Note: This is a guest post by Curtis Allen and the latest piece in a weekly series. Curtis looks at the Seahawks and their opponents and discusses key factors…
Week Two is easy to look forward to, with the Seahawks handling a good Colts team on Sunday and the Tennessee Titans looking decidedly average in a big loss to Arizona.
But it is best to reset expectations and consider this game a tough test, as we all did when the schedule initially came out.
The Titans played out of character last Sunday.
The NFL’s best turnover-differential team in 2020 lost that battle 3-1.
Their offensive line surrendered a career day to Chandler Jones.
Julio Jones lost his cool and took a foolish penalty to kill a drive.
It’s possible to get that version of the Titans on Sunday but the odds are that Mike Vrabel will have his team ready to play their standard brand of football when they come to town for the Seahawks’ 2021 home opener.
Let’s dig into the watch points and see how the Seahawks can advance to 2-0 this weekend…
Hold Derrick Henry under 100 yards rushing
This is job number one.
When the Titans get 100 yards from Henry, they are 21-2. When they do not, they are 6-12.
While it is always true that your chances of winning the game are vastly better when you do not give up 100 yards to any runner — against the Titans, holding Henry under 100 yards is the single best key to success. Why?
Tennessee has built their entire offense around him. They have a formidable offensive line and a quarterback who is very effective within the limited framework of their scheme.
They love to do what the Seahawks are trying to implement with new offensive coordinator – run the bulk of their offense out of the same personnel and pre-snap look to disguise their intentions. They frequently bunch all 11 players closely together and run a variation of plays out of the same set.
Henry allows the Titans to run this simple offense very effectively.
He has unheard of lateral agility and light feet for a player of his size. They run a zone concept that is very similar to what the Seahawks faced against Indianapolis last week: get the defenders moving horizontally instead of downhill and give Henry two gap options to choose from on cutbacks. He is fantastic at reading and picking the one not soon to be occupied by a tackler.
Watch him and the offensive line shut the door on Baltimore with a master example of this concept:
The linemen have everyone shuttled toward the sideline (also kudos to Ben Jones for getting under Justin Ellis even though he’s turned 180 around), Henry has two gaps to choose from and sees that Queen, Harrison and Clark have over pursued and will shortly be helped to the ground by the linemen reaching the second level. He hops laterally and accelerates in nearly the same motion.
No Earl Thomas to stiff arm, just a free path to the end zone leaving Derek Wolfe on the ground to ponder his life choices.
Of course, that is a prime example but not what happens on every single play. Yet the threat of Henry allows them to run quick passes off play action. When Henry is established as a runner, defenders must key on him and this allows Tannehill to use play action and quickly get the ball out before pass rushers can get home.
One play the Titans love to run off the play action is an extremely simple crossing route off play action to AJ Brown. This play is a staple of their offense and Brown and Tannehill have perfected it.
Here is another example that is like watching a perfectly tuned formula one race car:
Tannehill is so quick with the play action, acquiring the target and throwing, Vince Williams realizes half a heartbeat too late that it is play action and just barely misses getting back to the throwing lane. From there, it is just Brown accelerating into the daylight.
It is all made effective by the established threat of Derrick Henry.
So how do the Seahawks combat this?
They got a top-flight tune up in the zone-read game with the Colts last week. A lot of the things the Colts do in the run game are very similar to the Titans.
While setting the edge in the defense is always important — and this is still an area where the Seahawks need to improve — the Titans usually keep their powerful interior linemen inside and looking to get to the second level as soon as possible.
The Seahawks deployed an interesting personnel grouping against the Colts – a sort of “Bear Front Plus One” with two of Poona, Mone, and Woods on the field, accompanied by two of Mayowa, Dunlap or Green. They supplemented this with a fifth man at the edge, such as Darrell Taylor, but also used Jordyn Brooks and Alton Robinson there.
They likely will use a similar grouping concept in this game, with a primary goal of keeping Wagner, Adams, and Brooks as clean as possible to fill those gaps.
It will be a tall task but the defense will be playing with some confidence after holding Jonathan Taylor in check the week prior.
If it makes you feel any better, the Seahawks are facing Henry at the best time possible. September is his worst month by far. He only averages 3.88 yards per carry in September in his career, a full yard lower than his career average of 4.9 yards per carry.
The lesson: Get at Henry early in the year, early in the season, early in the game. That is your best shot.
Not unrelated to Henry’s effectiveness is our next point…
Make Ryan Tannehill go to his second read
How has Tannehill had a career resurrection in Tennessee?
There are a lot of factors but the primary one is his strengths perfectly align with the Titans’ offensive concepts.
He is not required to regularly create plays on his feet. The Titans run the ball incredibly well and then feed their receivers with quick passes that barely require Tannehill to even make a read.
Look again at that AJ Brown crossing route above. How does Tannehill make that play so quickly?
He does not really have a read. He knows where he is going and he can rely on the play action to open the lane for him. His biggest task is to time the pass properly. So, his job is much easier than a ‘standard’ quarterback. Make no mistake though, he is not a hack. He consistently accomplishes what he is asked to do with a high degree of competency.
Watch Minkah Fitzpatrick on that play. He takes a bad angle that probably would have been acceptable and limited Brown to an 8–10-yard gain if Tannehill does not perfectly hit Brown in stride and allow him to turn on the jets.
That is what the Titans want Tannehill to do. Take the snap and throw on the first read. And he is very, very good at it.
In the 1-10 yard zone from the line of scrimmage, Tannehill’s QB Rating is 117.53 – an astounding 31% better than the league average.
There is job two, defense. Do not have him let his first throw.
The backfield is going to have a real task on their hands. Julio Jones and AJ Brown against DJ Reed and Tre Flowers does not inspire confidence.
But consistently giving a free release is not an option if you want to keep this offense in check. The corners have to trust that Quandre Diggs has deep coverage and can time up those crossing routes correctly.
Jamal Adams needs to have a game Sunday. Whether it is providing three or four of those free blitzes, wrestling Henry down, keeping those passing lanes behind the LOS occupied or jarring the ball loose with a tough hit, this game is tailor-made for a player with his skill set.
The Seahawks need to attack the Tennessee tackles. The Titans have not settled their right tackle spot. In fact, their depth chart to start the season listed three right tackles in the first spot. Second round pick Dillon Radunz was a healthy scratch last week and David Quessenberry did not inspire anyone with his performance against the Cardinals.
Taylor Lewan also had a very rough game at left tackle against Chandler Jones last Sunday. Is that a sign of things to come or just a bad day at the office getting back after a tough injury? Hard to say. Duane Brown had a tough day early last year against Aldon Smith and ended up having a terrific season overall for the Seahawks. It is very possible Lewan can do the same.
But there is an opportunity there to put some pressure on Tannehill. If the edge rushers can apply some pressure and the backfield even slightly disrupts the wide receivers’ routes, the Seahawks can turn the formula one race car into a sputtering Sunday grandma driver.
Control this game with the offense
The Titans defense was awful in 2020. They had few sacks, unreliable corners and were carried by a powerful run offense that does not make a habit of turning the ball over.
One area the Titans were especially poor in? First and 10 plays.
The Titans gave up an average of 6.77 yards per play(!) — a 70% completion rate on passes, and a god-awful 76 first downs on First and 10 plays. The worst numbers in the NFL apart from the Detroit Lions.
They went about upgrading their pass rush by bringing in Bud Dupree and Denico Autry and praying that Harold Landry can start sacking the quarterback again. They also brought in new corners.
How are they doing in 2021? Well admittedly it is a one-game sample — but not good so far.
They gave up 6.16 yards per play on First and 10 to the Cardinals and allowed three first downs. In all three of those drives they scored points.
This suggests the Seahawks have a very good opportunity to run their entire playbook whenever they want in this game. Logic dictates that the Seahawks can pass on first down if they choose and that might be a great way to take control of the game.
As well, they can mix the run and pass as they like.
A game like this against a tough opponent, some coaches like to gear down and attempt to match the Titans’ offensive physicality and intensity. But it will be beneficial to put some scoreboard pressure on the Titan offense and let the Lumen crowd exercise their vocal cords a bit for the first time in a couple years. It will open chances for sacks and turnovers and take Ryan Tannehill out of his comfort zone.
Just a thought, how about Russell & DK show Tannehill & Brown how the crossing route is really done?
Anything you can do, I can do better…
The Titans will be eager to keep unleashing their new pass rushers though, so this brings us to our final watch point…
Burn the blitz
It may be easy to look at the Arizona game and judge the Titans pass rush as poor.
Kyler Murray had 289 yards passing and 4 touchdowns, was only sacked twice and had one interception in a 25 point win.
But the pass rush did a fine job.
They recorded nine pressures and a 25.7% pressure rate on Kyler Murray.
Murray was just better with an outstanding performance. So, so much better.
When blitzed, he was 5 for 6 with three first downs, two touchdowns and a 157.6 passer rating. He crazy-legged his way out of trouble and created time for his wide receivers to uncover.
Russell Wilson’s numbers the last three seasons when blitzed are sparkling:
— 38 touchdowns against nine interceptions
— 201 First downs
— A 104 passer rating
Russell Wilson eats his opponents’ lunch when under pressure.
With multiple options at the tight end and running back spots for quick passes, and a Titan secondary likely up at night after watching tape of Wilson’s twin bombs to Tyler Lockett against Indy, there should be plenty of opportunities to make them pay for having the audacity to rush the passer.
Please consider supporting the blog via Patreon (click the tab below)…