5. Offensive line emphasis, not running back emphasis
For Arthur Smith, the emphasis on transforming the offensive line was clearly the top goal that he had for the Tennessee Titans offense during the offseason.
Don’t believe me? Since he took the OC job, the Titans let one starter walk, cut another, signed an All-Pro guard, brought back a versatile utility OL, and drafted a guard with a top-100 pick.
Despite this, the belief seems to be that the Titans are doing all this for the running game when I think they are doing this to create a dominant offensive line that can do anything they want.
The Tennessee Titans have gotten a lot of publicity this year for saying things about how they are going to run the ball a lot this year. One of the best write ups on this was by Turron Davenport of ESPN who covers the Tennessee Titans.
It all stems from Arthur Smith saying the offense will “ride” Derrick Henry in the final year of his contract, but I think that quote was just one piece of a larger picture. In context, I think he just means that Henry will be featured as the primary running back.
Before I get into that a little more, look at this quote where Smith is describing what physicality (and by association, domination) really is on offense:
"This fall, the offense plans to be the unit doing the dictating, but that doesn’t mean Smith will recklessly call run plays against defensive fronts loaded up to stop the ground attack. “Physical isn’t just in the run game,” Smith said. “You can be physical in protection, how you catch the football and finish that. Are you going to go down the field and finish.”"
This isn’t a “run the ball 40 times per game” offense. This offensive will be based on physicality and dictating the pace of the game and not the other way around.
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So when Smith says he will “ride” Henry, you should read it as a vote of confidence in favor of Henry being the true RB1, not as a statement of the Titans offense as a whole.
If the defense lines up with eight guys in the box and the Titans are in 11 personnel, that doesn’t mean that Adam Humphries is going to get motioned inside to help block. That isn’t what Smith means when he talks about dictating the game.
I interpret that as him saying “Alright, we are going to dictate what you do by forcing you to admit that you can’t stop Derrick Henry with seven guys in the box. We will dictate the players you are forced to put on the field, and then we will dominate you by letting Corey Davis stiff arm the DB covering him into the dirt as he runs for a 70-yard TD because you were so concerned about stopping the run that you had to run a single-high defense.”
Smith is too smart to do dumb stuff just for the sake of sounding like he has a plan in some post game interview. You want to hear words like “dictate” and “physicality” not phrases like “run-pass balance”.
The commitment this offseason was to create an offensive line that could dominate on those running downs, but who also knew how to wear down defenders in pass protection and by finishing down the field on screens and quick passes to take advantage of aggressive defenses.
In that way, the offense is built more around the physicality and balance of the offensive line and not the running backs.
TL;DR: The offensive line is the focal point of the Tennessee Titans offense and their versatility will be the driving force behind this team. Their ability to dominate as pass protectors and run blockers while enforcing their will is going to be what defines the success of the Titans when they have the ball.