As expected, the Titans first team offense didn’t play much during Thursday night’s 27-10 preseason win over the Eagles and several key members of that group were given the night off entirely as Derrick Henry, Corey Davis, Delanie Walker, and Rodger Saffold all donned ball caps instead of helmets in Philadelphia. With Taylor Lewan working with the second unit as the team prepares for his looming suspension, Marcus Mariota was left with a pretty watered down selection of teammates for his first and only drive of the game.
The first team offensive line to start the game was Dennis Kelly, Jamil Douglas, Ben Jones, Kevin Pamphile, and Jack Conklin. MyCole Pruitt and Anthony Firkser both saw some snaps at tight end with the ones. Dion Lewis was the primary back and we saw Adam Humphries, Tajae Sharpe, Darius Jennings, and Taywan Taylor all get some work at receiver with Mariota in the game. Some of the guys that were on the field are questionable to even make the roster, so keep that in mind as we look at what happened here.
Let’s take a look at that drive — like we did here last year — and see what, if anything, we can learn from it.
Opening Punt Return
Let’s start with the punt return because it was the play that jump started this opening drive. Adam Humphries got the first crack at return duties and did exactly what you’d like to see him do. He catches the ball cleanly and is able to quickly break contain around the right side, picking up 26 yards before he goes out of bounds.
The Titans would give Adoree’ Jackson and Kalif Raymond some shots at returning punts later in the game and they both handled them well, but it does seem like Humphries is the favorite to win this job right now.
The Titans struggled with penalties all night and it started here as tight end MyCole Pruitt flinched prior to the very first offensive snap.
While this play obviously didn’t count, it’s worth noting the Titans come out initially in 11-personnel with Mariota in the shotgun, Dion Lewis to his left. Adam Humphries is split out wide left with Taywan Taylor in the slot. Tajae Sharpe is coming in motion on the right side of the field with Pruitt tight to Jack Conklin’s hip on the right side of the line.
Pruitt had a pretty good game outside of this moment, but pre-snap penalties like this will drive a coach insane.
Play 1: Mariota hits Humphries on a quick screen for a gain of 7 yards
So the Titans start with a 1st and 15 — less than ideal — and change their opening play call. They stick with 11-personnel, but move Humphries into the slot, split Sharpe wide left, and Jennings comes in for Taylor and goes out wide right.
The play is a quick hitter screen to Humphries, who makes a man miss and gets decent blocking from Sharpe, Pruitt, and center Ben Jones as he slithers his way forward for 7.
The “make a man miss” part of this is really nice from Humphries. He’s so sudden in his movements that he’s able to make Eagles safety Blake Countess completely whiff despite having him dead to rights on the catch.
I also thought Ben Jones did a nice job of getting out and getting in the way of the linebacker here and Marcus Mariota deserves props for putting the ball on Humphries in a spot where he could get into his move quickly. I know it’s hard to give a quarterback too much credit for a throw behind the line of scrimmage, but ball placement on these types of screens is critical to the play’s success or failure.
Play 2: Inside zone run to Dion Lewis picks up 4 yards
The Titans come back with their first personnel package change of the night, switching to 12-personnel as tight end Ryan Hewitt checks into the game at fullback. This would normally be David Fluellen’s job if he had been playing (and it would make the personnel package technically 21 instead of 12, but that’s really semantics more than anything), but Flu was out with an injury Thursday night so Hewitt stepped into that role.
The right side of the offensive line does a nice job here. Ben Jones and Kevin Pamphile are able to get some really nice push at the point of attack while Jack Conklin stones Vinny Curry on the outside. Hewitt does a great job of picking up the first linebacker through as well.
This play actually had a chance to pick up the first down or maybe even more, but left guard Jamil Douglas (No. 75) whiffs on the backside linebacker who makes the tackle.
Overall, a 4 yard gain on 2nd and 8 isn’t a bad thing though and the front side blocked this up really well.
Play 3: Mariota finds Humphries on a choice route for a first down
Facing 3rd and 4, the Titans go back into 11-personnel and bring Anthony Firkser — who became something of a “third down tight end” last year — onto the field alongside receivers Sharpe, Humphries, and Jennings.
Humphries goes in motion pre-snap to give Mariota a man-zone read and tips off that the Eagles are in man coverage. That means Mariota is mostly looking for one-on-one matchups he likes and it’s clear that he’s staring down Humphries all the way here.
Humphries is likely running a choice route here — a route where he has the option to break inside or outside depending on leverage once he gets to the first down marker — and he makes the correct read with Avonte Maddox playing him pretty straight up and the inside linebacker cheating towards him to take away the in-breaking option. Mariota’s throw is on the money and Humphries hauls it in through contact for the first down.
Along the offensive line, the Titans mostly hold up well here with Kelly running Josh Sweat safely around the pocket. Pamphile is in a little trouble against Malik Jackson, but Mariota’s throw comes out on time so it doesn’t end up biting the Titans here.
Play 4: Mariota finds Humphries again on a short crossing route for a 9 yard gain
The Mariota-to-Humphries theme continues the next play as the Titans come back with another 11-personnel look. This time the Eagles are in zone and Humphries is able to find a nice hole to sit down in and let his quarterback find him.
Mariota’s detailed accuracy is good again here as his throw leads Humphries up field and helps him maximize his yards after catch.
The offensive line does a nice job with protection. Both tackles have one-on-one situations and win the rep convincingly.
Play 5: Mariota finds Jennings, but the receiver can’t keep his feet in bounds for what would have been a 19 yard gain
The Titans go back to 12-personnel here as Firkser comes in and motions right to join Pruitt next to Jack Conklin. Sharpe and Jennings are the wide receivers here as Arthur Smith dials up a play action shot on 2nd and 1 — love the call.
Jennings is wide open on the deep comeback route, but the throw is a beat late from Mariota and the receiver is unable to keep both feet in (though it was really close). You’d like to see this ball out earlier to give Jennings a chance to catch it before he hits the sidelines, but that’s nitpicking. It’s a catchable ball that should have been a nice completion.
Again, the offensive line holds up well here. No Eagle gets within 5 yards of Mariota.
Play 6: Mariota finds Humphries for the first down on a check down
I don’t know if Arthur Smith is going to continue to be this aggressive when the regular season starts, but I sure hope so. After taking a play action shot on 2nd and 1, conventional wisdom says you hand it off on 3rd and 1 and pick up the first down, right? Not if you’re Arthur Smith. Knowing that 4th and 1 is not a bad result — offenses converted over 70% over 4th and 1 opportunities in 2018 — Smith tries to draw the Eagles into thinking he’s going to slam it into the line of scrimmage, but instead goes with a play action shot again.
The tight formation draws 9 Eagles defenders into the box and the play action fake holds the deep safety, leaving Tajae Sharpe one-on-one with a corner on an island. The corner is in good position so Mariota chooses to check it down to a late releasing Humphries for the first down instead. It’s hard for me not to imagine that he throws to that one-on-one if it’s Davis running the route (which it will be in regular season action).
Mariota’s throw is behind Humphries, but the receiver is able to adjust to the ball and make the tough catch through contact. That’s a trust-building rep between quarterback and wide receiver.
The line does a nice job holding up again here. Pruitt and Lewis combine on a nice blitz pickup while Kelly manages to hold off Sweat just long enough for Mariota to get to his second option.
Play 7: Dion Lewis runs for a 3 yard gain
The Titans go back to 11-personnel on first down again, but this time they run it with Dion Lewis for a short gain.
The replay shows a better angle and I’ve drawn in the blocking assignments on the play. Ben Jones (No. 60) and Dennis Kelly (No. 71) both do a great job of getting hats on the linebackers. Jamil Douglas (No. 75) gets beat to the spot by Hassan Ridgeway, but does a nice job of taking him up field once he got headed that way. You’d like to see a little better work from Pruitt (No. 85) and Jennings (No. 15) on the backside of this run. Lewis does a good job of getting what he can.
Play 8: Mariota gets pressured quickly and throws it away
The Titans stick in 11-personnel and go back to play action, but quick pressure in Mariota’s face pushes him off his spot and he ends up taking the safe route and throwing the ball away.
The endzone view shows the problem pretty clearly here. Jamil Douglas — spotlighted — completely whiffs on Ridgeway, leaving Mariota with no choice but to take off out of the pocket. It’s a nice job of avoiding pressure from the quarterback here.
Tajae Sharpe was pretty tightly covered to Mariota’s left, but he had inside leverage and I would suspect that is where the ball would have gone if not for the immediate pressure.
Play 9: Mariota sails a pass over Humphries
On 3rd and 7, the Titans stick in 11-personnel and look for Humphries again, but the throw sails on Mariota and falls incomplete.
The route from Humphries is nice though. You can see the subtle push off at the top of the route in the replay angle that creates some separation.
My favorite thing about this play is Jack Conklin’s pass set. He’s on an island against Vinny Curry as the Titans slide pass protection away from him, but his set is quick and clean and then he anchors down masterfully against the bull rush attempt from Curry. We saw Conklin struggle mightily with speed-to-power rushers last year, but this looks far more like the 78 we got used to seeing in 2016 and 2017.
Play 10: Mariota tries to find Humphries again, but the pass is batted down and the Titans turn the ball over on downs
The Titans choose to go for it on 4th and 7 here, likely because that situational rep is more valuable than a 40 yard field goal attempt for a kicker who isn’t going to be on the roster in a month. Mariota is locked onto Humphries all the way here and since this was his sixth time targeting his new slot receiver on this drive, the Eagles were all over it.
The throw is pretty good here. Nice velocity and accurate — even if I’d prefer a low throw here to give Humphries a chance to body catch in traffic, but that’s nitpicking again. Humphries does get his hands on it, but a nice play from Eagles safety Andrew Sendejo is able to break it up.
All-in-all I thought this was a pretty strong drive from the first team offense. Especially when you consider that some of the plays that cost them downs were mistakes by guys that aren’t going to be playing on Sundays when the season starts. Mariota was mostly sharp, though you can certainly pick at a couple throws that could have been better. Humphries showed why the Titans and Patriots were fighting over him this spring. Conklin looked like Conklin of old.
Arthur Smith used 11-personnel on 7 of his 10 snaps with the first team offense and showed an early proclivity towards play action passing, using a play fake on 3 of his 8 pass calls. He used a pretty heavy passing script early, clearly wanting to get Mariota and Humphries some reps together while they were in the game. I’m not sure that I’d expect an 80-20 pass to run ratio when the season starts obviously, but Smith wasn’t shy about opening things up.