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2017 Opponent Scouting Report: Week 12 | Titans Defense, How Did These Guys Stop Us In Week 6?

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NFL: Indianapolis Colts at Tennessee Titans Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports


On November 26, 2017 the Indianapolis Colts will host division rival Tennessee Titans. In this week twelve match-up I sought to understand our opponent and get a better idea of what we’re up against.

Coming off of a 36-22 win in week six, the Titans hope to continue the success they found and grow it by way of finally healthy quarterback, Marcus Mariota. In our first game, the young signal caller was battling a bad hamstring. This week he appears completely healed and ready to give us everything he has. How that will impact the game is yet to be determined. Let’s figure out what we can expect in week twelve by taking a look back at week six.

Defensive Scheme

First, we’ll recap the scheme to give you a refresher on what the Titans like to run:

When I google “Dick LeBeau Scheme” the sixth result is the Wikipedia entry for “Zone Blitz”. The seventh result, is the Wikipedia entry for Dick LeBeau.

That’s all you really need to know about the guy.

The Titans DC is a legendary NFL coach. He is a pioneer of the zone blitz and has put together some of the best defenses the league has ever seen. With that said, so far this year his defense has yet to find its way. They have some talented players but lack linebackers and defensive backs who can consistently make the types of plays that win games. They do have some young players that could develop into play makers, but they just aren’t there yet. Let’s get into his scheme and the players you will see on Monday night.

All you’ll probably need to understand about zone blitz concepts can be found here:

That’s only a 15 minute video and you should watch it. It covers a lot of what LeBeau wants to do. If you want to know more about the history of this defense, and it really is interesting I’ll give you this really cool piece from Grantland. That articles gives you a great overview of the history and basics of the zone blitz. An excerpt:

What makes the zone blitz successful is that it allows the defense to bring outside linebackers and safeties to one side or both sides without using man-to-man blitz coverage. Normal blitzes use man-to-man coverage. The offensive line and one or two backs are assigned to block the defensive line and linebackers. In the zone blitz, the linebacker blitzes along with a secondary player, but the offensive pickup is different. It is different because defensive linemen who usually rush are now dropping out to short inside zones to replace the linebacker and secondary player that blitz. Because of the blitzer’s path, it is difficult for the offensive linemen to adjust.

The article goes on to explain that the weakness of these zone blitz schemes eventually became the zone packages themselves.

The answer that Saban, Belichick, and many others developed was “pattern-match” coverage — essentially man coverage that uses zone principles to identify the matchups. As Saban explained at the 2010 Coach of the Year Clinics Football Manual clinic:

You can play coverages in three ways. You can play zone, man, or pattern-match man. Pattern-match man is a coverage that plays the pattern after the pattern distribution. That means you pick up in man coverage after the receivers make their initial breaks and cuts. We number receivers from the outside going inside. If the number-one receiver crosses with the number-two receiver, we do not pick up the man coverage until they define where they are going.

The most common modern zone blitz is the “fire zone,” a five-man blitz behind which the defense plays coverage with three defenders deep and three underneath. The only limit to the countless arrangements of the five blitzers is a defensive coordinator’s creativity, but the coverage assignments are more finite.

To simplify all of this, with the zone blitz, the defense wants to bring five pass rushers. There’s nothing amazing about that. More pass rushers means a greater chance to get to the passer. Cool. This allows defensive coordinators to disguise what role each player has before the snap.

A defensive end could rush the passer 25 times in a row and on the 26th pass of the game, he drops into coverage while a linebacker blitzes and for a moment it looks to the quarterback as if there’s a massive hole in coverage. Instead, the DE drops to his spot and picks off the pass. Seven times out of ten, when a 275 lb to 325 lb player intercepts a pass, it’s due to the zone blitz.

To talk about coverages, you can run any zone on the back end and pattern matching has been a game changer. These coverages are important to understand but you may not see them that often.

Here’s where I’m going to mess up your entire world:

The Dick LeBeau Titans defense is currently running a lot of man looks. Is what I told you about zone blitz coverages irrelevant? No. It’s still a Dick LeBeau defense. You’ve got to believe we’re still going to see zone blitz concepts used, just not as often as in years past. Adopting more man looks is an effort to play to his team’s strengths and ultimately adds another wrinkle to what is a complex system on its own.

As always, if a coach doesn’t have players who can cash the checks he writes, his scheme doesn’t matter.

What Happened Last Time:

Normally I give you reports on the DLine, LB’s, DB’s. Instead of going back over those same details I’ve decided to go back over how the Titans attacked our Colts earlier in the year.

If you missed the scouting report from week six and you want to see more detailed information on the Titans personnel you can do so by clicking here.

I’m going to sample heavily from Brett Mock’s week 6 recap of our last match-up, if you would like to read the entire thing click here.

We’ll jump right into the first quarter of the game:

The first Colts offensive drive is highlighted by getting things going on the ground with Frank Gore and Marlon Mack...

  • Most backs take a 4 yard loss on this play:

Our guards were inconsistent all day long.

Additionally, we got Frank Gore involved in the passing game and abused Tennessee’s inside linebacker Woodyard...

Unfortunately, Donte Moncrief missed out on his chance to give the Colts a lead by dropping a perfect pass from Jacoby Brissett. Adam Vinatieri did what he does to tie the game at 3.

The Colts first drive ended poorly. In hindsight, I should have included the clip of Moncrief dropping the touchdown pass. It was a blatant drop, over the middle that was an easy catch. Instead we finished the drive with 3 points, a big win for the Titans defense.

The Colts second offensive drive went better.

The second Colts offensive drive was actually one of the more impressive drives this season. It featured running from Frank Gore, good blocking from the offensive line, and Jacoby Brissett standing tall in the pocket and completing passes for first downs. Nearly every facet of the Colts offense was on display.

Nice individual effort from Kamar Aiken on this play. Jacoby Brissett did a nice job progressing through his reads to find Aiken open. The wideout did the rest.

There was a long pass to T.Y. Hilton,

This gif is choppy and I’m not sure why. Sorry my dudes.

then a dump-off to tight end Jack Doyle. Brissett ran an option play that gained 7 yards, then completed a pass to Moncrief for a first down, and then hit Jack Doyle on a gulp great play-design for a touchdown to take the lead 10-6.

The play action held the linebackers and allowed Doyle to come free for the TD. The reason the play action worked here is due to the fact that we were moving the ball on the ground. It’s amazing what an offense can do when they win in the trenches.

The third drive, once again, was good but not great.

On the third Colts drive, Indianapolis started a methodical drive that included Gore running the football, Kamar Aiken making another catch, and Robert Turbin escaping into the second level keep the drive going on third and short. Then, after a rare first down Robert Turbin carry, Brissett completed a pass on a out to Donte Moncrief for a first down.

A screen pass to Turbin and an easy completion to Jack Doyle in the middle of the field pushed the Colts back into the red zone. Our old friend Erik Walden decided to take a cheap shot on Brissett that gave the Colts the ball on first and goal from the 7. Jacoby didn’t like what he saw on the play so escaped the pocket and scrambled for a yard. Sadly, Brissett then missed Jack Doyle early on in his dig route and threw the ball away on a corner route for T.Y. Hilton. The drive finished with another Adam Vinatieri field goal and gave the Colts a 13-9 lead heading into the half.

All in all, this was a very good half for the Colts offense. The Titans defense didn’t have a ton of answers for anything we tried to do between the 20’s. Once inside the red zone our own mistakes limited our ability to get the ball in the end zone. Jack Doyle scored the half’s only touchdown.

Offensively (and defensively) we were rolling. In the second half things started to change.

The first drive on the second half started with a nice run by Frank Gore but a miss on a throw down the seam to Kamar Aiken was followed-up by a risky throw to T.Y. Hilton that was nearly picked off. A nice punt by Rigoberto Sanchez had the Titans pinned close to their ten yard line but the punt returner made a late decision to play the ball off of the bounce and get a return back to the about the 20-yard line.

Luckily for our offense, John Simon intercepted a pass and scored 6 points on the ensuing Titans “drive”. Adam Vinatieri is a future hall of fame kicker, he’s kicking at an amazingly high level well into his 40’s. With that said, he missed an extra point after the Simon TD, bringing the score to 19-9.

The Titans responded by riding a roughing the passer penalty and a few decent plays and later kicked a long field goal bringing the score to 19-12, Colts still on top.

Then, in a clear situation where the right call is to take the knee on the kickoff, Quan Bray runs out and stumbles to give Indianapolis a long field starting at their own 12. Surprisingly, the Colts bring Marlon Mack out for a dump-off outside to get him into space and he drops the pass.

Frank Gore rushes for 5-yards to give the Colts a third-and-5 opportunity to keep the drive moving and Robert Turbin checks back into the game.

Left Guard, Jeremy Vujnovich’s inability to pass DT Jurrell Casey off to Ryan Kelly results in this only being a 5 yard gain. If he gets off that block and gets to the ILB, Gore easily 7-10 more yards on this play.

A nice pass to Jack Doyle is nearly caught but the defender got his hand in to knock the ball away. Rigoberto Sanchez had to get as much of the field position Quan Bray lost by running out the kick back and help the defense have some space.

This is really nice coverage from that linebacker. You would like to see Doyle come up with that catch, but that defender is getting paid too and he earned his check on this down.

On the Colts next drive, Jack Doyle put the ball on the turf and gave it back to the Titans after letting our defense rest for literally two snaps we sent them back out. This resulted in another Titans field goal bringing the score to 19-15, Colts on top. The next time our offense went out:

In what has become a completely predictable second half set of circumstances for the Colts, the offense looked completely lost on their next drive. Brissett was under significant pressure and nothing resembling the first half offense returned to the field for the first 12 minutes of the third quarter. Luckily, a good punt from Sanchez was rewarded by a Titans penalty on the return team that pinned the Titans back at their own 13 yard line.

The most telling part of this series was that the Colts ahead 19-15 threw three straight passes and then punted the ball. As a team we ran the ball 19 times for 85 yards, good for a 4.5 yard average. 11 of our 19 rush attempts came in the first half.

We lead the game with 13:58 to go in the third quarter, from that point on we had 7 (!) rushing attempts for the remainder of the game.

Brett was right, the offense looked nothing like it did in the first half.

The next drive after a Titans touchdown:

A scramble by Brissett with no one open gained three yards. Then Brissett threw a dart to Moncrief to get a first down at the 24 yard line. A rush up the middle by Gore gained only one yard — another second half commonality early this season. Brissett follows that up with another big mistake to add to his second half resume with an intentional grounding resulting in a 3rd and 20 at the 34 yard line.

An incomplete pass to Jack Doyle set up Vinatieri for a 52-yard field goal that tied the game at 22.

The Titans went on to score on a long pass bringing the score to 22-29 Titans on top. Brett breaks down the final drive:

In the most important drive for Jacoby Brissett and the Colts, the team is rewarded by a personal foul for unnecessary roughness. Then Rob Chudzinski telegraphs a run up the middle to Robert Turbin that is stopped for a three yard loss. On the next play Brissett stays strong in the face of pressure to complete a dump-off to Turbin for a first down. The Colts rush Turbin up the middle to try to slow down the Titans blitz but only gains one yard. On the next play the Brissett completed another pass to Donte Moncrief for a big first down that goes down to the 22 yard line.

As the Colts entered the red zone, Brissett threw a quick out to Marlon Mack lined up as a receiver that was well over his head. His next pass was to Jack Doyle and while he nearly made a catch but it looked like he didn’t control the ball long enough to be a fumble and a back-breaking turnover for the Colts offense. After review, the play was ruled an incomplete pass but put the Colts offense in a difficult 3rd and 10 position that is not ideal for a mistake prone Jacoby Brissett.

On the next play, Robert Turbin made a nice catch on a dump-off and fought hard for a first down but came up just short. It looked like he suffered a nasty injury to his arm that resulted in him leaving the field. This forced the Colts to get a first own without their short-yardage back and run Frank Gore to keep their hopes alive. Jacoby Brissett rolled out to try to pick up the first down to the right but was stopped short and gave the Titans the ball back. A failed challenge took away a valuable timeout for Indianapolis and forced them to use the two-minute warning and their two remaining timeouts that required a three-and-out or a turnover to get another chance to put point on the board.

The Titans then pounded the ball and scored on a long TD run. Game over.

Final Thoughts

The Titans defense didn’t stop the Colts offense. The Colts offense stopped the Colts offense. Would we have won this game had we continued to do the same things we did in the first half? I don’t know. What I do know is giving Robert Turbin multiple second half rushes and Marlon Mack none is asinine.

Frank Gore ran the ball 4 times in the second half. Marlon Mack didn’t run the ball at all in the 3rd and 4th quarters. Turbin had 2 carries and Brissett had 2 as well.

For those of you counting at home, the Colts with a 10 point lead with almost 14 minutes remaining in the 3rd quarter and were averaging 5.9 yards per carry to that point, proceeded to call 5 (five) (SERIOUSLY FIVE) designed runs over the course of the next 29 minutes.

The Titans didn’t make adjustments that slowed our run game, WE DIDN’T EVEN TRY TO RUN!

Here’s the thing, I criticized the Colts coaching staff earlier in the year for not being aggressive and throwing the ball more when we had a lead. Now I’m criticizing them for throwing too much. Here’s the thing, anyone capable of understanding football realizes that there has to be some sort of balance to an offense unless you have a truly hall of fame level QB and even then, Peyton Manning was more effective when he had a good run game.

It’s not crazy to want the Colts to pass the ball on 2nd and 8 in the 3rd quarter with a 7 point lead. It is crazy to want them to throw the ball on every 2nd and 8 in the 3rd quarter no matter the score. On the other side of the coin it’s insane to want them to run the ball every 2nd and long too.

There has to be a balance and the Indianapolis Colts answer to playing too conservatively early in the season was to abandon a successful run game in the second half while playing with the lead. The Tennessee Titans defense did almost nothing to stop us in the second half, the Colts staff changed what we were doing to make the game easier for the defense. Way to go, guys.

This Titans defense was not capable of stopping us in week six and they wont be capable of stopping us on Sunday as long as Rob Chudzinsky decides to listen to what Chuck Pagano has said thousands of times.

“Run the ball, stop the run.”