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.
Derrick Henry was the star of the show for the Tennessee offense, breaking out for 188 yards on 23 carries, including a pair of touchdowns. The Titans offensive line mauled the Chiefs front consistently and offensive coordinator Arthur Smith stuck with the run despite falling behind multiple scores two separate times.
Henry’s month by month splits are pretty widely known by now, but it’s worth updating based on the latest late season outburst:
- September: 189 carries for 732 yards (3.87 YPC) and 4 touchdowns
- October: 174 carries for 674 yards (3.87 YPC) and 5 touchdowns
- November: 126 carries for 692 yards (5.49 YPC) and 8 touchdowns
- December: 184 carries for 962 yards (5.23 YPC) and 12 touchdowns
His track record shows that he gets more effective the later we get in the NFL calendar and it makes perfect sense. Henry is a big, physical back at 6’-3” and almost 250 pounds and he keeps himself in impeccable physical condition. It’s easy to say that all NFL players keep themselves in pretty good shape, but Henry is on a different level. His workout regimes are legendary and it’s reflected in his durability. Over four NFL seasons and 740 touches, Henry has missed just one game and that was due to a calf strain that popped up on him during his rookie season. Over the last three years I can’t even remember a snap where he was slow to get up. That’s no accident. The guy hit the genetic lottery and works like crazy to maximize his gifts.
By the time the weather starts to turn cold and most players are playing with an assortment of bumps and bruises, tackling a healthy, well-conditioned Henry becomes a real nightmare for defenders. His late season breakouts are not a fluke.
Through his first ten games of 2018, he had posted 404 yards on 110 carries (3.67 YPC) with 4 touchdowns and trailed Dion Lewis for the team lead in rushing. This year he checks in at 832 yards on 187 carries (4.4 YPC) with 8 rushing touchdowns. Those numbers rank 5th and 4th in the NFL, respectively. He’s also already set career highs in receiving yards (167) and receiving touchdowns (2) through just ten games.
If a similar late season run is coming from Henry, there is a chance that he closes in on Dalvin Cook and Christian McCaffrey to compete for the rushing title. More importantly, a 2018-esque finish from Henry would likely result in a strong push towards the playoffs for the Titans. We can save the conversation about the value of Henry and what the team should or shouldn’t do about a contract extension for after the season, but for now, we should all enjoy watching one of the most unique running backs in NFL history at the peak of his powers.
The success in the run game allowed Ryan Tannehill to maintain his red zone efficiency and then add his third come-from-behind game winning drive in four weeks as a starter. His numbers — 13 of 19 for 181 yards and two touchdowns — are pretty pedestrian and he did take some unnecessary sacks, including one that resulted in a fumble recovered by the Chiefs. However, Tannehill came through when it counted the most, leading a 61-yard touchdown drive after getting the ball at his own 39 with just 1:21 to play and no timeouts to work with.
We’re still in small sample size territory with Tannehill and the Titans, but his numbers over the last four weeks projected out to a 16 game season would result in the stat line below:
- Tannehill: 336 of 480 (70.0%) for 4,068 yards, 32 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions
That would be the most passing yards in a season for this franchise since Warren Moon’s 4,690 in 1991 and the most touchdown passes in a season since Moon’s 33 in 1990. He would be the first player in a Titans uniform to ever top 4,000 yards or 30 touchdowns in a season. I don’t know whether Tannehill will keep up this pace or not, but it’s been a strong start to his career in Tennessee and he had a couple moments in this game against the Chiefs that felt like him staking his claim to this team.
With that, let’s get into the tape and take a look at those moments as well as what made Henry so effective against Kansas City.
The Titans bullied the Chiefs in the run game
You don’t roll up 225 yards rushing without a dominating performance in the trenches and that’s exactly what the Titans got on Sunday. Look, I know this offensive line has struggled with pass protection — and that continued to be an issue against Kansas City as we will get to later — but they have really started to click as run blockers in recent weeks.
After their worst performance of 2019 in Denver, when Henry rushed for just 28 yards on 15 carries for a paltry 1.87 yards per carry average, the Titans back has gone for 4.09, 4.69, 4.85, and 8.17 yards per carry over the last four games, picking up just a little more steam with each passing week. The last three weeks have produced three of Henry’s best four performances of the season from an efficiency standpoint.
It’s not really surprising that the Titans offensive line is just now starting to click in the ground game. The zone heavy scheme that Tennessee employs is heavily reliant on all members of the line being on the same page and working off each other to provide lanes for the running back. Power or gap schemes are much more assignment oriented — the guard is responsible for this defender and the tackle is responsible for that one — while zone runs allow for more flexibility. That flexibility is great when the offense is in sync because it decreases the odds of an unexpected slant or gap exchange by defenders disrupting the play and it also allows the running back to make his offensive line “right” by choosing the right lane.
However, that level of communication, timing, and feel takes time to develop and the disruptions along the Titans offensive line set that development back early in the season. First, they were breaking in two new guards for the first time since 2017, then they added a four game suspension for Taylor Lewan and an injury to the right guard they planned to start the season with (Kevin Pamphile). Since then, they’ve been shuffling the lineup to account for injuries and working in rookie Nate Davis at right guard. Now that we’ve seen the preferred starting five of Lewan-Saffold-Jones-Davis-Conklin together for a few weeks, we’re starting to see that chemistry develop.
We’re also seeing guys starting to play better individually. Rodger Saffold has taken a lot of heat for his play early in the season, but he’s come on a bit of late, especially as a run blocker. Here’s a good example. His block ends up largely being inconsequential here because Henry winds this run back to the backside, but Saffold locks up on Chiefs star Chris Jones one on one and plants him on his back 5 yards downfield. That’s the kind of stuff that made Saffold a Second Team All-Pro performer in LA and it’s good to see that showing up now in Tennessee.
Great push by Nate Davis against the nose tackle here as well.
Here is the Titans staple running play, outside zone, executed to near perfection. Saffold and Jones combine to completely demolish the 3-tech and push the Will linebacker completely out of the picture, Lewan gets a good kickout on the edge, Davis displaces the nose tackle and keeps him from getting upfield, Conklin hustles to reach the Mike linebacker and shows great effort and finish blocking downfield, and Smith does a nice job getting in front of the the 5-tech and keeping him from being able to close down the cutback lane.
This play is a great example of the flexibility of the zone scheme too. Henry is originally aiming to reach the corner outside of Lewan if his left tackle can reach and pin the edge defender’s outside shoulder, but if he can’t or if the edge defender overplays the outside, Henry can put his foot in the ground and cut it back as he does here. Excellent work up front across the board here and Henry takes advantage for a nice 12-yard gain.
The 68-yard touchdown run was almost all Henry though. The Chiefs overplay the front side of this zone run and Henry sees it quickly. He begins cutting back and picks up another really great effort block from Conklin to cave in the backside of the defense, leaving Henry with just a safety between him and the end zone. He makes Juan Thornhill miss in space and then uses his elite speed and a good downfield block from Tajae Sharpe to take it to the house.
As the game wore on, the Titans offensive line started to get more and more push. This is the 3rd and 1 run from the second half where Henry converts with ease. Taylor Lewan and Dennis Kelly — coming into the game as a third tackle here — do a great job opening up a big hole for their back to glide through and pick up the new set of downs.
More good stuff from Rodger Saffold in the run game. Here, he gets downfield in a hurry and blasts the linebacker out of the play. This run likely pops for another big gain if Nate Davis isn’t blatantly held from climbing to the other linebacker. The refs caught this one and flagged the Chiefs for defensive holding, but it had the potential to be an explosive run.
This is a great example of the offensive line moving bodies. Just look at where the two defensive tackles end up by the time Derrick Henry hits the line of scrimmage. Those guys are 3 to 4 yards off the ball thanks to Saffold and Davis. Jack Conklin also does a great job of helping Davis — watch closely as he reaches around and gives a little extra shove on Derrick Nnadi to knock him off balance — before climbing to pick off the linebacker and get Henry into the secondary. Really good stuff from all three of those guys.
Here’s another well-blocked run. Lewan gets good movement on the edge while Saffold does an outstanding job of redirecting mid play. Saffold is targeting safety Tyrann Mathieu initially, but sees he’s overrunning the play to the outside so instead of chasing a guy who he can’t reach, he turns back and looks for work to the inside, throwing the run breaking block on the linebacker pursuing from the backside. Excellent recognition and execution.
On the very next snap the Titans would plunge in from the 1 yard line to cut the lead to 29-27 and Saffold, again, was at the center of the action. Here, the Chiefs are loaded up in the A gaps trying to protect against the sneak. Saffold drops a shoulder down on the submarining nose tackle and then gets back up to seal off the linebacker, leaving Henry an easy lane to walk into the end zone through.
One more great piece of running and blocking from the Titans here. This is a little one back power out of shotgun. Saffold and Conklin do a great job of playing off each other here. Conklin helps Jonnu Smith get position on the defensive end and then slides off to catch the crashing linebacker. Saffold is originally looking for the linebacker, but seeing Conklin has him, he looks for work and helps Smith get some movement on the end. It just creates a small sliver, but that’s enough for Henry who does a great job of reading and then getting skinny through the hole.
It was a truly dominant day up front for the Titans and for Henry. While we would all love to see a dynamic passing attack, there is certainly something to be said for being able to run the ball and physically batter your opponent when we get to the late months of a season. If this performance is repeatable for the Tennessee offensive line, they should be able to do just that down the stretch.
Pass protection remains an issue, but maybe not as big a problem as you think
We have to be careful when we talk about sacks because they all aren’t created equal. There are some that are on the offensive line and there are some that are on the quarterback. There can even be some that are on the playcall and/or receivers.
The Titans offensive line has been victimized to some degree by their quarterbacks this year. Turning pressures into sacks at an extraordinarily high rate was a major weakness of Marcus Mariota’s — he led the NFL in that category in two of his first four seasons and was leading the league again this year prior to his benching — and unfortunately, it’s also a problem with Ryan Tannehill.
Among qualifying quarterbacks, only two passers allow pressures to be converted into sacks at a higher rate than Tannehill according to PFF’s charting: Luke Falk and Marcus Mariota. Given that this problem didn’t change much despite a change in quarterback, it is tempting to say that the issue must be rooted in something else — the scheme, the way the line allows pressures, the lack of a reliable pass catching back to bail out the quarterback — but this was a problem of Tannehill’s in Miami as well. In 2018, the league leaders in sack to pressure ratio were Mariota and Tannehill.
So while it’s easy to look at the league high 42 sacks allowed by the Titans as a signal that the offensive line is terrible, I think that number is pretty dramatically exaggerated by their quarterback’s lack of ability to escape pressure. The median rate of pressures converted to sacks among 39 qualifying quarterbacks 17.8%, meaning that 17.8% of the pressures that a league average quarterback faces result in sacks. The Titans quarterbacks check in at 35.2% (Mariota) and 34.7% (Tannehill), nearly double the league average rate. That means that if Tennessee’s QBs were even league average at avoiding pressure, they’d have taken right around 21 or 22 sacks this season.
From a pressure standpoint, the Titans offensive line grades out pretty well. Among those same 39 qualifying quarterbacks, Mariota checks in as the 20th most pressured QB (35.3%) while Tannehill ranks as the 30th most pressured passer (30.6%).
This week was no exception. Tannehill was pressured on just 8 of his 25 dropbacks according to PFF, taking a sack on 4 of them. His pressure rate of 32% for the game ranked as the 19th highest pressure rate among the 26 starting quarterbacks in Week 10.
With that in mind, let’s take a quick look at the four sacks from Sunday’s game. We start with a 3rd and 3 on the very first drive of the game. I’m not sure what the protection call is here, but it sure looks like Saffold should have done more to help Jones with Chris Jones. This one is squarely on the offensive line. Tannehill is looking for A.J. Brown on the out, but the pressure is there before Brown even gets into his break.
Tannehill fumbles — that’s been a real problem for him this year — and appears to recover it, but the official ends up ruling it Chiefs ball. I still haven’t seen a clear shot of a Chiefs player with the ball. I do think that Tannehill should have been less nonchalant about making the recovery, but he clearly has the ball pinned to his hip prior to the defender jumping in. Strange call, but the bottom line is Tannehill’s ball security in the pocket must improve.
Here is the second sack. It’s a 3rd and 5 and the Titans get beat by a stunt. Stunts and games up front have been a recurring problem for this offensive line through the first 10 weeks of the season. Here, it looks to me like Jones likely should have had the looping defensive end, but he gets stuck on the nose tackle after Nate Davis hits the ground. Saffold is looking to pick up a linebacker bluffing on the backside — the question here is whether that linebacker was Saffold’s responsibility in this protection call or if that should have been Dion Lewis’ man — which results in him being late to see Emmanuel Ogbah coming free.
The coverage downfield from the Chiefs is pretty good here. Tannehill’s best bet would probably have been the hook route to Adam Humphries and you could certainly argue that he should have tried to drill that in there instead of taking the sack despite pretty tight coverage from slot corner Rashad Fenton.
Sack three is a combination coverage/quarterback sack on 2nd and 6. The offensive line does a nice job of holding up here, but nobody is really open. It looks like Jonnu Smith probably gets held on his route, but there is no call and it’s not blatant enough for me to have a real problem with the no-call. Tannehill probably should have remained patient and tried to hit Brown on the deep comeback on the far sideline, but he tries to buy time and ends up running right into a big hit. This might have been a good play to just skip one in the vicinity of Brown.
Finally, sack four was a bad one. It’s 3rd and 10 for the Titans, down 32-27 with just over two minutes left on the clock. The Chiefs get their best pass rusher, Chris Jones, matched up with the Titans worst pass blocker, Nate Davis, and the expected happens. Jones absolutely pulverizes Davis, blowing up the play immediately. Tannehill is forced off his spot, which allows some of the other pass rushers to get a good angle to chase him down and it results in a terribly timed sack.
Out of the four sacks above, two — sacks two and three — were pretty imminently avoidable for Tannehill. The other two were total break downs by the offensive line against an All-Pro level defensive tackle. The Titans offensive line does need to work out some of their issues with stunts, but this game wasn’t a total disaster on their end.
Tannehill is unlikely to suddenly become a master manipulator of the pocket in his 8th season in the NFL, but you’d like to see him improve his ability to avoid sacks, at least marginally, moving forward and he certainly needs to do a better job of making sure he’s holding onto the ball when he does take hits.
The passing game continues to be efficient
Despite the sack issues, Tannehill is bringing enough to the table in the passing game that his presence is a net positive for the Titans offense. He produced 9.53 yards per attempt against the Chiefs, an excellent efficiency rate, bringing his season long YPA to 8.5, good for 5th best among NFL passers with at least 100 attempts.
However, he struggled mightily on 3rd downs in this game. The Titans went just 2 for 8 as a team on the game’s most important down with three sacks, two incomplete passes, and one completion short of the sticks making up the misses. The two conversions were a run for Henry and a scramble by Tannehill. That’s how you wind up getting just 49 total offensive plays in a game.
Let’s take a look at some of the ups and downs from Tannehill’s day. We can start with this strike to Tajae Sharpe on a deep out early in the game. This is a 2nd and 13 and the Titans correctly guess that the Chiefs are going to sit back in a Cover 2 look and run a good Cover 2 beater concept mirrored on both sides. Tannehill is looking left from the start. He reads the corner sitting shallow on top of the flat route and throws over him to Sharpe who gets his feet in for a nice 20 yard gain. Beautiful throw and catch.
The big play to Kalif Raymond came off another staple play for the Titans: the yankee concept. This is a great route combination for Cover 3 or Man 1 (those two are effectively the same against this concept) which is what the Chiefs appear to be in here. When both receivers win their routes — as A.J. Brown and Kalif Raymond do here — it makes the read really easy for Tannehill.
He’s simply looking at the single high safety. If the safety runs deep to take away the post, the quarterback throws the crosser. If the safety comes down to cut the crosser, he throws the deep post. Tannehill reads this well, the safety doesn’t fully commit to the crosser by the time he cuts this loose, but he’s slowed his back pedal enough that there is no way he can get up to speed to stop Raymond.
The throw here is just pretty good to me. Tannehill puts the right distance and air on the ball — the most important part of this throw — but if he throws it towards the far hash, Raymond likely catches and scores. Either way, it results in an explosive pass for the Titans and sets up a score just a few plays later.
Here is the touchdown just a few plays later. It’s 1st and goal and the Titans go play action. Tannehill actually has several options that wind up being pretty open. Jonnu Smith comes in motion and is open in the flat, but Tannehill opts to target Anthony Firkser who is working one on one against cornerback Bashaud Breeland. He puts a great route on Breeland who loses his footing and tries to grab Firkser on the way down. That doesn’t wind up stopping the Titans tight end who dives and makes a great grab in the end zone for the score.
This was a play from the two minute drive just before halftime. The Titans get a great matchup — Jonnu Smith against linebacker Ben Niemann one on one with no safety help — and take a shot at it. To his credit, Niemann defends this pretty well, but the throw doesn’t give Smith a chance, sailing too far downfield. I love the awareness to recognize the mismatch and target it, but the throw leaves a little to be desired here.
The very next play Tannehill has the opposite problem. The Chiefs bring a blitz on 3rd and 4, but Tannehill doesn’t see it. If he did, he could have hit Adam Humphries for an easy conversion to keep the drive moving. Instead, he looks to hit Firkser on the quick out — he’s open so not a bad idea — but Dennis Kelly’s cut block attempt on Frank Clark fails to get the defensive end on the ground and Clark springs up in the passing lane and nearly picks it off.
Here is the screen to Jonnu Smith that got called back due to Taylor Lewan’s second straight penalty. This isn’t anything mind blowing from Tannehill, but it’s a nice job of dropping down and using a different arm angle to fit a pass around an oncoming defender. Smith continues to be excellent with the ball in his hands and should have had a 20 yard gain here. Lewan really didn’t even have to commit the hold either. He had done a good enough job of slowing down Chiefs linebacker Daniel Sorensen with his initial block that it was highly unlikely that he could have taken down a full speed Smith. Frustrating.
Here is a 3rd and 13 later in the game. There aren’t really any “good” calls for 3rd and 13, but this one is particularly confusing. A.J. Brown and Kalif Raymond appear to be running vertical routes right next to each other towards the bottom of the screen on the sideline angle. I’m not sure if Brown was even supposed to break this back in... it looks like he just does it as an improvisation. On live viewing I thought this was a bad throw from Tannehill, but looking at the All-22 it looks more like he’s just getting rid of the ball in an area to avoid a grounding penalty. This surely can’t be the way this play was designed to be run.
This is one of the two runs where Tannehill lowered his shoulder and seemed to will his way to his goal. He takes off running from the pocket, seeing a big lane and then dragging Fenton for about 5 yards for a big conversion to keep a critical scoring drive alive.
The second to last scoring drive for the Titans featured a lot of Derrick Henry, but Tannehill did contribute with a couple key plays: the scramble above and this throw to A.J. Brown on the slant for a gain of 17. There really isn’t much special from Tannehill here, just good timing and accuracy on the throw. Brown does a great job staying underneath the zone coverage and then making a just a little move to go around linebacker Anthony Hitchens to pick up some extra yards after the catch.
The Titans next drive started down 32-27 with just over three minutes left on the clock. A good run from Henry got things started, but the next series featured a 2 yard run from Henry, a 3 yard pass to Smith, a false start on Taylor Lewan, and then the back sack given up by Nate Davis. That set up this 4th and 17 with 1:55 remaining. The Titans pretty much had to go for it and they actually got a pretty good shot at converting here.
They isolate Brown as a the single receiver to Tannehill’s right with a bunch trips package to the left. The Chiefs are bringing the blitz, but that leaves Brown one on one with Breeland. Tannehill puts a really nice throw in and Brown very nearly comes up with it despite some heavy contact from Breeland.
The Titans would get one more shot though, taking over with 1:21 remaining and no timeouts after the Chiefs botched field goal attempt. Tannehill starts things off with a 18 yard scramble. It’s a good read from the QB to find a running lane here. The Chiefs are in Man 1 and they send the blitz, leaving nobody to account for Tannehill. Really nice job of picking up the blitz by Dion Lewis and pushing his man out of the way to clear room for Tannehill to take off.
The Titans quickly rushed to the line and took a shot downfield. You can see how much trust Tannehill has in Brown already. When the Titans needed a big play, he was often the preferred target in this game. Here, the throw from Tannehill is in a really great location, giving Brown a chance to make a play. Fenton just times his contact perfectly to jar Brown as the ball is hitting his hands and it falls incomplete.
Tannehill would find Firkser for 20 on the next snap. A really beautiful route against Sorensen leaves him open in the middle of the field. The throw is actually a bit on Firkser’s back hip which requires him to slow down to catch it, otherwise this could have been a bigger gain.
Finally, we have the play that Titans fans won’t soon forget. Tannehill finds Humphries on the exact same route that Firkser had just run. This time the throw is perfect and Humphries takes it into the end zone to give the Titans the lead with 23 seconds remaining. Watch Humphries’ head on the TV replay angle in the clip below. His head fake to the outside shakes Fenton out of his cleats. Beautiful to watch.
And then the review of the offense wouldn’t be complete without the two point conversion run by Tannehill. I love the playcall here. The Titans had been gashing the Chiefs on the ground in the second half with Henry. The read option allows Tannehill to give it to Henry if they play it straight up or keep it himself if they overplay the dive.
The Chiefs defensive end crashes hard down on Henry and Tannehill pulls it. It looks like he’s going to walk in initially, but safety Juan Thornhill closes and meets him just shy of the goal line with a knee buckling hit. Tannehill shows incredible effort to take the hit and stay up until he drove his way across the goal line. That kind of play will win him big points in the Titans locker room and I know it won him some new fans in the fan base.
Overall, this wasn’t a banner day for the passing offense. They were mostly efficient, but the heavy lifting was done on the ground. The Titans must find a way to improve on their 27th ranked 3rd down conversion percentage of 32.5% and figure out how to reduce the number of pressures that result in sacks over the bye week. Those are two critical areas that the offense is still struggling with despite their recent surge in production.
However, there is far more good than bad to take away from this game offensively. Derrick Henry and the offensive line are starting to click in a way that reminds me of the close to 2018 and Ryan Tannehill continues to be able to make enough plays in the passing game to keep defenses honest. That’s a combination that the Titans can win with down the stretch.