After a first half of football that was beginning to look like last week’s thrashing by the Cardinals, the Tennessee Titans offense came alive late in the second half of Sunday’s 33-30 overtime win on the road over the Seattle Seahawks. The halftime adjustments enabled the Titans to rally after trailing 30-16 with 13:06 remaining in the game.

Carrying most of the second-half load was Derrick Henry, who rumbled for 182 yards and three touchdowns on a career-high 35 carries.

The win was not only dependent on Henry’s legs, but also on the leg of newly signed Titans kicker Randy Bullock, who converted on four of five of his field goal attempts, including his game-winning 36-yard make in overtime.

However, the Titans’ win does not come without criticisms. After being hired in the offseason to replace Arthur Smith, Todd Downing has been put under the microscope as the new offensive coordinator for Tennessee’s star-studded offense. Predictability on early downs has been one of the bugaboos for the Titans in their first two games in the Downing era.

There is no question that the Titans’ identity on offense starts and ends with Derrick Henry. Every fan in the building on Sunday knows that the Titans have to establish the run in order to win the game. But so far in the 2021 season, defenses are making sure to bottle up Henry on early downs to keep the Titans off kilter.

Of the 14 first-down plays the Titans ran in the first half against Seattle, Downing called eight runs and six passes. The game was fairly balanced, all things considered, but it is the lack of production out of the run-game early that made some Titans fans scratch their heads. Henry managed just 24 yards on his eight first-down carries in the opening half, equating to a measly three yards per carry.

No. 22’s struggles on first down continued up until the 12:26 mark in the fourth quarter when Henry broke loose on the edge for a 60-yard touchdown to pull the Titans closer at 30-23. Thanks to the chunk play, Henry’s average on first downs for the game came in a bit skewed at 6.45 YPA (20 carries for 129 yards). But without the 60-yard TD, Henry averaged just 3.63 YPA on first downs throughout the contest.

Interestingly enough, it was QB Ryan Tannehill who was able to find much of his success on first downs in Sunday’s win over the Seahawks. Tannehill went 11-15 for 117 yards to go along with one scramble for seven yards on the 16 pass plays called by Downing which generated 7.75 YPP. All four of Tannehill’s incompletions were drops by the typically sure-handed A.J. Brown.

Keeping the defense on its toes by mixing in play-action passes on early downs was a major strength over the past two seasons with Smith calling the shots on offense. Setting up the pass with the run is what defenses are expecting, but when you have Brown and Julio Jones on the outside, there is no decoy on the face of the planet better than Henry.

Coaches always say it is easier to fix problems following a win instead of a loss, but this marks the second week in a row that Downing’s first-down tendencies have come into question.

Featured image courtesy of George Walker IV/The Tennessean