Since the Mike Vrabel and Jon Robinson era began, the Tennessee Titans have taken a rather unorthodox approach to the ways of modern offensive football.
Instead of spread concepts and five wide sets, the Titans have leaned on the idea of punishing defenses with their physical run game and the explosive play action passing plays that come as a result of their success while running the football.
This formula has worked for years now, with Derrick Henry leading the charge and consistently maintaining his status as one of the league’s most intimidating forces. But over the last year and a half, problems have arose as a result of this approach.
A tendency to lean on the running game too often, predictable play-calling, and an obsession with staying loyal to scheme instead of actively putting the ball in the hands of your playmakers are only a few.
But another issue has seemingly popped up that has the potential to wreck the Titans’ offense even more than the previous three.
And that’s a lack of threatening speed offensively.
This has been a concern
Throughout the off-season, there was speculation regarding what the Titans would do to add speed to an offense that desperately needed some.
The Titans had just traded A.J. Brown and Julio Jones — two of the Titans’ best deep threats on paper — and there was work to be done to replace what they could do in terms of aiding the offense to push the football down the field.
But as the off-season came and went, we began to see the approach the Titans were taking to address this pending problem. Which was to be patient, evaluate options, and pounce on any solutions that exist.
However, the wait and see approach hasn’t garnered much headway. In fact, it has left the Titans in a vulnerable spot offensively.
Without any dynamic speed available to threaten defenses over the top, teams have the option available to focus solely on the running game and dismiss any concerns about any downfield passing attack the Titans may want to establish.
We’ve seen the Titans’ only opponent this season engage in this exact action. If the Titans don’t figure out how to prevent this from becoming an obstacle soon, then this offense is going to be in for a rough go.
How has the lack of speed hurt the Titans?
It has been said for years that you can’t draw any definite conclusions from Week One of the NFL season. But for the Titans, their unique roster situation at receiver provides us the opportunity to do the exact opposite.
In the second half of the Titans’ season opening loss, the Titans’ passing attack was met with a familiar, yet highly effective look. Normally, defenses stack the box and roll out single high safety looks to sell out on stopping Derrick Henry from running wild.
But the Titans have always had a plan for that, which was to exploit those looks by relying on their effective play-action passing game. These set up plays weren’t always the classic “shot” plays you usually see from offenses that employ a strict run based offensive attack.
But instead they were in breaking routes — the ones everyone has become accustomed to seeing from the Titans — from boundary receivers that took advantage of vacated space left by linebackers who get sucked in due to the efficacy of the Titans’ ground game. Or due to legit speed threats running deep “decoy” routes and opening up throwing lanes underneath.
Once the Titans’ passing game began making opponents pay for vacating the middle of the field, the running game began to increase its viability due to defenses pulling some numbers out of the box.
Not a ton of respect for the Titans receivers as a vertical threat on the final drive. pic.twitter.com/0A78ukbXnr— Superhorn (@Super_Horn) September 14, 2022
Previously, A.J. Brown and Corey Davis were the initial benefactors of this play-action passing concept. Now, the Titans’ hope the likes of Robert Woods, Nick Westbrook-Ikhine, and Treylon Burks can benefit from the concept as well
However, since this group of receivers doesn’t have a legit speed threat — aside from Racey McMath who’s currently on injured reserve — these passing concepts that previously opened up so much room for the intermediate passing attack, have begun the slow trek of losing their potency.
However, their beloved passing concept won’t be the only casualty moving forward if the Titans can’t weasel their way out of their current problem.
The rushing attack will suffer as well, since teams can fully focus on making it come to a screeching halt while daring the Titans to make them pay for doing so. And if the Titans somehow can’t get their gears moving in the running game to where it scares opposing teams, then this offense will quickly find themselves in a heap of trouble.
What can the Titans do moving forward?
In terms of what the Titans can do to reverse their concerning absence of swiftness? Well, the amount of solutions aren’t all that widespread.
There’s no speed threat walking through the door tomorrow — unless something miraculous occurs — and there’s no A.J. Brown to bail them out when necessary.
But there still exists the possibility of relying on an elite scheme and a collective effort from the unit as a whole to make up for the dilemma. However, the problem with that is the scheme is so conditional and the overall talent across the board doesn’t exceed anyone’s expectations, that the Titans somehow finding a way to overcome their difficult-to-eliminate deficiencies almost seems improbable.
How the Titans actively work to abolish their immediate worries offensively will be fascinating to see.
Because odds are they’ll have to do so as soon as possible, especially if they want to avoid falling behind the rest of their colleagues in a competitive AFC.
Featured image via George Walker-The Tennesseean