Welcome to the Negative Passing Plays: Titans vs. Bills (Week 5) article, as we look at the all the negative passing plays that led to the loss in Buffalo. The team certainly played conservative, and Mariota didn’t take open receivers down the field, to the right side for unknown reasons.
Negative Passing Plays:
The first play of the game and this is just a terrible design to begin with, and playing extremely conservative. The defense is playing single high safety, and putting 8 in the box, expecting run. This is a play where Mariota has to check out from the play-call and find something going down the field. The initial read is to the outside receiver, but he’s well covered, and it’s probably a good thing that he didn’t make this throw. Jonnu Smith is also well covered, as Mariota escapes the pocket, but this is a throw away situation. The actual throw here is extremely dangerous, and a major interception risk because there is a defender in-between his receiver and the ball. If you notice the start of the play, the outside cornerback is playing a bit outside of the receiver, which should indicate that he wants outside leverage. Mariota has to recognize this and call an audible because the route tree ran right into what the defense was showing.
The second play of the game, and this looks to be an error on Henry, although it’s hard to tell. Henry splits wide and gets an easy situation here with a defender playing back, but I don’t understand why he’s trying to do a juke move when the defender is 5 yards away. He needs to turn around for the ball faster, but he runs the in route, which is not what Mariota was expecting.
I have a few issues on this play, with the first one being the same as the first play. The Bills are showing single high safety and stacking the box, yet the offense doesn’t check into any deep routes. Mariota makes a good throw into a crowd, as Taylor catches the ball, and then promptly gets tackled, which leads to a fumble. The second issue with this play is how would this be considered a fumble? Taylor catches the ball, makes one step before hitting, and the ball pops out.
The progression read from Mariota here is baffling, because he’s looking to his left to start the play. Once again, notice how the defense is stacking the box, and how I complained about the lack of aggressiveness from the offense. In this case, the offense does get aggressive down the field, but Mariota moves on from the progression, for reasons I don’t understand. Notice the outside receiver going deep to the left of the formation, and the hip position for the defender, because it’s facing the middle of the field. For an out route, but the receiver has to turn only 90 degrees, while the defender has to do a 180 degree turn, which means the offensive player has an advantage. Mariota sees this advantage, yet turns away from the option, to throw a pass in the middle to Corey Davis. The progress shows the outside receiver breaking open, but it goes for naught. Corey Davis is the target on this play, but he doesn’t make a clean cut and his route cuts short, allowing the ball to fall incomplete. It’s a throw that should have given the receiver a chance, but Mariota should have taken his first read because it had a better chance of completion.
The plan on this play seems like a quick hit to Dion Lewis, but he’s well covered, and then it just falls apart from there. Why didn’t Mariota run once the defensive end jumps in the air to bat the ball down on 3rd and 2? The Bills are taking away the two receivers in the area, and Mariota has enough mobility to run for the first down, with the defensive end in the air. The main culprit on the play is Jack Conklin, who falls, allowing the defender to pressure Mariota. The QB make a horrible decision to throw the ball high in the air, but it barely makes it to the sideline. The Bills defender barely misses an interception as he’s just out of bounds when he catches the pass. This deep in the red zone, a sack doesn’t take you out of FG territory, so Mariota was better off taking the sack here and avoiding the possible interception. The best option for Mariota would have been to run up the field, once Lewis was covered, but I can understand his surprise that Conklin fell down, so the whole blame can’t go on him.
This is another baffling choice here, because Marcus Mariota makes a bad read to begin with, and then the error is compounded by some terrible communication. The first problem here is that, Mariota has three other options with open passing lanes but Mariota goes towards Nick Williams. The outside receiver to the right side of the formation is open for a pass, Jonnu Smith is open in the middle, and Dion Lewis is open as well out of the backfield. The second aspect of the play seems to be a miscommunication or misread from the QB. From this angle, it looks like Nick Williams may have run a wrong route because the ball is placed well in front of the receiver. Take the defender out of this play, and the best-case scenario is a diving catch from the receiver. If Williams was supposed to run a crossing route, then the throw makes more sense but it’s hard to determine from the film. I’ve seen breakdowns blaming Nick Williams, and it’s easy to pile on him (and I will, later on) from this game, but this is a play where Williams and Mariota have to share the blame.
This should have been a touchdown, because Taywan Taylor is open on this play. The young receiver has inside position while he’s running by the safety in the middle, so Mariota should have placed this ball towards the middle of the field. However, Mariota throws this pass towards the sidelines, which forces the receiver to turn around, and the ball falls incomplete. There is direct pressure in the face of the QB, but this pass has to be throw straight, because that’s the straight line route for the receiver, thus the quickest. When the throw goes to the sidelines, it’s the straight line route for the defender, so it’s easier for him to close the space between him and the receiver. It’s just a terrible decision, although Tyler Marz absolutely gets destroyed on this play as well. As a tackle, he literally gets pushed straight to the ground as the defender runs right over him.
I want you to read the defense at pre-snap, because they clearly show their weakness on this 3rd and 13. The Bills line up 2 defenders with a safety on three receivers to the right side of the formation. The Bills are essentially playing zone cover here, but there are holes in the coverage. Mariota shows a reluctance to pull the trigger on the long pass here, because that’s what the defense is giving them on this play. Notice the middle receiver in the three set bunch here, because that’s the receiver the defense is willing to beat them for the first down. The Bills are trying to bait a line drive out throw to the receiver, as you can see the outside cornerback drop back into the passing lane. The safety takes the inside position against the in route, so the pass has to be deep along the sidelines. Mariota reads the play, but doesn’t pull the trigger, instead moving on to the other side field for Dion Lewis. It’s not evident in this angle, but Lewis is pretty much the dump off option here, but Mariota has to take the shot here to the middle receiver. You can argue that it’s a tough throw from the far hash mark, but then this shouldn’t be the route called either. The Titans are set up well against the defense, Mariota sees the play develop, but gets scared from throwing the pass deep. These are the types of opportunities that Mariota has to take advantage of, if he expects to develop into a premier passer in the league. The pass to Lewis is completely off, as it hits the ground, mainly because Mariota throws it without stepping into the throw, in a crowded pocket. If you notice the other side of the field, the play is set up to create a mismatch too against the zone. The receiver is running an out route, and the Lewis is running out of the backfield. It’s designed to be a read for the linebacker. If the linebacker drops back, then dump off to Lewis in space, and if the linebacker stays with Lewis, then the out route to the receiver is open. However, Mariota spends way too much time reading the other side of the field, and the timing is somewhat thrown off. While the pass is terrible, I think the bigger blame goes on Mariota for reading this play slowly, and avoiding the throw down the field.
I’m not going to break down this play much, because it’s a broken play and Mariota is trying to make something out of nothing. I just don’t understand how this not pass interference. The defender clearly interferes with the receiver, and doesn’t even look for the ball, but it’s not a penalty.
You knew this play was showing up here, and most of the blame goes on Nick Williams, who got promptly released after this game. However, some of the blame has to go on Mariota because Jonnu Smith is wide open for a pass, and he’s the primary read as well. In the end zone angle, Mariota is staring at Smith as he’s wide open and then refuses to pull the trigger. I don’t understand why he’s being cautious here with a receiver being this open on his primary read. Mariota progresses from his first read, which makes it a broken play, and then throws an absolute gem to Nick Williams, and the receiver lets it fall right through his arms. Just a terrible drop, and quite possibly a game changing play.
This is almost a disaster of a play, and thankfully ends up bouncing out of bounds. If you can, please read Positive Passing Play 5 from the Positives article before watching this play. It’s a very similar read, but to the other side of the field, on a 3rd and 8. The Bills have two defenders near three receivers, but the team is running a different route concept. If the linebacker drops back, the first slot receiver will get behind him, just like Play 5 in the other article. In the other example, the outside receiver is running an out route whereas he is running a crossing route here. If the linebacker blitzes, then it has to go to the outside receiver in this route combination. This should be an easy completion, because his defender is too far away to challenge this crossing route. The two slot receivers become blockers on this hot read pass built into the play-call but Mariota doesn’t pull the trigger, and tries to escape the pocket. Unfortunately, he’s tackled, and loses the ball. It’s an underrated play by Taylor here to knock this ball out of bounds to retain possession, and you can see the Bills being upset by it.
This was a team loss for the Titans, and I believe they played far too conservative to walk away with a win. Marcus Mariota was especially risk averse, declining to throw the ball deep to open receivers on more than one option. However, the main play from this game will always be the Nick Williams drop, because that’s a catch any NFL receiver has to make. It’s somewhat depressing to see him make the drop, because I thought he looked especially good in the pre-season. The offense played way too conservative here, and the Bills took advantage of a few breaks to steal the win. I expect the Titans to be much more aggressive next week, although I’m a bit worried about Mariota’s wrist. In two blatant instances, I thought Mariota declined from throwing deep passes to his right, which could be a sign of hesitation about his wrist.
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