Fat off the Bone: Week 3 - Titans

Last week, we looked at the Cincinnati Bengals.  Surprisingly, the Bengals stuck to the scouting report and presented the Broncos with few wrinkles.

Perhaps this is why they are the Bengals.  It's one thing to know who you are and stick to what you do best.  It's another thing entirely to fall into such a predictable pattern by Week 2.  The Broncos' advanced scouting department probably deserves some credit for the win last week.

Today we're scouting the Tennessee Titans, who have been the Jekyll and Hyde of the NFL so far.  In Week 1 they barely moved the ball against the Jacksonville Jaguars, losing 16-14.  A week later, behind timely turnovers and big plays, they smacked the Baltimore Ravens 26-13.

After charting every one of their offensive plays from both games,  I came to realize that the Titans are not the world beaters they appeared to be last week.

In fact, there's a good chance the Broncos win this game.

Observations

1. The Titans are predominantly a one-back team.  The Titans attacked the Jaguars in the opener entirely differently than they attacked the Ravens in Week 2.  Against the Jaguars, who employ a 4-3 defense, they featured a two-back personnel package on only five plays.  Against the Ravens and their 3-4 defense, Tennessee featured two backs 24 times.  Part of this is because they were down in the second half against the Jags, which forced them into a shotgun offense.  However, such a huge discrepancy in strategy is a clear indication that the Titans felt they could run the ball against the Ravens' 3-4 two-gap system.  Despite this, the Titans only managed a paltry 2.6 yards per carry against them.

From the standpoint of identity, this is probably just fine.  Two-back personnel groupings are not what they do well.

Here is a breakdown of the Titans' personnel packages for all of their plays this year:

Personnel Package      Count      Percentage of Total Snaps     
212 (2 RB, 1 TE, 2 WR) 24 19.35%
113 (1 RB, 1TE, 3 WR) 84 67.74%
122 (1 RB, 2 TE, 2 WR) 10 8.06%
221 (2 RB, 2 TE, 1 WR) 5 4.03%
131 (1 RB, 3 TE, 1 WR) 1 0.81%
TOTAL 124 100.00%

Even if we include the Titans' two-back strategy against the Ravens, one thing immediately jumps out from these numbers: the Titans love their one-back personnel groupings. 

I believe this hints at how they might attack the Broncos from a personnel perspective.  As we learned earlier in the week, the Broncos have been primarily running a one-gap 4-3 Under scheme, which makes running the football against them difficult.  It also is a closer proxy to the Jaguars' defense, and I expect the Titans will return to the one-back system they favored against Jacksonville.

While Tennessee does tend to shake things up, their basic formations are ridiculously simple.  They stick to three basic groupings:

(Note: H = Halfback, F = Fullback, Y = Tight End, Z = Flanker, X = Split End, W = 3rd WR, U = 2nd Tight End)

Before I jump into some peculiarities I found, I should note that these formations are typical, but not exact.  In other words, the Shotgun may feature one or two backs (max protect), and it might feature trips to the left instead of a balance like shown above.  What I've tried to do here is to give you their typical formation.  If I were to illustrate every single variety of the basic formation, we'd be here awhile. 

2. Assume neither pass nor run based on package and formation.  What I found interesting about the Titans is that they regularly pass out of their I-Near formation and run out of their Ace formation.  Normally, one would expect the opposite to be true.  In fact, when the Titans showed their opponent the I-Near, they passed 55% of the time.  When they showed the Ace (or a variation of the Ace), they ran 41% of the time.  So one of the first things the Broncos ought to be aware of is that the Titans use personnel packages and formations in a deceptive way.  If the Broncos see a two-back set, the linebackers shouldn't make any assumptions.  If anything, they should be preparing for their drops or, if they are in man coverage, their responsibilities.

3. Sacks may not come because of the drop scheme.  Matt Hasselbeck has always been at his best when using three- and five-step drops, and the Titans clearly understand this.  Offensive coordinator Chris Palmer has incorporated this aspect of the West Coast philosophy into his system.  You'll see a lot of slant routes and quick tosses on Sunday as Hasselbeck favors them and wants to get rid of the ball quickly.  This means the Broncos won't have the chance to sack him as often as they would other quarterbacks.  This also means the Broncos' defensive linemen should get their hands up quickly.  Hasselbeck's passes tend to be low, so they'll need to get a quick push and then thrust their hands into the air.

4. Get ready for the stomp route (double move).  These slants are a precursor to stomp routes, in which the wide receiver stomps his feet against the ground to give the appearance of cutting, only to continue straight up the field for a long pass.  Kenny Britt and Jared Cook, the amazingly athletic tight end for the Titans, will probably run at least two double moves apiece on Sunday (they did against both the Ravens and Jags).  The Broncos' defensive backs should prepare for them and not try and jump routes early in the game.  Hasselbeck will see this, pump fake off a three-step drop, and then drop a rainbow over the top of the defender.  Kenny Britt is hard enough to cover without biting on pump fakes.  The Ravens learned this lesson the hard way last week.

5. The Titans are patient in the running game.  I counted fifteen runs up the middle during the time I charted the Titans.  Most of these gains were for two yards or less.  Unlike the Broncos in previous weeks, though, the Titans keep pounding the ball.  They're also not afraid to run on 1st and 10, get zero yards, then turn right around and run again for just a few yards.  They know that Chris Johnson can continue to feel his way through the middle of the defense carry after carry until he breaks a long one.  This means the Broncos need to stay disciplined all game long.  One mental lapse or missed gap assignment can prove deadly against a patient running team like the Titans.

6. Watch the backs as receivers.  There's a reason why Chris Johnson, despite being a little banged up, already has nine receptions on the season.  Hasselback loves to use him as a check down, especially when the the Titans pass out of the Ace formation.  This means Wesley Woodyard or D.J. Williams (if he plays) will need to come to work.   I should also note that if you see the Titans in the Shotgun featuring max protection with the tight end as one of the backs (usually Jared Cook), he's heading to the flat.  Von Miller should (and will) key on this, I'm quite sure.

7.  If you see the wishbone, think sweep.  The Titans didn't use the wishbone often, but when they did, they ran a sweep each time.  If the Broncos see this look, their ends should play a wide technique to drive the play back to the inside.  

The Bottom Line

I wasn't as impressed as the media pundits with the Titans' win over the Ravens.  They really didn't physically outmatch the Ravens.  They got some turnovers and some big plays over the top of the Ravens' defense and up the seam.  Hasselbeck also played out of his mind, a performance which I don't think he'll repeat.

The Broncos have improved against the run with their one-gap system.  Jason Hunter, Robert Ayers, Joe Mays, and Brodrick Bunkley are good enough to stop this running game.  If I were the Broncos, I'd play the 4-3 Over defense, in which there are three linebackers off the line of scrimmage.  I'd also play a ton of Cover 2 with zone coverage underneath since the Titans don't run a lot of intermediate or deep routes over the middle of the field.  This way, the Broncos won't give up big plays with Champ Bailey likely out.  In addition, it will allow the Broncos' linebackers easier access to the flats.  These drops would help clog the quick slant routes and also allow more defenders to flow to the quick tosses the Titans will try from time to time.

Easier said than done, but I don't see the Broncos giving up a lot of points to the Titans.  It will once again come down to the Broncos' offense and how productive they can be.  


TJ Johnson can be reached through telegraph, ESP, Spanish interpretor, or via email: tjthedudejohnson@gmail.com. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter if you want to see him mock "the man."  He assumes you are following It’s All Over Fat Man on Facebook and Twitter, but if not, you're a nihilist, man.

I’m glad we had this talk.  Now, vaya con Dios, Brah.

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