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All-22 Review: Breaking down a very strange offensive performance in the Titans 27-23 win over the Bucs

What went wrong? What went right? Is this offense fixable? Let’s talk about one of the weirder games of the 2019 season.

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Tennessee Titans Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

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.

After playing their best game of the season on offense in Week 7 against the Chargers, the Titans slid back into the frustrating, inconsistent attack that we’ve seen for most of the season. Yes, the final scoreboard showed a perfectly acceptable total of 27 points, but short fields provided by the defense accounted for two of the three touchdown drives.

Justin Graver wrote a great break down of the numbers from the game earlier this week so I won’t dwell on the stats too extensively here, but I did want to share some personnel grouping stats that I found interesting from this game.

Per Sharp Football Stats, the Titans deployed the highest percentage of 13 personnel (1 RB, 3 TE, 1 WR) that they’ve used this season against Tampa Bay, using heavy sets on 28% of snaps. That’s more than double their season long rate of 11%. They ran the ball from that personnel package on 81% of the snaps they were in it (13 of 16) with a rushing success rate of just 31%.

When they were in 11-personnel (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WR), they passed the ball on 89% of snaps (22 of 25), producing a success rate of 44%.

That deviates from some trends earlier this season when the Titans were doing a far better job of remaining at least somewhat balanced in the run and pass in each personnel package. Against the Bucs, you could virtually guarantee whether it was going to be a run or a pass based on personnel alone. That’s a major problem.

It’s also a major problem that the Titans came into this game against the top ranked Bucs run defense — and 32nd ranked pass defense — and chose not to modify their game plan in any meaningful way to attack Tampa’s weakness until the second half.

During the first half, the Titans ran the ball on 50% of their first and second down plays which made them the 10th most run-heavy team in the NFL during Week 8 in those situations. They predictably had almost zero success running at the Bucs defense in that first half, posting just a 25% success rate on the ground compared to a 38% success rate through the air. Don’t get me wrong, 38% is nothing to write home about, but it’s a lot better than 25%.

And it’s not like this was a surprise. Everyone knew that the Bucs run defense was legit coming into this game. Everyone.

Lack of obvious opponent specific adjustments aside, the Titans offense under Arthur Smith too often feels like it has no real direction. It’s not that the play designs aren’t functional, it’s that the plays don’t build on one another and the details are often found lacking. It’s an offense that doesn’t feel like a coherent design. It feels like a mishmash of plays borrowed from different schemes — which makes sense given Smith’s varied background as a coach at the NFL level — that have been thrown together in a manner that doesn’t allow counters and deception to enhance the design of each individual play.

That being said, it’s not all on Smith. There were some clear execution issues during this game that stunted drives. They also continue to struggle with pre-snap penalties on offense. The Titans have the 5th most pre-snap offensive penalties in the NFL this year and added two more in this game with false starts by Jonnu Smith and Anthony Firkser.

So let’s get into what went wrong and what went right for the Titans offense in their 27-23 win over the Bucs on Sunday.

What went wrong — and occasionally right — with the Titans run game?

If you just look at Derrick Henry’s box score line — 16 carries for 75 yards at a 4.7 yards per carry clip — you’d say that the Titans did a great job against the Bucs stout run defense, but that’s where stats can be very misleading. This was a very boom or bust game for the Titans on the ground. Out of Henry’s 16 carries, 6 went for a loss and another 2 went for no gain. Gaining positive yardage on just half your carries is a decidedly bad thing for an offense that generally needs to stay ahead of down and distance to have success.

Henry’s 6 negative rushes were nearly double his already league-high rate of 3.3 negative runs per game coming into this one. It started with the very first offensive snap of the game when Taylor Lewan got beat by Shaquil Barrett off the edge.

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There wasn’t a ton of room here either way, but Lewan’s miss guaranteed this play was going nowhere.

Here is another negative run. This time there is a better reason for the missed block as Ndamukong Suh clearly holds Nate Davis, preventing him from climbing to the second level and blocking Lavonte David (No. 54), who eventually makes the tackle.

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There is actually a big cut back lane forming here off of Jonnu Smith’s slice block on Barrett if Davis did manage to cut off David and it looks like that is where this play is designed to go.

You can see some of the issue here though. This is 13-personnel and the Bucs have 9 defenders loitering near the line of scrimmage here. There can sometimes be some benefits to running into packed boxes — if you block it up well you have a real chance of hitting a big play as we will see later — but if you’re looking for a running game that will sustain an offense, it’s generally a bad idea to invite the entire defense into the box based on personnel and formation as the Titans do here.

Here is another negative run. This is a 1st and 10 at the start of a fresh drive and this immediately puts them behind the chains. Like the other two examples above, this failure on 1st down would lead to a punt just two plays later. Getting off on the wrong foot on 1st downs is a killer for the Titans offense.

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Here, the culprit is Jamil Douglas who had entered the game at left guard for Rodger Saffold. He’s supposed to be cutting Vita Vea on the backside of this zone run, but he can’t get him on the ground. This time the Titans are in 12-personnel, but there are still 8 Bucs lingering around the line at the snap.

Douglas was an issue a couple times in this game. Here he simply whiffs on a kickout block of JPP.

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While Saffold has been far from perfect this year, he’s played better over the last three games and is still a huge step up from Douglas. Saffold is in the concussion protocol, but it sounds like he is trending towards playing against Carolina and that would be a huge boost for the Titans offense.

Here is another negative run. Again, the Titans are in 13-personnel which might as well have been a neon flashing sign saying “here comes Henry” during this game.

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It looks to me like MyCole Pruitt misses his assignment here. Instead of kicking out Jason Pierre-Paul who is crashing down from his stand up defensive end spot, he veers back into the interior and basically runs into Nate Davis’ back. Surely he was meant to block JPP here.

Some people will knock Henry for having too many negative runs, but I don’t know what any other running back is doing to gain yardage in this situation.

It wasn’t all bad for the run game though. If you’re going to average 4.7 yards per carry despite having half of your runs go for negative yards or no gain, you’re going to need some chunk plays and that’s what Henry got in this game.

Let’s take a look at a few of these, starting with the big run off the goal line that came pretty close to becoming his second 99-yard run in as many seasons.

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I talked above about how tight formations that invite large numbers to the box can sometimes result in explosive plays and this is a great example of that. Henry makes a fantastic read to cut this back and knife through a small hole between Jack Conklin and MyCole Pruitt.

Because there are so many Bucs close to the line of scrimmage, Henry finds just single high safety Andrew Adams between him and the end zone once he slips through the hole. Adams does a good job of slowing him down just enough for the Bucs pursuit to gain ground. If he doesn’t, this is probably 6. Henry slips through a couple tackles in the open field and nearly breaks it wide open anyway.

The Titans had far more success when they schemed to get Henry on the edges instead of trying the middle of the Bucs defense where Vita Vea proved to be borderline unblockable. Here is one of the plays the Titans did have frequent success with: crack toss.

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On this play, the Titans use a receiver — Tajae Sharpe in this case — to pin the playside defensive end while Taylor Lewan pulls out as a lead blocker. It’s the same design that Henry scored on against the Chargers last week. This time, Sharpe doesn’t quite get enough of Bucs defensive end Carl Nassib and he ends up getting down the line to make the tackle on Henry for just a 5 yard gain. A good play, but as you can see on the clip, there is just a safety between Henry and the goal line if he’s able to get through clean.

Henry very nearly had another long touchdown run on the play that he wound up fumbling on.

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It was hard to tell on the broadcast angle, but on the end zone view you can clearly see his left knee come up and knock the ball out of his own hand as he’s trying to slip the safety’s tackle.

This is another of the runs from 13-personnel and you can see again how that tight alignment can create chances for explosive runs.

Here’s another big run from another tight, heavy set.

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The Titans get a good block from Jonnu Smith to help Henry get the edge and then the big back beats two Bucs with his speed to get upfield.

Here’s another version of that toss play that’s been effective for the Titans in recent weeks.

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Jonnu Smith, Corey Davis, and Jack Conklin do a great job of building a wall to contain the Bucs pursuit while MyCole Pruitt gets out in front and lead blocks. Once again, this nearly goes for 6 as Henry just barely gets shoestring tackled by the last man between him and the end zone.

Henry also had a 42-yard run called back for a valid-but-not-blatant holding call on MyCole Pruitt in this game.

It’s really hard for me to evaluate this rushing performance as a whole. The frequent negative runs were a major problem and they destroyed the flow of the offense, especially early in the game. However, Henry also broke several long runs and finished with the best yards per attempt of any player with at least 5 carries against the Bucs defense in 2019. That’s better than Alvin Kamara, Christian McCaffrey (twice), Todd Gurley, or any of the 49ers running backs.

In that sense, this is a really impressive game from Henry and the Titans rushing attack and Henry came within a shoestring of breaking a couple of those long runs for even more yardage. More consistency and eliminating the negative runs will be the key moving forward.

Nate Davis is the weak link, but the Titans pass protection is getting a little better overall

The pass protection in this game was generally pretty good. The Titans gave up three sacks — which is still too many — but at least one of them shouldn’t have counted.

Following Derrick Henry’s rush for a one yard loss on first down, the Titans gave up a second down sack which virtually guaranteed a three and out on the opening series for the offense. However, Shaquil Barrett was a full yard offsides on the play and Bucs corner Carlton Davis — who was grabby all day — gets away with a blatant hold on Corey Davis.

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I have no idea how this is an NFL play with zero flags. None.

Lewan actually does a pretty good job of chasing Barrett deep and gets some help from Henry, who quickly recognized the threat and helped push the edge rusher past Tannehill. The sack ends up coming from Jason Pierre-Paul who pushes Jonnu Smith back into the quarterback and swats at the ball. Either way, the ball is probably already out and complete to Davis if he isn’t getting mugged 8 yards downfield.

The second sack was very similar. No offsides this time, but once again, the Bucs maul both of Tannehill’s primary targets downfield and give him nowhere to go with the ball.

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A.J. Brown is very nearly tackled by — you guessed it — Carlton Davis at the 15-yard line while Dion Lewis is pretty clearly held underneath while running a whip route.

Regardless of the missed calls downfield, Tannehill is under pretty much immediate pressure as Carl Nassib destroys Nate Davis with a quick club-swim combo. His pressure forces Tannehill back up and to the left in the pocket where Barrett works back and finishes with a strip sack. Technically, Lewan’s man gets credit for the sack, but this one is on Davis.

The third and final sack is just simply on Davis. It’s 3rd and 3 and the Bucs show a double A gap blitz look pre-snap before bailing out and dropping into a Cover 2 zone.

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The double A look makes Davis check inside for just a moment and allows Nassib to once again get to his outside shoulder, beating him with the same club-swim move from the play above.

The Bucs also do a nice job with their coverage here. The cornerback on the near side in the sideline angle — Vernon Hargreaves — does a nice job of trapping Adam Humphries’ quick out which is Tannehill’s first read. Once he realizes that the throw isn’t there — and it’s a good thing he did because that’s a pick six if he throws that ball — the pressure is on him and he goes down.

Reviewing Ryan Tannehill’s second start

Tannehill’s second start as a Titan wasn’t quite as electric as his first, but it was still pretty good. His final numbers ended up being 21 of 33 (63.6%) for 193 yards (5.9 YPA) with 3 touchdowns and no interceptions. Obviously, the three touchdowns are great, but the efficiency numbers aren’t and that’s largely reflective of his overall performance. He was at his best when it counted, going 3 for 3 in converting red zone trips to touchdowns and he captained a 90-yard game-winning touchdown drive in the fourth quarter that featured 11 passes and just 1 run.

Let’s start with the bad and then work our way to the good with Tannehill in this game.

The first one is a nitpick, but it should be noted anyway. His first touchdown pass of the game to Jonnu Smith was a great play design and great recognition from Tannehill to quickly pick up on the opportunity, but the throw was poor and required Smith to make a tougher catch than he needed to.

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I have seen some suggest that this throw was behind Smith on purpose to protect him from the safety who is coming inside out here, but Tannehill himself has come out and said that it was a poor throw. He commented during a press conference this week that he “back hipped” Smith on this play and credited Jonnu with making a great adjustment on the ball.

Tannehill was also late with the ball a few times in this game and that cost him some opportunities at big completions. Here, he takes an extra beat to make sure the safety in the middle of the field turns to run with Kalif Raymond on the fly route and that allows Sean Murphy-Bunting to close on Davis and make a great play on the ball.

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Davis is open initially as he comes out of his break, but Tannehill’s slight hesitation costs him a chance at a 3rd and 11 conversion early in the game.

One other thing to make note of here — it’ll come up again on the next play below — is Kalif Raymond’s speed. He’s lined up between Davis and Firkser here and he just runs right by the Bucs secondary. He’s probably too deep by the time he truly gets even for Tannehill to take this shot, but teams are going to have a tough time running with him.

We saw it in preseason action and training camp briefly, but this guy can absolutely fly. The Titans have been missing a speed/vertical element to their passing game this season and I think that’s the primary reason we have seen Raymond elevated from the practice squad and Darius Jennings released. Jennings has some speed, but Raymond has lots of it.

Here is another play that was missed because Tannehill was a little late getting rid of the ball.

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Firkser is open all the way here, but Tannehill is late to cut it loose and it allows the Bucs defense to close and make a play on the ball.

The bigger missed opportunity is with Raymond here though. He’s lined up next to Firkser at the snap and is running a deep corner route. His route absolutely roasts the Bucs safety and he’s wide open behind the defense. I don’t think Tannehill ever saw him, but this was a potential touchdown early in the game. Raymond only played four offensive snaps in this game, but I’d expect that number to rise and I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw a deep shot dialed up for him at some point against Carolina.

Here is one more example of Tannehill being just a beat late with his delivery.

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This time he’s looking for Corey Davis on a corner route. Davis wins the route, but the throw is a little late to come out and the corner is able to make up ground and make a great play on the ball.

I might also question whether this play was ever going to have enough room to really be executed given where the ball was located on the field. Feels like the Titans needed to run this with somewhere around 5 to 10 more yards to work with.

This was a very strange play on 3rd and 7 at the edge of the red zone.

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First, Tannehill makes the wrong read here. Adam Humphries isn’t really able to create any separation with his route and Corey Davis is open underneath for what would have been a much easier throw.

Tannehill’s release on this throw looked really strange coming off his hand. You can see it from the end zone angle. He doesn’t really complete his follow through and it almost looks like the ball just kind of slips out of his hand. Obviously, the throw lands nowhere near Humphries, but this looks like a slip more than a misfire to me. Either way, it’s the wrong read here.

Alright, one last nitpick before we get to some of the really nice things that Tannehill did Sunday. This is a really nice play design in the red zone from Arthur Smith.

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Anthony Firkser is running a little angled stop route that effectively acts as a rub for Humphries who is running something like a mini-wheel route. The Titans get the desired result. Humphries is open with space to work with in the corner of the end zone, but Tannehill’s throw just misses. This is a timing throw that should get better as he gets a chance to work with Humphries and the rest of this receiver group more.

Tannehill would make up for that miss on the very next play with an absolutely perfect throw on the fade to Tajae Sharpe.

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Sharpe does a great job with his release off the line, getting himself even with the defensive back and giving him a chance to accelerate through the ball and create late separation. I’ve really liked what I’ve seen from Sharpe this season. I was never a huge fan of his previously — and I still think there is a limit to what he can do as a receiver — but his reliable hands and attention to detail are an asset for this team, particularly as a fourth wide receiver.

This was Tannehill’s best throw of the game in my opinion. This was a 1st and 10 following a great kickoff return by Kalif Raymond.

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This is a nice design from Arthur Smith, but there are still issues with the details here. The Bucs are showing a single-high safety look pre-snap which tells Tannehill that he’s likely either got Cover 1 (man with a single safety) or Cover 3. The route combination to the bottom of the screen is great for either coverage.

The Bucs effectively have three defenders — two linebackers and safety Jordan Whitehead (labeled as “Player 3” on the diagram above) — to cover three routes. Anthony Firkser and Jonnu Smith are running a post-wheel combination while Derrick Henry flares out to threaten the flat. Tannehill knows that he’s either getting Firkser or Smith one-on-one with a linebacker here and that’s a matchup advantage that favors the Titans.

As soon as Whitehead closes his hips to run with Firkser, Tannehill locks onto Smith and hits him with a perfect throw on the wheel. Great catch and great concentration through contact by Smith as well.

One thing that I don’t love about this play is the spacing though. Firkser’s post takes a very narrow angle which allows Whitehead to peel off and nearly make a play on the ball. If Firkser’s angle is sharper, he would not only bring his defender further away from Smith, but he would threaten the single-high safety more directly and give the Titans a chance for not just an easier completion, but a potential touchdown. These are the details that I think we need to see ironed out if this offense is going to reach it’s potential.

Here is another tremendous throw from Tannehill.

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With nothing open to the wide side of the field, Tannehill works back to Smith running up the seam and drops a perfect throw in between the linebacker and safety. Smith rewards him by going up and attacking the ball and then holding on through contact.

Jonnu Smith has been outstanding the last few weeks and it’s clear that he and Tannehill are beginning to develop a good chemistry that should bode well for Smith’s production in the upcoming weeks.

Tannehill made a lot of plays with his head in this game as well.

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He did an outstanding job of anticipating and punishing aggressive blitzes from the Bucs defense throughout the game. The Bucs brought zero blitzes — a blitz that features man coverage across the board with everyone else blitzing — several times, particularly on 3rd downs.

This one came on a 3rd and 2 on the edge of field goal range. Tannehill quickly recognizes the blitz and does a great job of getting the ball out quickly as pressure is bearing down. His accurate throw to Humphries converts for the first down and ends up resulting in a shorter field goal attempt for Cody Parkey that the kicker would hit to close the gap from 23-17 to 23-20.

On the next drive — the 90-yarder that would give the Titans the lead for good — Tannehill picked up another zero blitz check and converted it into a first down on 3rd and 4.

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Mike Vrabel praised Tannehill for his pickups on those two plays this week. Not only did he recognize the blitz and check into the right protection/call, but he also executed with quick, accurate throws against tight coverage. Really high level QB play on these snaps.

Here’s another example of Tannehill winning with his head.

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He makes a quick read on this play. As soon as he sees Lavonte David turn his hips towards the short side of the field, he knows that he’s got a seam for Humphries on the quick slant so he quickly hits him with room to run and sets up the offense with 1st and goal at the 10-yard line.

That would set up the go-ahead touchdown two plays later.

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This is a really nice route from A.J. Brown. He gives just enough of a jab step to the inside to force Carlton Davis to stop his feet and that’s all he needs to get a step and give Tannehill a window to hit. Tannehill puts a perfect throw on him for the go-ahead score.

Overall, Tannehill was a little up and down in this one. He was late on a few reads and that’s something that you would expect to get better with more repetition in this offense. His accuracy and arm strength were very good for the second straight week and he did an excellent job of making checks to get the Titans in good spots at critical times.

I remain pretty bullish on Tannehill’s prospects of helping his offense moving forward. Through two and a half games of action, he’s passing at a pace that would result in full year stats of 4,154 yards, 8.3 yards per attempt, 32 touchdowns, and 13 interceptions. Obviously, we’re still dealing with a pretty small sample size, but Tannehill is playing well and if you want to look for reasons to believe in a potential playoff push for this team down the stretch, No. 17 is pretty high up on that list right now.

What the Titans saw that triggered the fake field goal attempt

OK, let’s talk about that fake field goal that has dominated the discussion of this game throughout the week. I’m not here to convince you that it was a great call, but I do want to show what the Titans saw that made them think it would work.

The Bucs, like most teams, have a few different variations of field goal blocks that they use. Consistently throughout this game — and going back to other games as well — Tampa had a tell that told you which side they were going to rush from when they went to unbalanced rush fronts. The Bucs would show a bunched group of defensive linemen to the rush side and would rotate Devin White towards the rush side to cover for any potential fakes featuring a tight end leaking out behind the rush.

This is a clip from a Titans field goal attempt earlier in the game and you can see the bunch side and White sliding over to cover. When the Bucs rushed from the opposite side, the bunch would show up on that side and White would slide towards the bunch.

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OK, now let’s look at the fake attempt. The end zone view is from the opposite side here, but this is the exact same set up as the play before. The Bucs are rushing from the “offense’s” right side. The bunch is lined up to the right and the Titans expect White to slide over after the snap and run to cover MyCole Pruitt who is leaking out in the flat. However, instead of watching Pruitt, White keeps his eyes in the backfield and immediately triggers to chase Kern down, make the stop, and force the turnover on downs (and yes, the ball was clearly out and this should have been a touchdown for the Bucs).

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Do I love the idea of asking Kern to run the ball in a critical spot here? No, I don’t, but I do understand what the Titans saw and why they thought this would work. If White follows Pruitt — or even freezes for just a second — Kern picks this up with ease. This is a fantastic play by the rookie linebacker.

This wasn’t the greatest offensive performance from the Titans by any means, but if you want to look at the glass half-full, there are some positives to take away. For one, the offensive line is making strides. They didn’t dominate this game, but Tannehill was pressured on just 30.6% of his dropbacks which was the 12th lowest rate in the league during Week 8 despite facing a really good Bucs front featuring Barrett, Suh, Vea, JPP, and Nassib.

The run game wasn’t nearly consistent enough, but Henry’s overall effort against the league’s best run defense was better than any back that has faced the Bucs in 2019 has fared. There should be brighter days ahead for the Titans running game as they face some softer run defenses.

Finally, I’m pretty excited to see if Kalif Raymond can make a difference in this offense moving forward. His speed jumped off the screen on the few plays he was in the game and that is a much needed element that has been missing all season. I don’t expect him to become a 30 snap per game type player, but if he can give Arthur Smith a legitimate deep threat for about 10 snaps a game, that’s valuable.