The Tennessee Titans have hired Matt LaFleur for their offensive coordinator position. You already knew that! You are reading this website at risk of computer eye strain with the long articles, because you are a die-hard fan. Therefore, I’m writing this because I’m doing some film breakdowns as to what you can expect from LaFleur, with film from the Rams and from the Falcons 2016. Hardly anyone can predict the precise nature in which LaFleur will call the plays, but I’ll point out some positive aspects that (at least in my opinion) have been missing from the offense. While LaFleur was the offensive coordinator, Sean McVay called the plays with the Rams, which is why I’m including the Falcons in this article, because it’s just to show the systemic beliefs that may influence the Titans new coordinator.
Fast pace – No huddle:
The first thing mentioned by new coach Mike Vrabel about the offense dealt with the idea of replicating offensive schemes implemented in Mariota while playing at Oregon. One of the biggest staples of the Chip Kelly spread system is a no huddle system, which puts pressure on the defense. If you read the Patriots playoff game breakdown, you will see how speeding up the offense creates mismatches and confusion.
According to NFLSavant, the Rams ran the fourth highest percentage of No Huddle offense on the year, calling for it on 11.8% of their plays. For comparison, the Titans were 21st at 4.55% of their plays being in no huddle. The Rams faced the Texans in Week 10, and they ran 8 plays out of no huddle that week, while having a sizeable lead. The Titans faced the Texans twice, in Week 4 and in Week 13, going 1-1. In Week 4, the team ran no huddle to the tune of 0 (Zero) times, in a game they lost thoroughly. In Week 13, the Titans ran no huddle to the tune of 0 (Zero) times. I’m not saying that LaFleur is going to impersonate a Chip Kelly no huddle system, but he will incorporate elements to speed up the offense, instead of milking the clock.
Benefits of No-Huddle:
There are numerous benefits of no huddle, the biggest being an inherent advantage of the offense knowing the play calls. By nature, the offense is the aggressor on the field by vying to march down the field and get into the castle known as the end zone. Therefore, the defense in this scenario is the reactive opponent, which bases it’s plans after deciphering the formation shown by the offense. In a slow-paced offense, the defense has more time and resources to decipher the play formation. For one, they can scrutinize the personnel substitutions to understand strategy. If the offense substitutes a full back with two blocking tight ends, chances are the play is not going to be a deep pass down the field. In that certain scenario, the defense is now allowed to bring in their counterparts to match up against a run or shallow pass. The defensive coordinator has more time to game plan and call audibles against a slower paced offense, which allows for better game planning. In a no huddle offense, the offense can pre-call plays before a drive to help notify the offensive players of the basic calls on a given play. Often you will hear of scripted plays at the start of a game, which are essentially pre-planned plays to start the game and attack the defense. In no huddle, the QB can rush the players to the line and look for a quick mismatch and see if he can take advantage. Here is a play from the Patriots game to showcase my point:
You can see the Patriots rush to the line, which throws the defense into disarray. It leaves Gronkowski alone on the sidelines, for an easy pass. As mentioned in the defensive film review for that game, it’s only a misunderstanding on the route between Brady and his tight end that leads to an incomplete pass here. The speed at which the Patriots set up on this play caused the defense to panic, and it not only left Gronkowski wide open, it let another receiver be uncovered on the other side as well.
There isn’t a single team in the NFL that exclusively runs a no huddle offense, since the Lions were the highest at 25% last year. Therefore, no huddle is used more-so as a tactical approach to take advantage of mismatches. I’m going to use the Patriots again because most of you are familiar with their roster at this point. Tom Brady might just be the greatest QB of all time, so let’s take him out of the picture at this point. The Patriots have Cooks/Amendola/Hogan (and Edelman when healthy), with Dion Lewis as the running back, and Gronkowski as the tight end. Besides Brady, it’s Gronkowski that runs the no huddle mismatch for that team. When the team puts Cooks/Amendola/Hogan on the field at receiver, the defense is forced to bring in three defensive backs, and at least one safety. This lone safety is now facing three possible receivers, so the offense has the upper hand because at least one of the receivers has a pure one on one matchup. What does the defense do? They bring in another safety to form a two-safety look. Now, the defense has three cornerbacks and two safeties to cover three receivers. Now, there are six players left over to cover Gronkowski, and defend the run. One on one match up with Gronkowski will delight the Patriots every time. Bring down the safety to double Gronkowski, then the Patriots will just run away from the double team. Single out Gronkowski with the safety, then you have the one on one match up with him again, while still facing the three receivers, four defensive backs issue I mentioned earlier. If Gronkowski puts his hand down at the line of scrimmage, does the defense replace the second safety with a linebacker to help with run game? This is where the Patriots take advantage with no huddle (and most teams as well) because the defense has the wrong personnel in the game. Some personnel designed to stop the run on a 3rd and short play where Gronkowski lined up on the line of scrimmage aren’t designed to stop them while spread out. The no-huddle is used in the NFL to take advantage of these mismatches once they pop up on the field.
So how do the Titans match up for no huddle?
The Titans have a lot of options that match well for running a no huddle offense, because they have options galore. The first and foremost option is Mariota because a mobile QB presents a litany of issues for the defense because they have to keep a linebacker to make sure he doesn’t have a free running lane. The team has a good running back in Derrick Henry, who can take advantage of mismatches and has the burst to hit the outside. Corey Davis, Rishard Matthews, Eric Decker, and Taywan Taylor form a good receiving core with route running abilities. The wildcard is Delanie Walker, who can act as a smaller version of Gronkowski and create mismatches. The team can’t afford to run two blocking tight end sets consistently and expect to get down the field. The one thing the team lacks is a deep threat, and it should be a major priority in the upcoming draft. The film review from the Patriots game showed the offense being stifled with single high safeties, and that can be countered by a deep threat, which does not exist on the roster right now. I’ll do some draft write-ups for possible targets in the upcoming months.
One of the things I noticed while watching Titans games is that, they rarely move Mariota out of the pocket on designed passes. It was always RPO in the pocket and then either runs or passes from the pocket. I’ll put in this play, from the Rams against Houston:
Forget the result of the play, but look at the options the defense has to worry about on this play. The defense has to worry about Gurley standing next to the QB as a primary option in the red zone. The defense has to worry about Tavon Austin cutting across the formation prior to the snap. The defense has to worry about QB run with Goff. However, what I like best about this play is getting the QB away from the pocket because it improves the angle for the pass. Don’t look at the QB on this play here for argument’s sake. Look at the two routes to the right side of the field. Imagine if the QB is sitting in the pocket, then try to find the throwing lane. The shorter route is taken away instantaneously, and the deeper route only has an over the top pass option. However, moving the QB out of the pocket opens up passing lanes because Goff has better angles to each receiver. The whole point of the play is to scare the defense into over-loading to the left side of the formation, then roll out to the right and have passing lanes. This is a great set up by the Rams, albeit the result isn’t that positive.
Time to Pass:
When you have a mobile QB, the defense can’t be quite as aggressive because the QB can beat them for QB sneaks.
Here is a link to next Gen stats, in terms of time to throw.
If you notice the “TT” column, notice the leaders on the list. Watson, Wilson, Taylor, Hundley (limited time), Goff, Brissett, Kizer, Prescott, Keenum, and Winston. Besides Keenum, all of them are mobile QBs, because teams can’t take the risk to blitz them consistently. With the exception of Taylor, I think Mariota is a better runner than every QB on that list. Where did Mariota rank? Behind Tom Savage and Trevor Siemian. The spread-out option puts less defenders in the box, which takes away possible blitzes, or longer paths for blitzing defenders.
I’ve held the theory that spread offenses spread the field horizontally, to weaken them horizontally. It’s all about a numbers game with finding options matched up one on one in open space.
This is a play in the red zone, and notice the spacing on this play. The Titans throw out two safeties in the red zone along with press man cover, yet the Texans get a passing touchdown. There are a few things to notice here, because take note of the distance between Kevin Byard and DeAndre Hopkins on this play. At the start, you can see Byard slowly slanting towards the receiver and that throws off his run protection, which is vital for this play. When Watson runs the RPO, Byard reacts by moving forward a step, which reverses his momentum to covering Hopkins. Had the receiver been closer to the line of scrimmage, then Byard is playing more towards the center of the field, and doesn’t need to make such a drastic leap forward to defend the running lane because an inside route by the receiver is coming into his zone. If the receiver goes outside, he won’t have a play anyway, so Byard can react to RPO first and then pass. In this instance, Byard reacts the same fashion, but the distance is greater, thus greater reaction, and it takes him out of the play. Once Byard is out of the play, this is a pretty easy throw for Watson to make. The other thing to notice is the linebackers because one linebacker is tasked with the running back, while the second middle linebacker is sitting in the middle of the field even after the running back is out of the play. The linebacker has containment responsibilities on the mobile QB, thus taking him out as a possible pass defender, which is part of the reason why mobile QBs rank highly on the time to throw stats I linked to earlier.
Two Plays to Check Out Here;
How many times did you see the Pats in single safety coverage, with the Titans not taking deep shots? Here, the Texans run a single safety, who isn’t even that deep and the Rams absolutely burn them down the field. It’s the only way to get defenses to back off, and it’s paramount that the offense attacks single high safety looks vertically.
This is a play from last year’s Super Bowl, and recognize the coverage from the Patriots. They essentially move to a single high safety look, and the Falcons move to vertical routes because the safety can’t defend all three of those routes.
The Rams this year, and the Falcons last year showed aggressiveness against single high safety looks, and it’s paramount that the Titans follow the same path as well. However, they do need to invest in a burner receiver, so keep an eye on the 40 times at this year’s combine.
Deep Threat Receiver:
I expect the Titans to acquire a speedster wide receiver in the off-season. We have three teams to notice trends with the offensive schemes.
Kyle Shanahan: Everyone believes that LeFleur is influenced by Kyle Shanahan in terms of offensive philosophies. When Shanahan became the offensive coordinator in Washington, he had speedster Santana Moss on the roster, who saw an uptick in production, setting career highs in targets and catches. When he moved to the Browns, he brought in speedster Taylor Gabriel. After one year in Atlanta, he brought in Gabriel once again and Matt Ryan went from an 89 QB rating to a 117 rating. If you notice Gabriel’s stats, his best two years were with Shanahan, while disappointing in the years out of his offense. When Shanahan went to the 49ers, he brought in speedster Marquise Goodwin, who set career highs in targets, catches, and yards.
Sean McVay: When he took over the offensive coordinator jobs in Washington, he brought in noted deep threat DeSean Jackson immediately into the fold and had him over 1000 yards in 2/3 years with the Redskins. When he became the coach of the Rams, one of his first moves was to trade for Sammy Watkins as well, because they want to attack the field vertically. There is even chatter about franchising Watkins this off-season because the deep threat is so vital to their attack.
Bill O’Brien: I have to assume some of O’Brien’s offensive philosophies have rubbed off on Vrabel, so I’ll include him here. When he became the offensive assistant coach for the Patriots in 2007, they famously acquired Randy Moss, one of the biggest reasons the NFL adopted two deep safeties look, further supplemented a linebacker into coverage for the Tampa 2 coverage. As the Houston coach, he drafted both Will Fuller and Braxton Miller as speedsters. The Fuller/Watson connection is important because Fuller was a stud with the mobile QB implemented on offense. Defenses couldn’t just throw two deep safety looks quite as often with a mobile QB moving around in the pocket. Fuller played with Watson for 4 games and scored 7 touchdowns. He played 6 games without Watson and scored a grand total of 0 touchdowns.
I think it’s safe to say that the Titans will be looking for a deep threat potential in either the draft or free agency. While Taywan Taylor is quick, he’s not a true burner deep threat and more of a 4th receiver type at this point. I believe the Titans will move on from either Decker or Matthews, and put a burner in the slot.
Much like offensive philosophies, I expect influences on LaFleur from his past mentors.
Kyle Shanahan: I expect the team to implement zone blocking schemes to help out the running backs. Kyle Shanahan borrowed and improved the zone blocking schemes made famous by his father, Mike. I would presume a higher average yards per attempt from the running game, which can help out Henry immensely. When Shanahan first took over the Texans, they were coming off a year in which the team averaged 3.8 yards per attempt for rushing. The first year, the number climbed to 4.3 yards and 4.8 yards in year 3. The middle year, the stat dips to 3.5 yards per attempt, but it’s partially because star RB Arian Foster was injured, which forced them to start backup players. When Shanahan took over the Redskins, they were coming off a year in which they averaged 3.9 yards per attempt. In his first year, it was at 4.2 yards per attempt, then 4.0 yards in the second year with a collection of no-name running backs. In the third year, the number climbed to 5.2 yards pet attempt, and then 4.8 yards per attempt in the last year. So in those years, you can clearly see an uptick in the running game. The Browns saw a downtick in stats, moving from 4.0 yards per attempt to 3.6 yards per attempt, but it’s the Browns. In Atlanta, the first year saw a slight dip in stats from 4.0 yards per attempt to 3.8 yards per attempt, but saw an uptick in his second year to 4.6 yards per attempt. The 49ers ran for 4.1 yards per attempt after running for 4.4 yards per attempt, but it’s hard to decipher the Chip Kelly offensive stats, and then project them onto transition to a more traditional offense.
Sean McVay: When he took over as the head coach for the Rams, they got 4.3 yards per attempt, a hefty raise from 3.3 yards per attempt. He also got a career year from Todd Gurley as well, so things look promising for Derrick Henry.
I think the addition of zone blocking with deep threat receiver will really help in creating better running lanes for the backs. I expect the Titans to go after a deep receiver and possibly another running back as well if possible to be Henry’s backup.
At this point, it’s just educated guesses as to the type of offense and impact LaFleur will have on the team. The signs point to a more aggressive offense with zone blocking schemes, and the whole offense should see an uptick in production. If you were drafting for fantasy sports, I would probably buy low on Mariota after this season, especially if they bring in a deep threat receiver. Ownership seems to have gone away from the overly conservative approach of the last coaching staff.
Check back with us for other Titans news throughout the off-season. I’ll write some draft scouting reports for possible targets in the upcoming months and some film breakdowns for any free agents signed by the team.
Questions for Comments:
- Would you bring in a deep threat receiver? If so, who? If not, why?
- How would you grade the hire?
Primarily, I work as a real estate agent at Keller Williams Realty in Franklin, Tennessee. I’ve lived in Nashville for almost a decade now, and my love for the city only grows deeper, like a 440 pothole. I follow the Titans closely, so I enjoy writing about the team and breaking down film. However, my main job consists of being a real estate agent, therefore if you need any kind of help with the sale/purchase of a home, I’d be happy to help you through the process. If you just want to talk about real estate, feel free to email me as well. I write a real estate blog as well, which I’ll leave a link to at the bottom of this section (as well as a few other places on the website) so please check it out.
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