Coming off last week’s roller coaster against the Lions, the Tennessee Titans would need a more consistent game to win against a tough Texans team. Jake Locker sustained an injury to his already ailing left shoulder in the first quarter, putting the Titans in an early hole. However, the offense responded to the challenge in the 2nd quarter by mounting an 88-yard touchdown drive.
Although the Titans eventually fell to the Texans 38-14, the offensive line and Chris Johnson began to gel, gashing the vaunted Texans defense for 141 rushing yards on 25 carries. Breaking down an effective running play is especially enjoyable for me, as it requires disciplined blocking and a synchronized running back.
Already down 14-0 and with Locker questionable to return, the Titans offense desperately needs to put together a drive to keep the game close. Starting from the 22-yard line, the Titans have already gained 50 yards (20 rushing, 30 passing) on this drive, even overcoming a 10-yard offensive pass interference penalty on Jared Cook.
With 1st and 10 from the Texans 38-yard line, the offense is lined up in strong I formation, with rookie TE Taylor Thompson offset as the fullback and Stevens at tight end. The Texans recognize this run-heavy formation and counter by stacking the box with 7 defenders, and the strong safety (38) is playing for run support as well.
At the snap of the ball, the Titans offensive line blocks to the right (to the left in the picture), leaving the Texans OLB Barwin free to the right. Roos and Hutchinson double-team the right defensive end, sealing the edge. As the fullback, Thompson is pulling behind the line of scrimmage to execute a “wham block” on Barwin. A wham block occurs when a defensive end (in this case a linebacker) is left initially unblocked, but then is blocked by an offensive player from the opposite side. This blocking tactic is devised to allow the outside containment to over-pursue into the backfield, leaving him vulnerable to a counter block by a pulling offensive lineman (in this case a tight end).
Just look at the point of contact for each Titans blocker! Everyone has fully engaged his defender, and the counter run to the backside is opening.
Thompson throws a cut block on Barwin, effectively taking him out of the play. Leroy Harris and Michael Roos do an excellent job of getting to the linebackers, and CJ correctly decides to cut the run to the backside, thereby avoiding the strong safety that is waiting in the wrong hole.
This is the second time in two weeks that Thompson has executed the key block on a big play. Last week he absolutely trucked a Lion as Reynaud returned the kickoff for a 105-yard touchdown. It’s definitely worth mentioning his impact as a rookie.
CJ sprints untouched to the outside, and Kendall Wright is manhandling the Texans cornerback downfield. Lavelle Hawkins shows tremendous effort by sprinting from the far side of the field to get in front of the strong safety. CJ has the free safety 1-on-1 in the open field, a scenario the Titans had hoped for when devising this play.
CJ cuts the run inside Wright’s block, and the free safety wraps him up for a gain of 19 yards, his longest run of the season so far. While I loved CJ’s initial decision to cut backside, I was disappointed to see his indecision here. CJ slows up while deciding whether to cut inside Wright’s block or continue outside, and as a result, he stumbles and is tackled. CJ’s biggest asset in the past has been his ability to change directions without decelerating.
I do not believe this run is indicative of any major issue with CJ’s speed or ability, but more representative of a run game that is still gelling as a unit. In the first four games of the past two seasons, CJ only topped 4.0 yards per carry twice (once each season), and he posted below 3.0 yards per carry five times. CJ often starts the season slowly, and he continues to improve as he becomes more confident in his blocking and cuts.
His 5.6 yards per carry against the stout Houston defense should breathe life into a previously anemic run attack. Hopefully the Titans will continue to execute well in the run game, allowing big plays for the Titans most explosive player.
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