This time last year almost every Titans fan was convinced that Matt LaFleur was the young, forward-thinking offensive coordinator that would save Marcus Mariota’s career and finally deliver the dynamic offense this fan base has craved for decades. Then the season started and what would become the league’s 27th ranked scoring offense began to reveal itself, somehow regressing from the Mike Mularkey-Terry Robiskie led attack that finished 19th in scoring the year before.
It’s not fair to lay the blame for that performance entirely at LaFleur’s feet. The 2018 Titans lost star tight end Delanie Walker for the season in the very first game, had Marcus Mariota dealing with a nerve injury — along with several other injuries — throughout the entire season, lost Rishard Matthews when he decided to quit, and were without starting tackles Taylor Lewan and Jack Conklin for parts of multiple games each. LaFleur was left to build a passing offense around Corey Davis and not much else for most of the season.
Despite some of that context, it’s also fair to point out some of the playcalling issues that stood out during his short tenure in Tennessee. My biggest pet peeve was his tendency to run the ball on 2nd and long situations. The Titans had the highest percentage of run calls when facing 2nd and 8 or more in the entire NFL, too often leaving Marcus Mariota to face highly difficult 3rd and long scenarios.
Some of those issues showed up for Aaron Rodgers and the Packers last night as well. There were at least a couple 2nd and long runs that I remember and the offense as a whole generally looked disjointed. There was also the issue of personnel telegraphing his playcalling intentions. The Titans passed the ball 62% of the time from 11-personnel, 40% of the time from 12-personnel, and 18% percent of the time from 13-personnel per Sharp Football Stats.
That being said, watching the Packers struggle to protect Rodgers, run on 2nd and long, and telegraph their intentions by personnel packages — as PFF outlined in the article excerpt below — gave me serious flashbacks to last season’s Titans.
Last night, the Packers ran the league’s most popular personnel package, 11 personnel (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WR) at an incredibly low rate of 45.3%. Which is nearly 30% lower than in 2018 when they had the second-highest usage rate of 11 personnel. To make up for it, LaFleur doubled their 12 personnel (1 RB 2 TE, 2 WR) usage to 32.8% and ran almost as much 21 personnel (2 RB, 1 TE, 2 WR) than they did all last season (12.5% last night, 1.5% last year). LaFleur’s usage of heavy sets isn’t a bad thing at all, in fact, it’s a great thing as in the passing game it has been proven to give a competitive advantage. However, LaFleur’s play-calling out of these sets is what sets the Packers offense up for failure.
Before we get too carried away, it’s important to recognize two facts here... 1) it’s just one game and sometimes even good teams look out of sorts at the beginning of the season and 2) the Bears defense might be the best in the NFL. It’s entirely possible that we look back on this game at the end of the year as a blip in a very good season for the Green Bay offense, but it certainly was a troubling start.
So my question for Titans fans is this... does this make you feel better about the prospects of the Titans offense in 2019?
I have to admit that it does for me. Watching a proven star quarterback like Aaron Rodgers struggle in a system that is notoriously tough to pick up at least lends some credence to the idea that part of Mariota’s tough 2018 was simply growing pains.
We don’t really know what we can expect from new offensive coordinator Arthur Smith, but all indications seem to be pointing towards an offense that will keep the bones of LaFleur’s outside zone based west coast scheme, but is simplifying some of the details to help players play faster.
There are also hints that we are going to see more 11-personnel under Smith. The Titans went out and signed a high-priced slot receiver in Adam Humphries and spent their second round pick on receiver A.J. Brown. That’s a lot of resources to spend at a position if you’re not planning on spending more time in three wide receiver sets. The Titans listed their base offense on the depth chart in 11-personnel, a departure from the last few seasons when 12-personnel was the basis for the depth chart.
Obviously, there are still major questions lingering about the Titans offense, but arguably the biggest question is whether Arthur Smith can do what Matt LaFleur couldn’t and take this franchise’s offense into the modern era. We won’t know the answer to that for while — it won’t be answered this weekend for sure — but despite the fact that the Titans didn’t play last night, I feel a little better about the offense’s chances of taking the next step this morning.