For a team that are ranked twenty-first overall in offence by DVOA, I found a lot I liked about the Tennessee Titans’ exotic smash-mouth offence, but there are some critical flaws that are holding them back. However, I do not think these are particularly to do with the structure of the offence.
The first thing I should say is that although the Titans use a lot of double tight end, double tight end with two backs, and even triple back formations, they also spend plenty of time in the usual shotgun sets. They use a lot of pre-snap motion and spend a lot of time shifting formations as they move tight ends around, frequently from the backfield to the line or vice versa, but also flexing them out as receivers. They will also frequently keep their receivers close to the line and in bunches.
In this game, DeMarco Murray played the vast majority of snaps at running back, picking up ninety-five yards from twenty-five attempts as he had a mixture of runs that mostly went well with the occasional stop due to a lack of running room. The Titans looked to be pulling their guards often and use plenty of motion to have extra blockers going to where they are intending to run the ball. They managed to get over one hundred yards when you combine all carries and the offence sustained several long drives so whilst they were not generating overwhelming numbers, they would look good in a balanced offence, but this is where the problem lies for the Titans.
I like their use of formations and misdirection, but there are a couple of factors that appeared to be hampering the Titans to my eyes.in the passing game. I like the way that they move Delanie Walker around the formation, but Marcus Mariota was only able to connect to him twice for thirty-four yards despite targeting Walker eight times. In fact, Mariota was only able to complete thirteen of his twenty-nine attempts in this game, which is perhaps not surprising given that he seemed to frequently over throw his target completely or place the ball too high. He only threw one interception, but was simply not productive enough in the passing game. Mariota was not helped by his receivers, who often seemed to struggle to get open on their own or challenge the defence deep. This allowed the Texans to play closer to the line, although they were also helped by several good plays in their secondary with AJ Bouye catching my eye multiple times as he broke up passes. The one exception to all this was when Rishard Matthews got open on a double move and Mariota found him deep for a 60 yard play, but otherwise the Titans really didn’t achieve much in the passing game. Their receivers were often stacked or in trip sets on one side of the formation so they were trying to scheme them open. The only sack of the game came on a play where the Titans were max protecting with only two receivers running routes and Murray slipping out the backfield after a block, but no one was open in time as Mariota was chased down and sacked but this was partly because of his ability to scramble.
I think the Titans’ system could well work, but even if you are trying to focus on running the ball, you need receivers who can get open as if you can’t convincingly make plays in one phase of your offence, then all the defence has to do is focus on stopping the phase that does works. As obvious as it sounds, until some combination of Mariota making more accurate throws and receivers getting more open leads to better passing numbers, this team are going to continue to struggle on offence, and I wonder what the long term goal is for this franchise. If their ownership commits to the current setup then it might be possible to make things work, but they need the front office and coaching staff to work in step for long enough to see it through and I just don’t know if the current coaching/GM setup is good enough or if they will get the time.