Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator Tim Kelly arguably called his worst game of the season in Sunday’s 19-16 overtime defeat to the Houston Texans. The Titans were overly reliant on Derrick Henry, who struggled to get anything going in the run game. Despite Tennessee’s inability to run the ball effectively on first down, Kelly continued to inexcusably hand it off to Henry on first-and-10.
I’ve charted every Titans drive. Kelly and the Titans called 12 Henry runs on 1st-and-10 (or 1st-and-goal). Those 12 runs gained the Titans offense a TOTAL of ZERO yards. Six of those Henry rushing attempts gained zero or negative yardage. Henry lost seven yards on one particularly poor rush. The most successful 1st-and-10 Henry run? A five-yard carry during the first half.
Derrick Henry was first contacted at or behind the line of scrimmage on 9 of his 16 rushes. He averaged -0.6 yards per rush BEFORE contact, his 2nd worst in a game with 10+ rushes (-0.9 in 2017 at CLE). @ESPNStatsInfo— TURRON DAVENPORT (@TDavenport_NFL) December 17, 2023
Some argue that Tyjae Spears is more effective or efficient than Henry. Kelly called two 1st-and-10 runs for Spears. They gained negative four yards. One 1st-and-10 Spears rushing attempt resulted in a 2nd-and-15.
Rookie quarterback Will Levis only attempted five 1st-and-10 passes despite essentially playing five total quarters. Levis went 5-of-5 for 26 yards, including an early-down 20-yard completion to Treylon Burks. Ironically enough, the least successful Levis 1st-and-10 passes were three passes to Henry that gained two, negative three, and two yards respectively. Even when the Titans passed on early downs, they often mistakenly designed those plays for Henry.
In my opinion, Henry is least to blame for Sunday’s debacle. He was routinely met at-or-behind the line of scrimmage. Yes, you’d like to see Henry showcase some more wiggle to evade a defender in that situation, but the Titans placed him in terrible positions. A completely ineffective offensive line should shoulder the majority of the blame. Regardless of play call, it’s their responsibility to execute assignments. Instead, Tennessee’s makeshift O-line was routinely bullied and overmatched by the Texans’ aggressive defensive line.
Kelly takes blame for failing to adjust his strategy as the game transpired. The Titans were stubborn in their 1st-and-10 playcalling in order to avoid second-and-long situations due to poor pass blocking, which is somewhat understandable. Ironically, Kelly consistently created the 2nd-and-longs he hoped to avoid by failing to adjust.