Welcome to the Positive Passing Plays: Titans vs. Chargers (Week 7) article, as we look at how the offense rebounded from last week and put forth a good effort. In the end, it fell short, but the offense did show plenty of life.
Positive Passing Plays:
The first pass of the game for Mariota, and it’s a big third down conversion to Tajae Sharpe. I’m not going to say this is an exceptional pass, because it’s thrown behind the receiver and late. Notice how Sharpe had to wait for the ball, after running the curl route, but does a good job of sealing the defender with his body. I think Mariota adjusts the angle of this pass because there is a hand in the passing lane from a defensive line player. It’s a good set up from the offense, because there are three receivers to the right side of the formation, with only two defenders anywhere near, and a middle linebacker playing at least 5 yards inside. The QB has his pick of receivers here, and makes a nice throw to extend the drive. I’ve noticed a hesitation from Mariota in recent weeks to throw to his right side, which is still concerning. The unsung hero of this play is actually Dion Lewis, because he does a good job with pass protection here. He takes on the blitzing defender by himself, allowing the offensive line to block a stunt and keep the pocket clean.
On the outset, this is a fairly simple play, but I would like to breakdown the read at the line of scrimmage. Obviously, it’s play action, but it’s the ramifications from it and the safety valves built in that intrigue me, and why you shouldn’t give up on the coaching staff. The first thing to notice here are the linebackers in the middle, as they are the biggest deterrent to a running play, since they can block both A gaps. Ideally, you want them to bite on the play action and move up field. If the linebackers move up field, then this is an easy throw to the first tight end (lined up closest to the line of scrimmage) because he’ll have a free release to the inside. In this case, the linebackers don’t bite on the play action at all, as they both fall back into coverage, which allows Henry to run right through the A gap, and find himself free for the pass. If only one linebacker fell back into coverage (the one covering the first TE), and the second linebacker stayed for Henry, then there is a second tight end to the right side that is getting open for the quick pass as well. It’s a play design where the Titans had a built in option for any reaction from those two linebackers, which is why the play was a success.
A play action pass to the running back once again, although this is just a terrible coverage scheme by the Chargers. They bite on the play action as a whole, yet completely abandon Henry once Mariota retains the ball, which allows for this easy completion. Once again, the offense is set up to thrive from the result. If the linebackers bite, the deep pass to either the tight end down the middle or Taywan Taylor down the sideline is open. The Chargers see those routes and run back into coverage, which leaves an easy opening for Henry to catch the ball and run down the field.
I know this play alone might slow down the loading time of this page, but I wanted to show the pre-snap read. Notice Davis going in motion, and the defender not following, which indicates to Mariota that it’s zone coverage. Once it’s determined that the defense is in zone, Mariota makes an audible and the only real target on this play is Sharpe. One receiver is running a crossing route, to occupy the linebackers in the middle. The second receiver basically cuts off his route because he needs to pull the defender out of the throwing lane. The audible makes Sharpe the primary receiver in this case, where he’s going to find the soft spot in the zone, while the other two receivers work to clear the path to that soft spot. This is a great example of Mariota recognizing coverage, and adjusting to it pre-snap.
This play is only on the positive side because the end result is a completed pass. The Titans have three receivers to the left of the formation, while the Chargers show blitz out of a single high safety look. However, the Chargers retreat to a 2 safety look before the snap, albeit the safety doesn’t do a good job of rotating over. Mariota has the read to the left side from the start, mainly because it’s just a numbers game. He has three receivers to the left, with two defenders in the vicinity, with a safety over the top. The problem occurs when Mariota reads the defense wrong, because the edge defender doesn’t drop back in coverage, but rather rushes the passer. At this point, the numbers game is even more in favor of the Titans, with three receivers against one defender. In the slot, Sharpe has a free release, with the middle linebackers are dropping back into coverage on the inside. However, right next to Sharpe, Corey Davis has a free release and open space because the safety hasn’t rolled over well, so he’s wide open for this pass. Nonetheless, Mariota is staring down Sharpe the entire route, but this is a bad set up for the offense. The linebacker is to the inside of Sharpe, but he’s also running an inside turning curl route, so Mariota can’t lead him to the inside. He has to place this ball to the outside shoulder, which would take longer as you can see him hesitate to release the pass. The ball barely gets by the defender and Sharpe reels it in for a catch, but this is a situation where Mariota should read Davis and then Sharpe, instead of locking in on Sharpe. I blame this on Mariota, because you can notice the timing of the routes between those receivers. Davis is the first one to cut and look upfield, signaling that his read should have been first in the progression between them, but Mariota ignores him. The throw is great, and it accomplishes the goal, but this is a bad read from the QB.
There isn’t much to break down here, it’s essentially a WR screen to Dion Lewis. I just put this here because I love watching Lewis run in space with the ball, adds such a dangerous element to the offense.
Isn’t this the exact same play as No. 2 in this article? The first one was with Henry and this one is with Lewis. Other than that, they look very similar as to the important parts.
Hip rotation to the rescue here, as Mariota hits Sharpe down the field. As Davis goes across the formation, the defender follows him, thus indicating man coverage. The first read for Mariota is to the left side of the formation but it looks like Cameron Batson is well covered in the slot, so he moves to his second read. Notice Sharpe to the outside on this play, because he’s going to manipulate the hips of the cornerback, in man coverage. He starts off his route to the outside, forcing the defender to shift his hips facing the sidelines, before the receiver cuts inside. This move creates separation as they go down the field because the defender is in recovery mode as he tries to keep up vertically. He’s not in a position to drive on this pass horizontally, which is why Sharpe can cut inside and give a passing lane to Mariota. The QB does a great job of hitting the receiver, and it’s a success.
A big completion to Tajae Sharpe on the final drive, as Mariota hits him near the sideline for a first down. The play is fairly simple, and the read is deep to short for Mariota. If Sharpe is open down the sidelines, then hit him for the major gain, or check down to Derrick Henry, who is running a similar play from earlier in the game. In this case, Sharpe has space to operate, at which point Mariota makes the throw. Notice how Mariota releases the ball after Sharpe makes the cut because he wants to make sure there is enough space for this pass first, as they can’t afford a turnover. The most interesting thing on this play to me doesn’t have anything to do with the pass, but rather the route running. Sharpe and Darius Jennings are the two wide receivers, and they are running mirror routes. However, notice their routes and how they break to the outside. Sharpe runs a crisp route, where he makes his cut with his inside foot (the one closest to the middle of the field) which allows him to push off faster to the inside. On the other side, notice how Jennings does a shuffle step, and starts his break with his outside foot, where it’s more like he’s pulling himself to the outside. Jennings therefore has to take another step to achieve the push off effect, at which point his defender already knows the direction of the route. It’s a subtle difference in routes, but makes a huge difference in creating separation.
The touchdown pass on 4th down to Luke Stocker, and the tight end comes down with a great catch. I’m not sure how this is not a penalty, because the defender is practically tackling him before he catches the pass, but nonetheless, the ball is caught in the endzone. Mariota has two receivers to choose from on this play, and he throws to Stocker, rather than the longer pass towards the back of the end zone. The Chargers sell out for the run, and end up paying with a touchdown.
The passing game looked improved in this game, and they seemed to be more in attack mode against the zone defense from the Chargers. The receiver that stood out all game was Tajae Sharpe, and Mariota seemed to really look for him at crucial times. The coaches also saw something with the play action pass to the RB through the A gaps in film, because they repeatedly went to that play for chunk yards. While the ending was less than favorable, the offense did take a step forward in the game.
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