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.
We’re going to make the stat breakdown portion short this week and quickly get into the tape. This is mostly due to the fact that the numbers aren’t that surprising anymore. The Titans remain one of the hottest offenses in the NFL. They’ve now scored at least 20 points in six straight games and have hit the 30-point threshold in three straight.
Derrick Henry is really good and you’ve probably already seen this stat, but it’s pretty amazing so let’s look at it one more time. The list of players to reach at least 149 yards rushing and 1 rushing touchdown in three straight games in NFL history:
- Jim Brown (1958)
- O.J. Simpson (1976)
- Eric Dickerson (1984)
- Adrian Peterson (2012)
- Derrick Henry (2019)
Three Hall of Famers, one future Hall of Famer, and one guy who could put himself on that track if he keeps playing like he is right now.
Ryan Tannehill remains really good too. He leads the NFL in passer rating at 113.9 and has finished with a rating above 130 for three straight games, joining Lamar Jackson, Kirk Cousins, and Patrick Mahomes as the only quarterbacks to accomplish that feat in 2019. Nobody has done it four times in a row this season.
The Titans offense is excellent right now and if they can continue their run of hot play, they could carry this team into the postseason and make some noise when they get there. So let’s dive in an take a look at what the offense did to help this team win in Indy.
Breaking down the six sacks
Let’s start with the negative here. The Titans gave up five sacks in the first half and six sacks total in this game, it’s a problem that has haunted this team all season.
Looking back through the tape we can diagnose what exactly happened on all six of these plays and after doing just that, I actually feel a little bit better about the offense moving forward.
The first sack of the game came on the first play of the third drive. After the Colts had missed a field goal to set up good field position for the Titans offense, Arthur Smith chose to go for the quick strike, dialing up a play action pass on first down. If you watch the receivers downfield, A.J. Brown is coming open on the crossing route, but by the time he makes his break Tannehill is already in trouble.
The breakdown in protection comes from Jonnu Smith here. Colts rookie linebacker Bobby Okereke is either run blitzing all the way or does a fantastic job of reading this play fake and triggering to join the pass rush. Either way, Smith is responsible to block him after passing off Jabaal Sheard to fullback Khari Blasingame and he’s late to see Okereke streaking in. Tannehill tries to buy some time as Brown is coming open downfield, but he stands no chance with the defender running free. Poor ball security by the quarterback — another recurring problem — yields a bad turnover.
The second sack is a result of a combination of issues on a 3rd and 6 on the edge of field goal range. First, Anthony Firkser appears to be Tannehill’s first read, but he gets swallowed up in coverage. That forces the quarterback to work back to A.J. Brown’s dig route, which is open, but by the time Tannehill’s eyes get there, the pressure is arriving. Dion Lewis tried to chip linebacker Anthony Walker, but doesn’t get him all the way on the ground and he’s the guy that gets home first for the Colts. Tannehill has to find a way to get rid of this ball one way or another. Taking a sack that knocks you out of field goal range is a quarterbacking sin, even if your protection isn’t perfect. Sometimes it’s better to burn one at a receiver’s feet than to hold on and take a sack. This is one of those times.
Our third sack here is a combination of elements on a 3rd and 7 as well. The Colts bring a blitz with Darius Leonard rushing right up the back of Sheard. Watch carefully as Sheard’s hand appears and grabs Ben Jones’ left shoulder just as Leonard is breaking through. With two rushers occupying Taylor Lewan and Rodger Saffold, there was nobody home to pick up Leonard when Jones’ shoulder got restrained. It’s a good design from the Colts, but this is a play where Tannehill has to have a hot option. He appears to have Adam Humphries open pretty quickly on a slant to the middle of the field vacated by Leonard’s rush and he also has a chance to hit Firkser running the wheel out of the backfield if he gets rid of it quickly. Tannehill appears to be caught off guard by this blitz.
The fourth sack comes on a 1st and 10 during the Titans two-minute drill towards the end of the first half and it’s very unfortunate that the breakdown here came when it did. The Titans are running a stop and go at the top of the screen with Corey Davis and he has his man beat with ease. If you watch Tannehill’s helmet, you can see that he sees it too. Unfortunately, the offensive line struggles to handle a stunt — imagine that — and Tannehill never has a chance to cut loose the deep ball.
The breakdown on the stunt here is on Nate Davis in my opinion. He makes first contact with Sheard and is supposed to pass him off to Jones and pick up Denico Autry who is looping around behind. Davis picks up Autry just fine, but his pass off of Sheard is the problem. Stunts are effective for a defense when offensive linemen fail to maintain a consistent level. If the right guard is giving up ground, but the center is not — as is the case here — you end up with a problem when it comes time to pass players off. Instead of Davis passing Sheard to Jones in front of him, he’s passing him into his side, which gives Jones no chance to get leverage. Tannehill had no chance.
Sack five, the final sack of the first half, comes on 3rd and 7. The Colts bring another blitz. The Titans pick up the blitzer with Lewis, but Jack Conklin gives up a pressure to rookie edge rusher Ben Banogu, forcing Tannehill to step up while Autry is working his way through between Saffold and Jones. It looks to me like Saffold is keeping an eye on Khari Willis (No. 37) as a potential green dog rusher while Jones is looking to help Lewis pick up the blitz. Neither gives Autry their full attention and Jones’ move towards the blitz gives Autry the crease of daylight that he needs.
Again, A.J. Brown is coming open late, but that throw isn’t there until after the pressure has arrived.
Finally, the last sack is a 1st and 10 just outside the red zone. The Titans go play action again and A.J. Brown is coming open(ish) on the crosser again, but Jonnu Smith gets beat by a blitzing Leonard before Tannehill has time to get set to make the throw. He tries to escape the pocket and ends up getting chased down for a short loss.
So out of the six sacks, I’d say the primary fault breakdown goes as follows:
- Jonnu Smith (2)
- Dion Lewis (1)
- Ryan Tannehill (1)
- Nate Davis (1)
- Rodger Saffold/Ben Jones/Jack Conklin (1)
The good news is that the offensive line isn’t a total disaster. The bad news is that some of these issues are continuously popping up and don’t seem to be getting a whole lot better as the year goes on.
I don’t know how much of that is on offensive line coach Keith Carter (or tight ends coach Todd Downing in Smith’s case) and how much is just on the players that aren’t executing, but it’s something that would be really helpful to figure out as the team heads into a critical stretch of games.
Henry’s (and the offensive line’s run blocking) dominance continues
The Titans got another great performance from Derrick Henry and the offensive line in the rushing attack in this game. Tennessee put up 154 yards rushing against a pretty high quality Colts defense, and frankly, it could have been more.
Henry just missed a couple opportunities at long touchdowns in this game, including the very first play of the game. The design from Arthur Smith is great here. He uses the jet sweep action to pull the Colts linebackers away from the direction of the play. The run game is all about creating angles for your blockers and you can see that clearly here. Watch Lewan, Jones, and Conklin as they climb to the second level in this crack toss concept. The false steps from the Colts defenders give the Titans blockers leverage to pin them inside while Henry takes it around the corner.
This may have been a touchdown if Ben Jones — who has been very good for most of this season — gets a better block on Anthony Walker. Instead, Walker is able to get to Henry and pop the ball out, creating a turnover on the very first play from scrimmage.
Here is another near miss on a big play. This is the throwback screen to Henry off play action that ended up going for no gain on 2nd and short. However, if you take a look at this play when Henry catches the ball, the numbers were outstanding for the Titans. If Henry runs outside of Saffold’s block instead of inside, this likely goes for at least 15 yards if not more. This was a great individual effort by Okereke to bottle up this play as well.
The Titans have been getting a lot of their big chunk runs behind the left side of the offensive line in recent weeks, but this time it was the right side that seemed to get most of the love. Jack Conklin, Nate Davis, and Ben Jones all have excellent blocks here to spring Henry for a nice gain.
More good work from Conklin and Davis here on a 3rd and 1. The Titans have an unbalanced line here with Conklin and Lewan lined up next to each other and use that duo, along with a pulling Davis to make a lane for Henry to pick up the first down.
More pulling from Davis and this time it’s a little unorthodox, but he still gets the job done. Davis bumps into MyCole Pruitt as he’s pulling across the formation (Pruitt got pushed too far back here), but does well to recover and throw the ol’ butt block on Darius Leonard. Henry shows some incredible quickness and footwork to slide through a small hole here and pick up a chunk.
The Titans really attacked the edges of the Colts defense in this game with a lot of success. Here’s another crack toss — really becoming a staple play for them over the last few weeks — this time it’s Pruitt throwing the crack block while Conklin pulls around and leads. Henry dishes out a monster stiff arm on Malik Hooker, bounces off a tackle attempt from Walker, and picks up an easy first down.
Jack Conklin was really outstanding in this game. Here, he executes a perfect reach block on defensive end Tyquan Lewis with a little help from Jonnu Smith, who then scrapes off to pick up a block on the safety in the box. That combo, combine with a nice kickout block from Pruitt, creates a big alley for Henry to accelerate through. He dishes another stiff arm to Leonard and picks up 34. He very nearly gets the stiff arm on Hooker at the end as well, but his hand slides off the top of the defender’s helmet.
Here is the touchdown run on 4th and 1. Pretty good blocking from Taylor Lewan here — and great effort block downfield from A.J. Brown — but this is mostly Henry. Check out the lateral quickness and then the stiff arm again as he takes Malik Hooker and tosses him out of bounds before plowing into the end zone.
Henry and the offensive line are clicking at a level that we’ve rarely seen here right now.
Tannehill continuing to do enough through the air
The beauty of the Titans offense right now is the balance. The Titans run game tends to steal the show, but the passing attack’s newfound efficiency under Tannehill complements the exploits of Henry.
He was effective again in Indy, often working off play action to find open receivers behind the linebackers. Here, the Titans get a great pickup by Henry in pass protection while Tannehill calmly steps up and finds Brown for a gain of 13.
Corey Davis’ sole catch of the game was an impressive one. It’s a tight window, but Tannehill drills it in, trusting his receiver to make a play and he does.
The first touchdown pass was a nice design on 3rd and 8 as routes from Jonnu Smith and Adam Humphries challenge the zone responsibilities of the Colts defense. Nate Davis does a great job working a stunt with Jack Conklin on the right side to give Tannehill plenty of time and the quarterback executes with an accurate throw. Humphries shows some outstanding effort to twist and keep his body off the ground to score the touchdown.
Let’s take a look at the screen call that set up the 4th and 1 touchdown highlighted above. This was one of Arthur Smith’s best calls of the season. The Colts had been blitzing Tennessee like crazy on 3rd and long situations throughout the day (with quite a bit of success as shown above). This time, the Titans were ready for them. They called a screen right into the blitz, picking up 9 of the 10 yards they needed and setting up a convertible 4th down. Great play call and great execution.
The Titans also dialed up a nice 3rd down call that had worked well earlier in the season. You may recognize this as the same play they hit against the Jaguars in Week 3. Humphries runs to the sticks and turns around, luring the defender into breaking to take away the easy completion for a first down before wheeling back down the sideline for the deep ball. It works again here, but Tannehill’s throw is just a touch too long.
You can see Humphries limping a little bit at the end of this play and he would not return to the game after this snap. It’s hard to see if he injured his ankle on this play somehow or if he hurt it before and was trying to play through it, but a fully healthy Humphries might have gotten to this ball and scored here.
Finally, let’s wrap up with Mike Vrabel’s favorite Arthur Smith call and Tannehill’s best throw of the game.
It’s 3rd and 6 with 3:11 left to play. The Titans are up 24-17 and the Colts still have two timeouts left. This game is not quite over just yet. There are a couple schools of thought here. One is to run the ball, force the Colts to either let another 40 seconds roll off the clock or take their second timeout and then punt to pin them deep in their own end. Maybe you get lucky and Henry is able to pick up the 6 yards to get the new set of downs.
The other thought is to push the issue and try to pick up the first down. The Colts would still have the two-minute warning and two timeouts even if you get it, so the game isn’t quite over, but you’re really putting them up against it if you get the first down.
The Titans went for the jugular. They went play action and gave the appearance that they were running the same familiar crosser with boot action that we’ve seen many times before. Malik Hooker — the deep safety — immediately moves towards the crosser, leaving Kalif Raymond’s deep post going against the grain of the play one on one with backup slot corner Roland Milligan. The Titans clearly targeted Milligan after Kenny Moore left the game with an injury and they beat him here. Raymond gets a step and then does an outstanding job tracking the ball over his shoulder and making a tough catch in the end zone. Tannehill’s throw is an absolute dime, dropping in perfectly over the top of the defense.
The Titans haven’t had a true deep threat in years. We had hoped that it would be Taywan Taylor, but we all know how that ended. Kalif Raymond continues to make plays when given the opportunity and his role should expand this week against the Raiders with Adam Humphries out with an injury and Tajae Sharpe listed as questionable.
This is a Titans offense that is legitimately fun to watch. The offensive line and Derrick Henry are imposing their will on defenses and Ryan Tannehill is making opponents pay when they over-commit to stopping the run. The next four games will determine a lot about how this run is remembered, but it’s salvaged a season that once looked lost and I am thankful for that.