Welcome to another article with a retro film breakdown of the wild card game between the Tennessee Titans and Kansas City Chiefs. The offensive scheme is abysmal last year, and you can definitely expect to see an improvement this year. I wrote this after the game, but the site wasn’t up then.
Negative Passing Plays:
The first mistake of the game, and this is simply a bad throw by Mariota. Pre-play, Mariota makes the right read because the Chiefs are playing a two-safety look, with a defender playing far away from the line of scrimmage. The read on this play is simple, because Mariota is reading the outside cornerback, who is covering Corey Davis. If the defender sticks with Davis, then this is an easy pass to Derrick Henry on the quick out route. However, the Chiefs are playing zone coverage, thus the defender is staying directly in the path Henry. At this point, Mariota makes the right read and goes towards Davis, but makes a horrible throw. The ball is placed too far inside when Davis is making the outside cut, and it falls incomplete. There is a case to be made for miscommunication on this play, because Davis may have made the cut too early. However, this is a major miss for the offense because Mariota has to convert this pass.
Eric Decker makes an absolutely horrible drop on this play, and the only reason it shows up here is because he dropped it. The Chiefs show a single high safety at first, but then moves to a two-safety zone look at the last minute. The initial read on this play is Delanie Walker, and it is set up to be a positive situation until a defender prevents Mariota from stepping up. Notice how Mariota is setting up as Walker is making his cut, because the defender has his hips turned to the wrong side. If you’ve read the articles on this site, I emphasize hip rotation like a salsa instructor. Once Walker makes the cut the pass is set to go towards him, but Mariota has to abandon the pocket and move to the left. In this case, Decker makes a nice cut to the inside and finds a soft spot in the zone. Mariota does a great job at recognizing the coverage and the open receiver, while making a wonderful throw. Unfortunately, Eric Decker just flat out drops the pass, and then yells into the ground. I feel as if Decker has good hands, so this drop is just an unforeseen situation.
This isn’t a bad decision by Mariota, just a bad throw. Remember that Chiefs game against the Raiders where the defense got called for pass interference penalties with the time running out, allowing the Raiders to score the winning touchdown? Well, those refs weren’t at this game. How is this not a penalty? The corner-back is giving Eric Decker a bear hug while he’s running down the field. Mariota makes an anticipatory throw, but just over-throws Decker. The only other thing to note is the clinic put up by Davis onto the outside. Notice how he manipulates the hips of the defender, gets him to turn the hips to the outside, before cutting inside. It’s a great route and shows his potential for routes, so it’s good to see him display some talent with his route running.
So much blame to go around on this play, although the least of it is surprisingly on Mariota. The biggest issue with this play lays at the foot of the offensive scheme here, because the receivers are too close to each other, essentially allowing Marcus Peters to jump this route. The play needs to be more spread out because Mariota is reading the defender on Walker, and makes the correct decision. Once again, notice how the hips of the defender are turned towards the wrong way as Walker makes his cut. The tight end is open on this play, and the pass by Mariota would be right on point. The second failure on this play lays at the feet of Corey Davis. The young receiver’s role on this play is to clear out the corner-back, so he needs to run straight to the end zone to clear Peters out of the play. However, notice how Davis slows down on this play to set up his defender, which creates a spacing issue. If Davis is running on full speed, then Peters has to follow him further down the field, at which point he wouldn’t be able to jump the pass route. Unfortunately, it goes south for the offense, and the pass is intercepted. The only other thing to notice on this play is the ankle breaker that Peters puts on Decker on the interception return.
The forward progress sack heard around the country. I’m not sure why this is not a fumble because Mariota just got flat out strip sacked. The refs came up with a horrible explanation in the moment because they made a mistake, albeit not the only one on the play. The play starts out as simple, as it’s a third down and short situation, where the offense goes to a pick play. However, the officials make the first mistake on this play because Decker is not only held, he’s pretty much turned around by his defender. It is textbook holding as the defender keeps Decker from running towards the middle. The second aspect to check out on this play is the exotic blitz called by Bob Sutton, and how it confuses Mariota. Sutton coached under Rex Ryan with the Jets, who’s notorious for coming up with exotic blitzes and stunts on third downs, and he shows it here. The Chiefs line up off-center with three linemen to the left side of the formation, and one defender on the other side. There are two linebackers in play here as well, but they both blitz on this play, which throws the offensive line into a challenging position. The Titans communicate well on the offensive line here, but this blitz is designed extremely well. The play is doomed as soon as the pick play is blown up by holding, because it’s not designed to stop the middle linebacker blitz. The right tackle takes his defender, and the center takes his defender as well. Notice how the guard switches to the defender from the center, which frees up the center to block the linebacker. However, the genius of this blitz is the B gap space to the left guard, which effectively takes the center out of the play, allowing the linebacker to go straight at the QB. At the start of the play, the Titans have six blockers (since the running back in helping in protection) and the Chiefs bring six players at the QB. However, the angle and design of this blitz renders the center useless because he must execute the handoff to the right guard, and then try to conduct a handoff from the right guard, which is too much to handle. The center is blocked in by the left guard, which means he can’t do anything but watch. The second, and biggest, error from the refs on this play is the quick whistle. Notice how the ref raises his arm quickly blowing the play dead, most likely because he didn’t see the ball being fumbled from his angle. When the whistle is blown, the play is considered dead because some players may not go after the ball. I believe the refs blew the play dead too early on this play, and then used a forward progress rule to cover up the mistake. However, since they missed the holding call on Decker, it evens out somewhat. Also, the offense doesn’t attack Revis at all, constantly running in routes when Revis is weak towards the out route because of his hip positioning.
I put this play here strictly to criticize the play call, because Titans have two possible receivers against six defenders, which is almost impossible to succeed against. Down at the goal line, there is a major issue with angles because the defenders have less area to cover, thus spacing is paramount. However, the offense is in a tight formation here, and the two receivers basically just run into a wall of defenders. It’s just a horrible call because there isn’t any option for Mariota on this play. If the offense wants to only run two receivers, they have to spread them out to create more space and better angles for throws.
This is a two-point conversion, that fails for the Titans. Chip Kelly and the Oregon Ducks ran plenty of two-point conversions, and it looks like the Titans and Mariota tried a similar tactic. Unfortunately, it looked like they had not practiced this play at all. The play is doomed because one of the linemen isn’t in a stance, which means an illegal formation, thus killing the play anyway. To top it off, Mariota makes a bad throw because he doesn’t step into the throw. Notice his footwork on this play, as he throws it flat footed, which causes the velocity and trajectory of the football to dip, and delay the catch.
If you have the chance, please take a look at the Marcus Peters interception from earlier in the game. The gist of the coverage as far as Peters is concerned was a deep route undercut by an out route, and Peters is defending the deep route. In both cases, Peters sees the undercutting route, peels off his coverage, and goes after the out route. I started the film early on this play to show Mariota calling an audible to this play at the line of scrimmage. This is a great recognition by Mariota at the line of scrimmage, because he’s baiting Peters, and using his aggressiveness against him. The out route to Henry is the bait, and Peters bites on it as Mariota anticipated. Notice when Mariota is starting his throwing motion, Peters is right next to Davis, so this shows that Mariota is assuming the out route is going to distract Peters enough to give some space for Davis. However, Peters doesn’t just get distracted, but rather completely engrossed in the out route, leaving Davis wide open down the field. Mariota makes this throw with the assumption Peters would be somewhat involved in the play, and therefore tries to make the perfect pass, and fails. However, it looks much worse than it is, because Mariota makes this pass thinking Peter might at least be close to Davis, thus didn’t want to risk another interception. It’s definitely a missed opportunity.
I don’t think I can emphasize the issue with game planning for this game enough. It’s one of the most mundane offensive plans out there, and no surprise that the coaching staff was ousted, even after the victory. The game tape against the Patriots is far worse.
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