A run-game salad; don’t forget the lettuce

The Tennessee Titans found some momentum in the running game in their first victory of the year against the Las Vegas Raiders, mainly due to an explosive first half from the offense, but also due of a clutch defense in the second half.

I want to focus on the offense for a while, though.

The reality of this Titans season is that the defense will be fine, although not ELITE as some thought, so offense will determine their fate.

If the Titans can be the offensive team we’ve seen consistently in the first half of Sunday’s game, this team can be what everyone’s been hoping for. Otherwise, things might get uglier than expected.

So how did the Titans do on Sunday and what do they need to do to build on it going forward?

To answer that, we need to take a quick step through the Titans time machine. In 2018, Matt LaFleur, now head coach of the Green Bay Packers, became the Titans’ offensive coordinator and introduced the action-based, zone-managed game system you see from the team and the entire league. .

It is a run-based offense from the outside zone. Arthur Smith further adapted the system to Titans players during the 2019 and 2020 seasons.

But since the end of the 2020 season when the Baltimore Ravens and Green Bay Packers charged the line of scrimmage, it was apparent that Mike Vrabel wanted more from his running game.

Now we move on to the next chapter, and here’s where we come to the Titans run-game salad. Since Vrabel installed Todd Downing as offensive coordinator, the Titans have a much more diverse running game.

Instead of purely zonal football, the Titans, from 2021, now throw traps, throw sweeps, counters with pullers, inside and duo leads, all different types of approaches and running plays. A little power, a little gap, a certain area.

I am a salad fanatic. My father tells the same story every time we go out to eat.

“This boy loved salad. I had to buy a head of lettuce a week. He ate one every night, he proclaimed emphatically.

Well, he’s right, and I’m here to say that any good salad has a ton of ingredients, but the best base is always crisp, green lettuce. So while I love cheese, croutons, bacon bits, banana peppers, red onion, tomatoes, carrots, ranch dressing, etc., I still realize that without the bed of lettuce for throw it all away, the salad can’t be at its best.

This is also true for the Titans rushing attack. I don’t mind a few pieces of shotgun traps or a few counter splashes out of I-Formation. I don’t mind a duo of dashes on 13 or a handful of play options, a drizzle of Wild King, but the outer zone run is still the Titans’ lettuce, and we saw it this Sunday.

The Titans averaged 8.3 yards per carry with a total of 67 yards on eight outcourt carries against Las Vegas. Tennessee averaged 2.5 yards per carry with a total of 44 yards on 17 carries of any other type. I took two knees off for -2 yards because duh.

So, like we do every week, let’s step into the movie theater and see exactly why OZ has done so well…

Play #1

Christopher Hanewinckel – USA TODAY Sports

This first example is Titans Heaven.

The Titans have 12 members (1 RB/2 TE). They are in a single back formation with both TEs in a twins look to one side; remember this training.

Teams like to put a lot of guys on the line of scrimmage (LOS) against the Titans to limit double teams and prevent linemen from reaching LBs.

One way to counter this is to expand the number of your own guys on the LOS, hence the two tight ends. Now you have 7 on LOS and defense usually does not equal seven.

Watch Ben Jones crimp his nose first. Aaron Brewer then gets a great seal block on the No. 91. Nate Davis, who plays a good ball, gets to Jayon Brown on the second tier and pushes him away (poor Jayon had a rough day). Finally, Derrick Henry does what only he knows how to do best: stiffen the defensive lineman’s arms and go down.

That’s a nice, green, fresh, tasty lettuce, folks.

Play #2

Christopher Hanewinckel – USA TODAY Sports

Again, same formation here and you can see why. The Raiders have five straight on LOS with Jayon very close, essentially being the sixth.

With n°5 and n°30 at LB depth, OL des Titans don’t care and manage their business well. Swaim and Hoop create the edge, Brew creates the inside seal, and Daley pushes Jayon away.

Ben’s block wasn’t pretty, but he gave Henry some extra yards. Those five- to six-yard runs are essential for the Titans to maintain their practices.

Play #3

Syndication: The Tennessean

The in-house trio of Ben Jones, Aaron Brewer, and Nate Davis are being asked to do a lot in this system, but they appear to be ready for it.

Ben Jones with a savvy move to use a right arm to help Brewer reach his man, causing the three to just drive; that’s exactly what they do. Henry does the rest with two quick jumps. Also, same formation again, reset LOS calculations.

Play #4

Christopher Hanewinckel – USA TODAY Sports

It’s early in the game and the Titans are setting the tone. Credit to Geoff Swaim here for a big advantage over Chandler Jones, but the stars were the inside trio again.

All three get a good initial move and open up enough trail for King Henry to get up to full speed. Once he’s there, the bodies seem to start falling.

Play #5

Christopher Hanewinckel – USA TODAY Sports

When the defense tries a different approach other than crowding the LOS, it can be deadly for them. Now, the Titans’ OL have room to go straight to their missions, and with a few 1-on-1 wins, big plays can happen.

Great job here by Swaim on a security, but NPF is the highlight.

He just lets an aggressive player like Maxx Crosby fly inside and uses his momentum to push him out of the game. Nate Davis goes up to LB. Henry goes down the court and misses a guy, but at the start of the game he was still finding his balance and it could be a Halloween home visit.

Play No. 6

Christopher Hanewinckel – USA TODAY Sports

The other thing to consider here is how Titans action play is enhanced by focusing on the outer zone. First, it naturally moves the defense horizontally and it brings Tannehill into a natural contraband move, which responds to his skill set.

The biggest play the Titans have had all year on offense came off a fake action play to Henry from the same lineup we’ve seen all day, pretending to run outside the zone.

The same Singleback TE Twins look with Burks and Woods as the wide receivers, which is key because if the deep safety doesn’t meet the receiver’s deep speed (NWI, Hollister), then it doesn’t open up the middle.

Burks’ deep speed threat needs to be respected, so he runs a deep post. This attracts the attention of deep security as intended. Robert Woods runs a deep cruiser who is supposed to sit between deep safety and linebackers.

Fake action play pulls linebackers up, Burks pulls safety deep, opening up a huge game for Woods. Again, the biggest offensive play of the season so far.


Christopher Hanewinckel – USA TODAY Sports

Mike Vrabel talked about being better at his “bread and butter” games after the loss to the Buffalo Bills. I hope he’s talking about Outside Zone, because we see the kind of damage he can do when executed correctly.

It matches that offense as perfectly as possible. That’s how the Titans offense got that brief glimpse of explosiveness not just in Week 3, but in 2019 and 2020.

So while I agree with Vrabel that all other race types are very important parts of the Titans race salad, he can’t let Todd Downing forget that all good salad starts with a level incredible base of quality lettuce.

So, Titans fans, let’s eat!

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