you want to toss in the towel on the hopes of a miraculous run to the playoffs, I can’t blame you.

However, making the move to Tannehill gives me at least a flicker of hope. It’s not like the team needs its offense to put up 40 points a game. The Titans defense has made it clear that if the offense can put up at least 20 points, they’ll have a chance to win most games, including all six of their games to this point. If Tannehill can just get this offense to roughly league average, this team can still win a lot of games between now and Week 17. Can they win enough to get into the playoffs? Maybe, maybe not.

I’m not going to do a deep dive on the stats for this All-22 since the numbers are all pretty awful at this point and we all know that there are multiple reasons for that. So let’s just jump into the tape and see what went wrong and if there is anything we can take from Tannehill’s relief performance that could give some hope for this Sunday and beyond.

Alright, so let’s dig into Marcus Mariota’s performance and what pushed Mike Vrabel to make the call to the bench for Ryan Tannehill. The first play of the game was designed to be a play action throwback screen to Derrick Henry, but the play fake here isn’t fooling anyone. Watch the Broncos linebackers. One barely reacts to the run threat and the other — who has Henry in man coverage — just follows Henry right to the screen. The throw itself really isn’t bad, but Henry just drops it. The big running back’s lack of ability to haul in even simple screen passes at times is frustrating.

NFL Game Pass

Many have wanted to see more RPO concepts in the Titans offensive attack and there are a few. Here is an example from the Broncos game. Mariota is reading the end man on line of scrimmage here. If he follows Jonnu Smith out to the flat or sits outside, Mariota gives to Henry on the dive. If he crashes down the line to play the run, Mariota can pull the ball and throw to either Smith in the flat or A.J. Brown running a quick stop route. With the EMLOS (End Man on Line Of Scrimmage) in conflict and just one Broncos linebacker in the area, the Titans have Denver in a spot where they have two defenders to cover three responsibilities — run contain, Smith, and Brown — which is advantage Titans, obviously.

Here, Mariota sticks with the safe play and gives to Henry on the dive to pick up three. However, I’m not sure that’s the right read. The EMLOS isn’t crashing down hard, but his body weight is clearly leaning inside at the mesh point. Smith is already a couple steps past him and there is no way he can recover to get in position to challenge a pass. The only defender who can get to Smith — the off ball linebacker on that side — has to fight through a rub from Brown and kinda gets caught in no man’s land between Smith and Brown, but not really covering either of them. If Mariota pulls this ball, it’s likely an easy completion to the pass catcher of his choice for more than the 3 yards Henry ended up with on the ground.

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Alright, so let’s get to the first sack of the game. Yet again, this became an issue for the Titans against Denver. It’s 3rd and 7 on the first drive following the two plays above. Finding themselves in 3rd and long continues to be an issue for this team because of their lack of success on 1st and 2nd down.

However, the Titans don’t do themselves any favors on 3rd downs either. Let’s break this one down piece by piece because this play design is a total mess. The Broncos walk up both of their linebackers and give the Titans offense a 5-man rush look. Von Miller — by far the Broncos most dangerous rusher is lined up across from Taylor Lewan — but for some reason the Titans ask Adam Humphries to chip on the right side and slide their entire protection right, leaving Dion Lewis to pick up one of the blitzing backers one-on-one. Lewis gets overpowered which creates near immediate pressure on Mariota.

However, my bigger issue here is that there are no quick options available for the quarterback in the event of a blitz. Every single route goes past the sticks, and while I get that they’re trying to get the ball downfield to pick up the first down, it’s also where defenders are expecting routes to be run and they take some time to get there. Delanie Walker — running an out route at the sticks from the slot towards the bottom of the screen — actually gets open, but the pressure in Mariota’s face from Lewis’ man keeps him from being able to make a play. Bad play design, bad protection call.

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It’s no secret that Mariota had one of his poorest games from an accuracy standpoint in this one. I’m not sure exactly what happened with this throw. It just looks like an out and out misfire, but misses like this on 3rd and 3 are a killer for an offense that struggles to pick up 3rd downs as is.

I also think it’s worth pointing out that Mariota has always had a tendency towards locking onto Delanie Walker on plays like this where he is essentially choosing his matchup. That makes sense because the veteran tight end has long been the Titans best and most reliable pass catcher. However, his tendency to lock onto Walker may no longer be warranted. It’s not that Walker is playing poorly, but guys like Corey Davis and A.J. Brown — who gets very open underneath on the shallow cross here — are just as capable as Walker of winning one on one, maybe even more so, and they offer much greater value after the catch.

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Another misfire came on the next drive on 2nd and 6. This time it’s a play action look with the Titans looking to take a shot downfield, but it’s not there so Mariota smartly moves to his check down option with Henry in the flat. I don’t know if he was expecting Henry to keep running towards the sideline or if this is just another poor throw, but it’s a bad miss of a wide open receiver. Henry likely picks up the first down or at least gets close if this is a catchable pass. Instead, it sets up the 3rd and 6 where Humphries gets tackled just short of the line to gain and the Titans punt... again.

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One thing that Arthur Smith seems to struggle with through six games is his ability to anticipate coverage calls and get the Titans in the right play for the defense. Some of this is credit to the defensive playcaller. Broncos head coach and defensive guru Vic Fangio fooled the Titans multiple times on Sunday with his coverages. Here, the Titans are expecting man coverage on 3rd and 4 and throw a swing pass to Dion Lewis that is designed to get him outside with space to work with. However, the Broncos are in zone, which means none of the defenders turn and run with the receivers downfield. All eyes are in the backfield and that leaves Lewis trying to run through about six Broncos defenders with predictable results.

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Mariota was all over the place in this game. Here, he misses Corey Davis on an out route by a mile. It looks possible that Mariota was expecting a different route here, but given the way his accuracy looked throughout this game, I lean towards this just being a poor throw.

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It wasn’t all bad from Mariota in this game. There were, of course, a few bright spots. Here is one of them on a 3rd and 7. Mariota finds Humphries in a tight window and drills it in there and his receiver rewards him with a tough contested catch.

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However, Mariota got back to bad habits just two plays later. The Titans go to one of their favorite shot plays on 2nd and 12 after a two yard loss by Henry. Mariota has a nice pocket from the offensive line and plenty of room to step up and cut the ball loose. Tajae Sharpe (spotlighted) is coming open — not wide open, but open enough — in the middle of the field, but instead of throwing, Mariota pulls the ball down and looks to run, eventually running into a sack and setting up a 3rd and 13. This is pull your hair out quarterback play for an offensive coordinator and it’s stuff like this, far more than the two interceptions, that got Mariota benched in my opinion.

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Here is another infuriating snap from Mariota. It’s 3rd and 13 — this is the very next play after the one above — so the Titans need a chunk here. It’s going to be very difficult to convert no matter what they do, however, the Broncos choose to drop nine into coverage and rush two. Really, Von Miller — originally lined up near the 40-yard line mark on the near side — isn’t even rushing, he’s just spying as he has four Titans blockers between him and Mariota. The other rusher, to the top of the screen, is doubled by Conklin and Davis.

Nobody is anywhere near Mariota or threatening to get anywhere near Mariota. Of course, no one is open initially either, but instead of waiting for a receiver to find a hole in the Broncos zone coverage, Mariota flees the protection of a heavily fortified pocket and gives Miller and angle to chase him down and force a throwaway.

Maybe nobody would have gotten open and he would have had to throw it away anyways, but Mariota never gives his receivers a chance here.

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More missed opportunities here. It’s 1st and 15 after a false start by Nate Davis — who had a disastrous game as he continues to deal with rookie growing pains — but the Titans still have a chance to get things going here. It’s late in the first half and despite the horrible start from the offense, Tennessee is down just 6-0.

Once again, the Titans get Tajae Sharpe open on a crossing route. He’s not wide open — Sharpe’s struggles to create big separation remain — but he’s open enough for NFL purposes and there is a lot of room for a pass to be fit over the linebackers and under the safeties. Mariota is looking right at him, but chooses not to cut it loose, eventually fleeing the pocket and throwing the ball away, setting up 2nd and 15.

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Let’s take a look at the third and final sack of Mariota in this game. This one comes on 3rd and 8, and once again, the Titans don’t have a single quick option available to their quarterback. Does Arthur Smith not realize that Corey Davis and A.J. Brown are two of the better after the catch receivers in the NFL? Does he also not realize that his offensive line has been struggling to hold up in obvious passing situations?

Mariota has no chance between the play design and Nate Davis getting wrecked by Derek Wolfe. The good news for the Titans offensive line in this game was that Rodger Saffold and Jack Conklin all played well, particularly in pass protection. The bad news is that Davis remains a major work in progress. This shouldn’t come as a surprise from a rookie offensive lineman — if you look at the other rookies starting elsewhere around the league, the results are largely the same with the exception of Saints rookie center Erik McCoy — but through six games, the Titans are getting worse right guard play than they got from Josh Kline the last two years. It will be interesting to see if they let Davis play through it or consider going to a now healthy Kevin Pamphile at some point.

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Here is the first interception. I don’t think this one is on Mariota. It’s 1st and 10 with good field position late in the half and the Titans are trying to get a late score to get on the board. He starts looking left, but the coverage is good there so he works back left. For some reason Tajae Sharpe stops his route after clearing the middle linebacker. Mariota throws as if he expects Sharpe to keep running through the window. Typically, receivers are coached to set down in windows against zone and keep running against man. I think Sharpe sets down too quickly though and it allows Chris Harris to swoop in for the pick.

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The first drive after the half saw the Titans get good field position and quickly move to midfield with a 5 yard run from Henry. A run for no gain set up a 3rd and 5, but the Titans once again couldn’t convert. Mariota has Adam Humphries open quickly, but doesn’t pull the trigger and eventually ends up fleeing the pocket and throwing the ball to A.J. Brown on the sidelines, but he can’t quite haul in what would have been a fantastic catch.

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The second interception is largely not on Mariota either. It’s 3rd and 9 after a batted down pass on 1st down and then a 1 yard run by Dalyn Dawkins on 2nd down. The Broncos blitz again, and the Titans run ridiculously long developing routes again, though this time they at least have Delanie Walker flaring out late as a check down.

Maybe Mariota should have taken the check down here, but pressure comes almost immediately as a good inside stunt from the Broncos causes confusion between Ben Jones and Nate Davis. Mariota does brilliantly to elude the pressure — one of the few times he’s made guys miss in the pocket this year — but he chooses to just throw a ball up for grabs to Darius Jennings of all people. He doesn’t get enough on it (looks like his arm gets hit as he releases) and it allows the safety to cut underneath and make the pick.

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That would be Mariota’s last play in this game. Despite the timing, I don’t think he really got benched because of the interceptions. I think he got benched because the Titans finally fell behind by two scores after this drive and the coaching staff had no faith that he could rally them late based on what he’d shown all game.

The missed opportunities that resulted in sacks or throwaways are what really irk me about watching Mariota this year. The inconsistent accuracy is another issue — and one that seemed to be getting worse this year — but passing up open receivers within the structure of the offense is going to handicap any offense. When you do that in an offense that has offensive line issues and play design issues, it becomes the total disaster that we’ve seen far too often in 2019.

Ryan Tannehill made his debut on the next series and immediately Corey Davis and A.J. Brown were noticeably more involved. His first drive started with a negative run for Henry and then a quick 5 yard out to Davis, setting up this 3rd and 6. The Titans spread things out and give Tannehill a chance to choose his matchup. He chooses A.J. Brown versus Chris Harris. Harris is trying to jam Brown, but the rookie gives him the club and knocks him to the ground. Tannehill hits him in stride and Brown shows off that run after catch ability that we are quickly becoming very familiar with.

Of course, the play gets called back for an OPI on Brown, and maybe the rookie got a little carried away with his release off Harris’ jam, but he can’t help how strong he is. Either way, it’s encouraging to me to see Tannehill looking for Brown right away in a big spot.

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Unfortunately, Tannehill showed some of the same tendencies that Mariota did when it comes to missing open receivers. Here, he’s facing a tough 3rd and 16 situation, but the Titans actually manage to get Adam Humphries pretty wide open. Tannehill just doesn’t take the shot and dumps it down to Walker instead.

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The Titans quickly got into Broncos territory on their next drive, but on 1st and 10 Tannehill takes a sack. There really isn’t anyone open here, and it looks like there is some confusion between Lewan and Henry picking up the rush, but Tannehill has to throw this thing away instead of taking a 10 yard loss on 1st and 10.

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On the next drive, the Titans worked their way down to the red zone for the first time, but they got to a 4th and 4 situation and with the score being 13-0 with just 9:07 remaining in the game, they chose to go for it. Tannehill misses a couple early opportunities to hit Walker or Lewis on quick in-breaking routes. Instead, he holds the ball and eventually takes a sack on 4th down which is a cardinal sin for a quarterback.

Sidenote: Not to make excuses for this dreadful offense, but the Broncos defense was very grabby during this game — both in the secondary and on the defensive line — and largely got away with it. Here, you can see Corey Davis get grabbed at the top of his corner route (Davis is the receiver lined up tight to the right tackle pre-snap). It’s not the reason the offense looked awful, but it certainly didn’t help.

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Tannehill did have some really good moments as well though and it’s enough to have at least some optimism about him moving forward. Here, he throws a strike to hit Humphries up the seam, showing off the accuracy and arm strength that make him dangerous.

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Tannehill showed good timing and accuracy when he did cut the ball loose on time. Here, he hits A.J. Brown on a nice out route on the sidelines.

Mariota targeted Brown or Davis on just 3 of his 18 attempts, completing just 1 of those passes for 13 yards. Tannehill targeted those two on 6 of 16 attempts, completing 4 for 46 yards. If you want some hope for the Titans offense making meaningful steps forward under Tannehill, I think it lies in the thought that he will unlock Davis and Brown.

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Here is a play where Tannehill really didn’t have a shot. Nobody is open and Lewan gets stuck with a punishing long arm move from Von Miller to create the sack. Miller is still a great player and Lewan mostly played pretty well in this game, but he got bullied on this one.

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Tannehill would bounce back later in this drive with a beautiful strike to Anthony Firkser for his first catch of the year. This is a great throw against tight coverage and an even better catch by Firkser, who we have come to expect to make these types of plays.

The officials whistle him down at the 11 yard line even though he was not touched by a defender until after his knee was back up off the ground. The Titans should have had this 1st and goal at the 2 instead of 1st and 10 at the 11. Again, it didn’t make a difference in the likely outcome, but the Titans probably score from the 2 if the ball is placed there.

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Here is the final sack of Tannehill. It’s 2nd and 14 after a penalty backed them up. Corey Davis gets open quickly, but Tannehill seems to be waiting for Walker to come open behind him. Walker does get open, but by the time the tight end is coming free, pressure is arriving on another sloppy handling of a stunt between Ben Jones and Nate Davis.

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Tannehill would be picked to seal the shut out a few plays later, but at least he threw the ball on that 4th down.

I don’t know whether the Titans offense will improve under Tannehill. There are certainly other problems. The running game didn’t get going in this one — though it was closer than it might have looked on first watch — and there are still offensive line problems and scheme problems. As I said above, the best case for an improved performance with the new QB is that he might get Davis and Brown involved more often.

We will see how Tannehill looks with a full week of practice reps against the Chargers. I’m hoping that we see him start to get more into a rhythm and provide the spark that Mike Vrabel said he’s looking for. Even if you’re ready to pull the plug on this Titans season, I’m tired of watching bad offense. Let’s see what the new guy can do.