Despite limited action from the first-team offense in Saturday’s game, explosive plays on the second drive show the Tennessee Titans offense has moved in a new, exciting direction.
One of the primary reasons that the Tennessee Titans decided to overhaul their coaching staff in 2018 was a stale, ineffective offense that stifled its playmakers. Mike Mularkey and Terry Robiskie attempted to force talented, young players into their archaic scheme rather than build their scheme around those players.
Now, gone are the days of “Exotic Smashmouth”. Mike Vrabel and his new OC Matt LaFleur promise to bring the Titans offense into modernity and capitalize on young players like Marcus Mariota, Derrick Henry and Corey Davis as they reach their primes. Although the Titans have only fielded their first-team offense for three drives without Rishard Matthews in the lineup, early returns have been promising.
With two touchdowns scored in only three opportunities, the Titans offense no longer appears as predictable or stagnant as it has in the past. One aspect of the offense that I have noticed so far is that there have been far more yards after the catch than in past years. Part of this is Mariota throwing with better anticipation and ball placement. This improvement was evident in the first preseason game when Nick Williams caught a perfectly placed pass on a slant and ran for a huge 38-yard gain.
That said, LaFleur also deserves a ton of credit for creating an offensive scheme that puts playmakers in space to work their magic. Later on, in the same drive as Williams’ big catch, Darius Jennings scored a touchdown on a quick pass, as Williams ran a pick play that took CB Davon House out of the equation. Too often last season, the Titans would fail to pick up yards after the catch when wide receivers were forced to make too many contested catches and catches in traffic, which led to them being tackled almost immediately.
Players like Taywan Taylor and Dion Lewis do not fit in that kind of scheme. Their quickness and elusiveness make them hard to tackle when they are put in space. As seemed to be the theme last season, the offense failed to adapt to Taylor’s talent. Although Mularkey and Co. made somewhat of an effort to put Taylor in space a couple of times each game through end-arounds and other designed touches, they did not create route concepts that took advantage of his short-area burst and agility.
It’s no coincidence that players like Taylor and Lewis have flourished this preseason with the Titans. LaFleur knows exactly how to use players like Lewis and Taylor to create mismatches. In Week 2 of the preseason, Tennessee’s new emphasis on putting playmakers in space was on full display.
Following a short opening drive that didn’t amount to much, Mariota directed an extremely impressive second drive. Lewis created two chunk gains on pass plays. First, he caught a swing pass and accelerated to the outside for a 10-yard gain. Lewis then caught a pass in the middle of the field, left Kwon Alexander grasping air, and broke another tackle for a 16-yard gain.
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Taylor capped off the drive with a screen pass that went 47 yards to the house. Mariota hit Taylor immediately on the outside with blockers out in front of him. He then outsprinted the defense for a touchdown, leaving Buccaneer defenders reading the numbers on his back.
It comes as no surprise that LaFleur puts his receivers in a position to gain a ton of yards after the catch. The 2017 Los Angeles Rams had one of the top YAC offenses in the league as Jared Goff put up the best average YAC per completion since 2006. LaFleur simply understands how to create separation with his play design, which makes receivers like Taylor, Lewis or even Corey Davis a threat to rip off big gains any time they are targeted.
A new emphasis on putting receivers in space has paid huge dividends through only two preseason games and should propel Mariota and the offense to new heights. It’s very early in LaFleur’s tenure as OC, but he will be considered one of the biggest steals of the offseason if he can bring the explosive plays from his time in L.A. to Nashville.