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 a great Week 1, the Titans did what they normally do after great games and backslid into a frustrating loss. The fact that it was a home loss... to the Colts... on the day that the team retired the numbers of Steve McNair and Eddie George... made it all the more infuriating. There were some positives — Derrick Henry and the Titans running game looked good for a second straight week — but there were lots of negatives too, including coaching decisions, pass blocking from the offensive line, and most importantly, quarterback play.
With this being a short week for the Titans leading to the matchup with Jacksonville on Thursday Night Football, the All-22’s will be a bit shorter this week as well, but I’m sure most Titans fans would prefer not to dwell on Sunday’s letdown much longer than necessary anyway. This week I’m going to go through the game in chronological order to give a feel for the flow of the action.
There were two horrible omens to start this game. The first was the field literally catching on fire during pre-game. The second was this throw on the very first play from scrimmage. Arthur Smith dials up a play action pop pass to get things started and it results in a wide open Delanie Walker running down the middle of the field with Colts linebackers trailing him. This is an easy chunk play waiting to happen, but Mariota’s throw is on the wrong side of Walker and the tight end can’t get turned around in time to make the catch. A big time unforced error on the very first play of the game.
After a three yard loss by Henry on 2nd and 10 (ugh), the Titans come back with this play on 3rd and 13. A few things to point out here. First, Adam Humphries is asked to chip the defensive end before releasing downfield and despite the help, Dennis Kelly still gets beat for a hit on Mariota. That’s the second straight week that Kelly has gotten beat despite a chip from Humphries. Taylor Lewan can’t come back soon enough.
Second, it looks like Mariota is reading the left side with Corey Davis and Delanie Walker the entire way here, but A.J. Brown is the guy who ends up with the most space to work with. Mariota makes a good throw from an accuracy standpoint, but it’s a little late arriving due to a little hitch at the top of his drop. That small hesitation forces Walker to come back to the ball and he ends up getting stopped a yard short of the first down. Rather than go for it on 4th and 1 — a situation that teams converted at a 70% clip in 2018 — the Titans punt it away and play defense.
The Titans second drive started with a short run by Henry setting up this 2nd and 7. They go play action again, though this time the Colts linebackers don’t really take the bait. Jack Conklin lets defensive tackle Denico Autry — who is very underrated and was excellent again in this game — beat him inside, but manages to recover well enough to allow Mariota to step up in the pocket. Good movement from Mariota this time, but despite having room to step up into, he immediately moves to his check down instead of hitting an open Corey Davis running behind the Indianapolis linebackers. Henry drops the pass. He wasn’t picking up much even if he catches it, but Henry has to catch this ball.
On 3rd and 7, the Titans dial up a flood concept, but for some reason Mariota doesn’t stay on his front side read despite a clean pocket. In fact, Mariota’s drop doesn’t even appear to sync up with the route concept here. It looks like he almost predetermined that he was taking the check down here. Brown ends up getting stopped a yard short of the marker. You’d like to see him make a better effort after the catch here, but there was very little room to work with.
The bigger problem I have with this snap is Mariota’s decision to bail on the flood concept before it even develops. Once Corey Davis clears out the near side corner, the Colts are left with one defender to cover two receivers heading into his zone. Delanie Walker — running the corner route — is particularly wide open.
Here is the view from the pocket on this play. There is no significant threat to Mariota so I really don’t get why he’s so quick to pull off of the front side read here. If he throws the ball when Walker begins his break towards the sidelines, this is a first down and another chunk play.
The Titans got the offense going on the third drive of the game. A first down play action screen pass back to Henry picks up 9 on the first play, followed by a nice outside zone run for 8 yards on the next play. The run game with Henry was a positive throughout the day. Great blocks from Jonnu Smith, Jamil Douglas, MyCole Pruitt, and Corey Davis help get Henry some real space to work with here.
The day wasn’t all bad from Mariota. This throw to Tajae Sharpe on the sideline while rolling left is as good as you’ll see. It’s thrown in a perfect location with good velocity and his receiver is able to hang on for the catch. Plays like this are what keep people wanting to believe in the fifth year quarterback even after all the offensive struggles.
The Titans would get more going on the ground with Henry later in the drive. The only thing that I feel totally confident in on offense after two games is Derrick Henry and the outside zone run. Here, he gets a fantastic block from Rodger Saffold who takes the nose tackle and moves him over 10 yards downfield. Saffold has struggled a bit in pass protection early on — something that was not an issue for him in LA — but he is definitely a plus in the run game.
Henry has been outstanding through two weeks. He’s 6th in the NFL in rushing yards, averaging 4.85 yards per carry. So this is certainly nitpicking, but he did leave some yards on the field with the run below. Jack Conklin and Delanie Walker have sealed the edge which should prompt Henry to bounce this outside, but he cuts back upfield and gets cut down, fumbling in the process. Fortunately Conklin was able to fall on the ball and get it back for the offense.
After a nice quick slant to Darius Jennings gave the Titans a 1st and goal situation, they loaded up in a heavy package and found backup tackle David Quessenberry in the back of the end zone for a touchdown. The formation, personnel, and pre-snap movement looks identical to the lead up to Derrick Henry’s rushing touchdown from Week 1 so it’s good to see Arthur Smith already building counters off successful plays he puts on tape. Credit to Derrick Henry for an absolutely outstanding block here to spill the unblocked defensive end and give Mariota time to find the open man.
Obviously, it was a special moment for Quessenberry too. He was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma in 2014 and spent three years fighting his way back to the NFL. He spent most of last season on the Titans practice squad and was a surprise inclusion on the 53-man roster out of camp this year. I suspect that he will end up losing his spot on the 53 when Taylor Lewan returns from suspension, but I’m glad he got this moment.
The following drive the Titans started out OK. A first down completion to Corey Davis set up 2nd and short which Dion Lewis converted (I don’t love the Titans going to Lewis after such a successful Henry series the drive before, but we will get back to that point later). Mariota scrambled for a few yards on the next first down, followed by a poorly executed WR screen to Adam Humphries. A Mariota scramble for a first down on 3rd and 8 was negated by a holding penalty on Jack Conklin (ticky tack call, but it was there), setting up this 3rd and 18.
First, 3rd and 18 is virtually impossible. Out of 49 attempts of 3rd and 18 or more in 2019, NFL teams have converted for a first down just twice. The Titans might have actually had a shot here though. If you keep an eye on A.J. Brown (spotlighted), he runs a deep post and absolutely roasts the Colts corner deep. Unfortunately for the Titans, Saffold gets beat badly by Autry and Mariota is unable to avoid the sack. Worse, Mariota fumbles and the Titans are lucky — again — to have Dennis Kelly fall on the ball first. Note Humphries staying in to chip once again as well.
After a Logan Ryan interception, the Titans took over with 2:21 remaining in the half and a chance to go down and score to either take the lead or narrow the gap. The drive gets off to a rough start as Mariota misses an open Corey Davis on a deep out cut.
After a nice 15-yard completion to Walker before the two minute warning, the Titans looked like they would have a great chance to at least get points before halftime. However, the wheels would come off with the new set of downs. First, Mariota passes on an opportunity to hit an open Davis on a deep dig and chooses to check down to Humphries — who is chipping again — in the flat. Colts linebacker Anthony Walker makes the tackle in space and while you’d certainly like to see Humphries make a man miss in this situation, what I’d like to see even more is Mariota cutting it loose to his first read when it’s open.
The next play sees the Colts come with a blitz. The Titans pick it up, but Saffold and Kelly have a miscommunication on a stunt pickup. Kelly chases the looping end instead of passing him off to Saffold. I’ve never heard of an offensive line coach wanting his tackle to chase a defensive end around his guard before so I’d put this one more on Kelly than Saffold, but this is something you’d expect to get better with more reps.
It’s unfortunate that the pressure gets on Mariota quickly here. Corey Davis is coming across the formation and has a linebacker chasing him with nothing but green grass in front of him. A throw that leads him out towards the “3” on the 30-yard line marker might have scored. However, the nit to pick here with Mariota is that he crumples as soon as he sees the pressure coming instead of flicking a quick pass to Walker who is wide open less than 10 yards in front of him. I completely understand that he would have taken a hit with that throw, but he was going to get hit either way and it’s at least possible that Autry eases up if he sees the ball coming out.
Here is a still shot from the play. Both Walker and Davis are breaking open here. Did I mention Davis has a linebacker covering him? The protection isn’t good, but Mariota’s eyes dropping to the rush costs him a shot at an easy first down (Walker) or an easy touchdown (Davis).
Instead, the sack sets up another 3rd and super long. This time they need 17. The Colts drop into a deep zone coverage to take away the deep throws. Corey Davis is possibly an option breaking in towards the middle of the field, but with the middle linebacker sitting that deep it would have been a dangerous throw. Mariota chooses the safe option and checks it down to Lewis for a short gain. I don’t have any real issue with Mariota taking the safe choice here. The last thing you want to do on 3rd and forever right before the half is throw an interception and give Indy the chance to make it a two score game before halftime.
The Titans special teams helps them out to start the second half. They draw a hold on the opening kickoff, backing the Colts up inside their own 10 to start. A three and out by the defense followed by a nice 17-yard punt return by Adoree’ Jackson sets the offense up at the Colts 40-yard line to start their first drive of the second half.
A pair of zone read runs — one that Mariota kept for 7 and another that Henry took for 5 — sets up the next clip. The Titans fake another version of a zone read and throw a quick dart to Davis who is wide open. He makes Malik Hooker miss in space and very nearly is able to fight his way into the endzone. Good on time, accurate throw, good play design, good run after catch by Davis.
A goal line corner route to Jonnu Smith draws a defensive holding call, setting up 1st and goal just inside the 2-yard line. The Titans go with a zone read again and Henry punches it in with ease behind nice blocks from Dennis Kelly and Rodger Saffold. Titans take the lead 14-13.
The next drive for the Colts ends with Jacoby Brissett fumbling and Harold Landry recovering near midfield to set the Titans offense up with a short field again. It felt like this was the moment the Titans could take control of the game. Things started well with a great first down run by Derrick Henry. He gets nice blocks from Kelly, Saffold, Smith, and Pruitt here, but this is mostly just a fantastic cut from Henry. He’s been fantastic.
Things fall apart on the next snap though. The Titans are already on the edge of field goal range with a 1st and 10. They go play action looking for an opportunity to strike down field, but the Colts linebackers don’t take the cheese on the play action fake and nothing is open downfield.
Mariota realizes he doesn’t have a play and sees his protection starting to leak. However, he has not one, but two easy check down options available in Henry and Pruitt. Worst case scenario those guys drop the ball and it’s 2nd and 10. More likely, it’s a gain of 5-plus yards if he just dumps it to Henry. Instead, he pulls his eyes down and tries to escape, eventually taking an 8-yard sack. He has to take the check down here, especially on 1st and 10 and especially on the edge of field goal range.
The Titans try to climb out of the hole with a screen to Henry on the next play. I don’t mind the playcall and it’s set up reasonably well, but Jamil Douglas misses his block and ends up actually spinning around and hitting Henry, limiting what could have been a 7 or 8 yard gain to just 3 yards.
That sets up a 3rd and 15 and the Colts again are able to play soft coverage and take away anything near the sticks. Mariota scrambles for a gain of 7 yards, putting the Titans back in field goal range at least. Santos makes the kick and the Titans go ahead 17-13, but miss an opportunity to really put the Colts on the ropes, primarily due to that unnecessary first down sack.
The next drive starts out with the Titans backed up at their own 13, but three fantastic runs from Derrick Henry gaining 11, 6, and 18 yards quickly puts them near midfield as the 3rd quarter comes to a close.
After breaking for the end of the quarter, the Titans inexplicably come back with Dion Lewis in the game instead of the red hot Henry. I cannot fathom why they would take him out of the game here are this critical moment, but they did. Lewis runs for 2 and then Mariota hits A.J. Brown with a beautiful 11-yard throw on the left sideline. Henry comes back in, but gets stopped for no gain after Ben Jones gets beat on a zone run. Mariota misreads a read option on 2nd and 10 and ends up with no gain again, but Corey Davis draws a defensive pass interference call on 3rd and 10 to bail them out. That’s Davis’ third drawn penalty of 2019.
Titans now have the ball 1st and 10 at the Colts 25 with 12:41 left in the game and a 17-13 lead. A first down run by Henry for 4 sets up 2nd and 6. The Titans followed that with an attempted jet sweep to Humphries. It looks to me like Humphries may have had an option to throw a pass here based on the way he handles the ball, but the Colts play it straight and have this play well-covered. Jonnu Smith is lead blocking for Humphries, but he slows down to peel back on the pursuing linebackers and leaves no one to pick up the safety screaming down from the second level.
In a sense, I understand where Arthur Smith was going with this playcall. He’s hoping the linebackers and safetites are keyed in on Henry and overpursue, but the Colts are a disciplined defense that does not tend to overreact to misdirection.
The Titans are left with a 3rd and 5 at the 20-yard line and this will wind up being a critical play in the game. Again, they’re up 17-13 with just over 11 minutes left. If they can convert and score a touchdown, they almost certainly win this game. If they get a field goal, they at least put themselves in a position where a touchdown doesn’t beat them.
There is a lot to look at with this play so let’s break it down piece by piece, starting with the play design. This is a full field read, meaning that Mariota is expected to read the front side of this play first before moving to the back side. Tajae Sharpe — the wide receiver to the bottom of the screen — has a 10-yard out route and should be the first read. Adam Humphries — lined up in the slot at the top of the screen — is running a drag across the middle, essentially following Sharpe’s route. Finally, Corey Davis — split wide to the top of the screen — is running a pivot route.
It’s important to understand the timing of this play design. Because Mariota is reading 1-to-2-to-3, the timing of the routes are staggered so that each is set up to break open at the time that Mariota gets to it. The first and second reads are to the same side of the field and in the same area of the field so the timing on those is pretty tight. The third read — the back side pivot route to Davis — requires the quarterback to adjust his feet and get his eyes to the other side of the field so there is a bit of a delay built into Davis’ route by design.
Let’s start as Mariota does, on the front side read. The Colts are pressing both Sharpe and Humphries and they have a safety floating in the area here that is tracking Dion Lewis leaking out of the backfield. Both Humphries and Sharpe win clean releases off the line of scrimmage, but problems pop up when Sharpe tries to get back outside on his out route. The cornerback — Colts rookie Rock Ya-Sin — does a great job of staying in phase and is able to cut off Sharpe’s route. You could make an argument for defensive holding here, but at the end of the day Sharpe must find a way to get towards the sidelines. His failure to do so creates unnecessary traffic for Humphries who is otherwise very much open here.
The end zone view shows a window where Humphries probably could have been hit, but it closes faster than it should have because of Sharpe’s inability to clear out.
A throw to Humphries here is available, but the ball would have to be out before Humphries is out of his break (as most throws should be) and it would have to have enough touch to get it over the spying linebacker’s reach.
So the front side read gets disturbed by Sharpe’s route so let’s move to the back side. As mentioned above, Davis’ route is slow to develop by design. The cornerback is playing outside leverage on Davis since there is a single high safety in the middle of the field. However, the safety has followed Mariota’s eyes and drifted way over towards the opposite sideline over top of Sharpe and Humphries. That means that by the time Davis comes out of his pivot and breaks towards the middle of the field, there is nobody home for Indy.
This is the part of the play that’s most frustrating to me. The Titans offensive line gives Mariota outstanding protection. The time from snap to the time Darius Leonard first puts his hands on the quarterback is just over 5 seconds, TWICE the average time to throw in the NFL. Not only does Mariota not take advantage of a clean pocket, he induces the eventual sack by taking his eyes down. Leonard is not rushing, he’s spying to prevent Mariota from picking up the first down with his legs and never moves towards the quarterback until he pulls the ball down and takes on the posture of a runner.
Mariota never even looks at Davis on the back side. If he does, there is an easy touchdown pass to be thrown. It doesn’t even have to be a great pass. Just put it somewhere into the wide open space and let Davis go get it and put you up 24-13. Instead, he takes an unnecessary sack, turning a 37-yard field goal attempt into a 44-yard field goal attempt that Santos would end up missing. Clearly, that’s still a make-able kick, but it’s the difference between a kick that is made 83.2% of the time and a kick that’s made 72.6% of the time since 1999 according to stats from Pro-Football-Reference.com. That’s a pretty significant difference.
That drive was a massive missed opportunity, but the Titans defense would give them another shot to ice the game away. A quick three and out gives the offense the ball back at their own 20 with just over 8 minutes left. Two runs — one from Henry and one from Lewis — leads to this 3rd and 5. The Titans are anticipating Cover 2 from the Colts and they get it. Walker is running a seam route up the middle of the field while Humphries and Davis run routes designed to put the hook/curl defender in conflict.
The Titans get Cover 2 and Mariota decides to try the shot up the seam to Walker. As someone who desperately wants Mariota to play more aggressive, I hesitate to question the throw, but the middle linebacker is running the seam with Walker and Malik Hooker has the range to close on that pass. Hooker nearly makes the interception. Mariota got rid of this one so quickly that it’s hard to know what would have happened elsewhere with the coverage, but either Humphries or Davis should have been open for a first down conversion.
The Titans defense finally yields, giving up a big run to Jordan Wilkins that sets up a short touchdown pass for Brissett that puts the Colts on top 19-17 after a second missed extra point by Adam Vinatieri. So Marcus Mariota and the offense take the field after the kickoff with 4:38 remaining and the pressure squarely on.
Arthur Smith starts with play action and puts Mariota on the move looking at a couple options. Davis is coming open on a crossing route with space to make a play after the catch. Mariota sees it, but doesn’t see the lurking linebacker underneath and hits him right in the hands with the ball. First, this is a great play by the linebacker to read Mariota’s body language and get himself in the passing lane. Maybe there is an opportunity for Mariota to put a little more air under the ball, but it’s mostly a good play by Bobby Okereke.
The next snap features another nice defensive play by the Colts, but also an opportunity missed by the Titans. A.J. Brown wins on a quick slant and Mariota puts an OK pass in, but the rookie receiver is unable to hang on with a closing Malik Hooker ready to put a lick on him. It would have been a really tough catch, but it’s one that you’d like to see him make.
Then we get to THAT Tajae Sharpe play. Mariota makes the right read, throws a good ball, and all Sharpe has to do is fall forward and it’s a first down for the Titans, but he retreats back behind the line and gets tackled short of the sticks. Absolutely ridiculous lack of awareness from a fourth year receiver here. This cannot happen in this situation.
That brings us to the Titans final drive. Tennessee gets the ball back on their own 28 with 1:07 remaining and no timeouts. The first play is pretty well covered downfield by the Colts so Mariota takes the check down to Walker for 4 yards. Short of throwing it away, there wasn’t much else that Mariota could do, but this play cost them 18 seconds for 4 yards, that’s a bad deal in a game situation like this. Throwing it away was likely the best choice there.
The Titans hurry to the line and run another pass play, but this time Mariota takes off and runs for 15 yards. By the time they’re able to clock the ball, they’re down to just 31 seconds remaining at their own 47-yard line. They probably need at least 15 yards to get a realistic shot at a field goal.
If you’re squeamish, you might not want to look at this next clip. The Colts were sitting in Cover 2 for each of the first four snaps and the Titans dial up a Cover 2 beater. They’re running A.J. Brown on an inverted whip route underneath while Corey Davis runs a corner route over the top. They have Rock Ya-Sin (No. 34) in conflict and the corner stops his feet to close down on Brown which leaves a ton of space for a throw to Davis behind him. Not only is Davis well into field goal range, but he can easily get out of bounds. The throw goes underneath to Brown who picks up 8, but gets tackled in bounds.
The clock is running and Mariota decides to spike it to stop the clock rather than calling another play and running it quickly. This is as much — or more — on coaching than it is Mariota. On 2nd and 10, the Titans had just clocked the ball and had time to prepare two plays in case they are tackled short of the sticks. Instead, they clock the ball and are put into a must-convert situation.
Nevertheless, the Titans have a chance on 4th and 2 with 13 seconds left on the Colts 45-yard line. They need somewhere between 5 to 10 yards to feel like they can get a reasonable field goal attempt off here. There are a couple major disadvantages the Titans are facing here from a playcalling perspective.
- The Colts are going to be overplaying outside leverage so it’s unlikely to get anything breaking towards the sidelines free unless someone on the defense makes a bonehead play.
- If the Titans complete a pass in bounds, they must be able to get their entire offense to the line of scrimmage, set, and the ball snapped and spiked within roughly 8 or 9 seconds if we assume that the play takes roughly 3 or 4 seconds from snap to tackle. That’s tight and that means no deep routes from any wide receivers because they won’t be able to get back to the ball in time.
The Titans choose to run double slants on both sides. If you’re resigned to not being able to get something to the sideline, this is about the only realistic option you’ve got. It’s quick, you should be able to get inside releases with the Colts overplaying the boundaries, and this keeps all your receivers near the ball when it is eventually downed. I don’t think you’re guaranteed to get the spike off, but you’ve got a chance with this play.
Let’s break this one down in detail too. Some have complained about not throwing to Davis here, but Mariota made the right read to throw this ball to Brown. Everybody is running the same thing here so this is a play where Mariota can survey the defense and pick a matchup/alignment he likes best. The Colts show man coverage pre-snap with all four of the Titans primary passing options facing press man coverage. If you look at the remainder of the defense, it becomes clear which side the ball should go to.
The Colts have one safety playing on the field hash, but he’s 13 yards off the ball and unlikely to be able to make a play on a quick slant. The other safety is lurking outside the boundary hash just 8 yards off the ball. He’s in a position to make a play on Davis or Walker here. There is also Lewis’ man on this side of the field who is a potential problem for throws to Humphries, Walker, or Davis. Brown is very clearly the cleanest opportunity for a quick completion.
Here is how the play turned out. Leonard — the linebacker lined up over Lewis — buzzes out towards Humphries, but Brown wins his inside release and has a chance to make a play. The throw is high and the coverage is pretty good, but Brown gets both hands on the ball and needs to come down with this.
Here is a good shot of the location of the throw. The green circle I added is where you’d prefer this ball be targeted. Something numbers down gives Brown a chance to use his body to shield off the defender. It’s not an accurate throw, but it’s catchable.
It was obviously a massively disappointing loss for a team that had so many chances to put it away in the second half. Marcus Mariota is taking a lot of the heat and deservedly so. He made some critical errors in this game in the form of misfires, misreads, and a general lack of situational awareness. I think it’s hard to leave this game without some concern that this is just who Mariota is in Year 5. It’s not that he’s so terrible that the team can’t win, but he also doesn’t make the kind of plays that elevates an offense.
However, he’s not the only one to blame. Cairo Santos needs to make a 44-yard field goal. The coaching staff needs to stick with Derrick Henry when it’s 8-million degrees and the defense appears to be wearing down in the second half. The offensive line needs to do a better job with protection. Taylor Lewan needs to avoid being suspended and forcing the Titans to protect a sub-par left tackle with a $9M slot receiver. Tajae Sharpe needs to pick up the first down when he has it. A.J. Brown needs to make contested catches.
The Titans defense wasn’t perfect by any means, but they played well enough to win this game. The offense needs to find a way to correct the self-inflicted errors that showed up on tape against the Colts. This is still a talented football team that nearly won a game despite all the issues listed throughout this post. Now is not the time to panic, but this matchup against the Jaguars on Thursday Night Football is suddenly a pretty critical early season game.