Success running the football is paramount to incorporating play-action in the new look Tennessee Titans offense.
The Tennessee Titans ranked 15th in rushing yards during the 2017 season, which was down 12 spots from the previous season. A dinged-up DeMarco Murray struggled to be productive running the football. With the Titans coaching staff still uneasy on Derrick Henry’s pass blocking, Murray would chalk up more snaps.
The middle-of-the-road ranking in rush yards was better than the lackluster passing offense, which ranked 23rd in total yards. The regression of the offensive line didn’t help make matters any better. A collapsing interior made it impossible for both Murray and Henry to attain the same level of success from 2016.
With Murray out of the picture, Henry has a new counterpart in Dion Lewis.
Establishing the Run
The Titans offense, as a whole, was nauseating at times last season.
The team had a difficult time generating a balanced attack. The “smash” wasn’t there, and although the “exotic” elements were visible, the effectiveness was obsolete.
Marcus Mariota, also dealing with an injury, struggled in finding a consistent rhythm. Concentration drops and miscommunication between quarterback and receiver caused the passing game to stall.
The stubborn nature of ex-OC Terry Robiskie didn’t help either. His focus on establishing the run even when facing a stacked box was puzzling.
The 2018 Titans offense must establish the run in order to open up the rest of the playbook, but must do so in a more crafty fashion.
Mariota and the Play-Action
According to Pro Football Focus, Mariota was the most efficient play-action passer in yards per attempt for the 2017 campaign. He topped both Los Angeles’ Jared Goff and Detroit’s Matthew Stafford.
Interestingly enough, Mariota – unlike Goff and Stafford – wasn’t in an offense that stressed the play-action enough.
Could the Titans have done a better job of infusing playaction into the offense?
To quote the great Steve McNair and newly acquired Malcom Butler: “most definitely”.
Did Robiskie avoid calling play-action due to his pass catchers’ struggles in hauling in catches? Did his emphasis on running the football blind him from a failing strategy?
There are too many questions to ask and too many variables to consider. What is undoubtedly certain is the fact that Mariota will be featured in more bootleg/play-action type plays in new OC Matt LaFleur’s offense.
The Titans offense should not abandon Mariota making plays with his legs from scrimmage. The question is how much of those plays come by design, as opposed to the natural progression of the play.
Mariota has to be decisive. In designed runs, Mariota ran with a purpose and had the wherewithal to slide or head out of bounds to avoid putting himself at risk.
The installation of the new offense has to keep that in mind. There should still be a handful of designed runs, but Mariota shouldn’t lead the team in rushing yards after a game. Henry and Lewis must do their job.
If Henry and Lewis can restore the Titans’ rushing attack, a higher percentage of play-action passes will be included into the gameplan on Sundays. That is the clear-cut area Mariota will flourish in.
LaFleur has to find the balance between weaponizing Mariota’s legs and helping the young quarterback improve on his footwork within the pocket.
Athletically, Mariota is more talented with his legs than both Goff and Atlanta’s Matt Ryan. Robert Griffin III had tremendous athleticism, but his career has felt the effects of his decisions that put his body at risk.
The quarterbacks above were mentioned due to the obvious connection with LaFleur.
Mariota – who LaFleur has already praised for being extremely coachable – could be in line for a great season in which he could display his accuracy on the move, enhanced efficiency in the pocket and still show off his deadliness running the ball on broken down plays.
LaFleur will be tasked with bringing out the best in Mariota. Having been exposed to quarterbacks Goff, Ryan and RGIII will help LaFleur focus on different aspects of Mariota’s game he wishes to bring to the surface.