LenDale v. the Jaguars: Every Play

As Drexel and I both commented in our game recaps, one of the surprising things about the Titans’ second game against the Jaguars this season was the change in the effectiveness of the Titans’ rushing attack. In the first game, the Titans were able to run all over the Jaguars, to the tune of 282 yards, led by 175 on 19 carries by Chris Brown. In last Sunday’s game, Brown missed the game with an injury and LenDale White finished with 8 carries for 12 yards. This forced the Titans to throw the ball a lot more than their past expressed preferences indicated. If this inability to run the ball effectively continues, the Titans will very likely continue to struggle as many points as they have so far. In an attempt to discern what the Jacksonville game might indicate as to the Titans’ chances for offensive success the rest of the year, I present to you the follow play-by-play look at each of LenDale White’s 8 carries.
First, a disclaimer: I’m doing this from my couch in the Chicago area. I wasn’t at the game; in fact, I haven’t been to a Titans game since the game in Indianapolis last year and won’t see them in person this year until Cincinnati. Ergo, I’m doing this off the CBS feed, which primarily comes from the sideline camera. It’s much easier to evaluate running play from the end zone angle. In the analyses that follow, it’s quite possible I’ve misidentified blocking assignments and the existence (or not) of rushing lanes. As always, I welcome corrections and any feedback.
First Carry: 1&10, own 20, 1Q 14:54
Result: 4 yards
This is the Titans’ first play from scrimmage, and comes out of an unusual 3-TE set with White as the lone setback. That’s not a formation you see very often outside of a goalline or 3&1 or 4&1 situation. It’s also a little of a surprising call given that the Titans’ success against the Jaguars came out of 3 and 4-WR looks. While the Colts the next week adjusted to that problem, as have other teams, this still seems like an odd call. The Jaguars respond by playing 8 in the box, 4 down lineman, an LB over the 2 strong-side TEs, and the two other LBs and S Nelson about five yards off. The play is a run to the weak left side, with potential cutback lanes to the right. White has to avoid DT Meier, who is on the ground about 3 yards in the backfield, beating Olson, but he’s able to find a lane between Meier and a sliding DE Hayward because Bell and Mawae have combined to push DT Henderson out of the way. White is able to dive forward for 4 yards before being brought down by Hayward.
This is a good first down play, and White attacks the hole instead of waiting for the potential cutback lane to develop after Hayward moves further down the line.
Second Carry: 2&6, own 24, 1Q 14:21
Result: 1 yard
This is more of a conventional 2-WR, 2-TE (Ace) formation, with White again the lone setback. The Jaguars are playing 7 in the box this time, with an LB again over the TE on the Titans’ right side. At the snap, LB Smith, one of the two set-back LBs is blitzing up the middle. The prevents the Titans O-line (Mawae, likely) from flaring out and cutting off Smith’s angle. Peterson is able to take advantage of this and read and react to the play, a run to the left side. As it happens, though, it’s Bell’s job to block DT Henderson 1v1 and at least prevent him from tackling White. He’s unable to prevent this, though, as Henderson is able to not just stand Bell up but also to move laterally to fill the hole. Henderson and Peterson combine to bring down White after only a short gain.
This play is a success for the Jaguars because of a good defensive call and a good individual effort. One thing about this play is Roos doesn’t have much of a role, as it turns out. His initial job is to help the left side TE (Scaife) on DE Spicer with a chip, then move downfield to open up space. Without the ability to get to the second level, though, Roos’s contributions are worthless. One formation variation to this basic play would be to play out of an offset I to the left side, allowing the FB to fill the hole. The Titans are without Hall, though, and I strongly suspect they don’t have nearly as much confidence in Cramer to support White’s rushing efforts.
Third Carry: 1&10, own 44, 1Q 11:59
Result: 2 yards
The Titans start this play in a familiar formation, what I call in UFR “Shotgun Base.” VY is in the shotgun with White to one side (in this case, his left). Two WRs are to the left side, and a TE and 3rd WR are to the other side. In this case, the Titans are on the left hash, so there’s space compression. The Jaguars counter with a 6 in the box, 4 down linemen and 2 LBs about 5 yards off. There’s also a defender about 5 yards off of each of the slot WRs and one 7 yards off of the split end to the left side. The two safeties are about 12 yards off in roughly the middle of the field (thanks, CBS, for actually showing us something). VY makes a quick handoff to White, who runs left to right around right tackle in what I think of as a counter trap. Moulds, the WR on the right side, is down-blocking to seal the edge, and he quickly shoots in to block LB Peterson to prevent him from coming over. Bell is also uplling from left to right to help out the TE with DE Spicer. It looks like White’s responsibility to deal with CB Mathis, who has followed Moulds into the box. Spicer is able to shrug off the block and tackle White for only a short gain (it’s really more like 1.2 yards than 2).
The failure of the play is written early-Spicer is the right side DE, and he moves forward. Scaife should be able to push him from the side, keeping him away from the lane for White, but he’s not able to. Spicer instead is able to move toward the hole. A pulling Bell helps get the edge, but his job is just to chip and move to downfield, on either the LBs coming over or the secondary coming up in support. Because Scaife doesn’t get a good block, Spicer is able to get off the block and bring down White. This sort of play is fine when it works, but has a single point of failure, and that block was it. There’s not much White could have done here.
Fourth Carry: 2&8, own 46, 1Q 11:22
Result: -4 yards
Ah, this looks like more of a look the Titans ran against the Jaguars in week 1. Backs in the I behind VY and 3-WR, one in the slot to the left. The Jaguars counter with 6 in the box, 4 DL and 2 LBs, and a defender over each WR. VY makes the handoff to White on the stretch run to the right side. Spicer, the DE on the right side, is able to get inside of Stewart at RT, who tries to fend him off with his arm (arguably a hold), and hits White 5 yards deep in the backfield. Maybe if White’s a little quicker, he can get to the hole and avoid Spicer, but that’s difficult to say. If you lose 1v1 battles like this one, it’s tough to have an effective running game.
Fifth Carry: 1&10, own 13, 1Q 1:54
Result: 2 yards
The Titans start backed up on their second drive after a mediocre kickoff return. They start in the shotgun, with White as the lone setback and 4 WRs to spread the field. The Jags counter with 6 in the box, plus Nelson over the slot WR to the right side, well-positioned to provide support in the run game. Get the impression the Jags think the Titans run to the right side more? Well, They’re right. Oddly enough, too, the Titans are bad when they run right. And, hey, it’s an inside run to the right side, similar to the counter trap earlier but more of just an inside draw trap. The Jags’ LDT on the play is recently-acquired Grady Jackson, who disrupted a couple plays against the Titans when he was with the Falcons not too long ago. He’s trouble on this play, too, as he’s initially double-teamed by Olson and Mawae, but then Olson goes to the second-level and Jackson is able to slide over to fill the hole. Roos is pulling to block on the other side of the hole, but this play is another example of how losing the 1v1 battles cost the Titans chances in the running game.
Sixth Carry: 1&10, own 20, 2Q 13:42
Result: 2 yards
It’s another 3-TE set to start out the drive. Well, I guess I don’t mind that much because it was successful the first time, but overall this isn’t a formation I like to see on 1&10. The Jags have 8 in the box, 4 DL, an LB over the 2-TE left strong side, and 3 defenders in a slanted line from the Titans’ right to left, respectively 3, 4, and 5 yards off the line of scrimmage. The handoff to White is a run off tackle/stretch to that left strong side. Roos in particular has a difficult task on this play-DE Spicer is moving to his outside. Hartsock is the near strong TE, but he’s just giving Spicer a chip and going to the second level. For a good outside run, you really want a seal on Spicer, and Roos isn’t in a good position to do that. White is able to cut the play back inside, but there’s not much of a lane between Spicer and DT Henderson, and he’s stopped after a short gain.
Seventh Carry: 2&1, own 34, 2Q 4:37
Result: -1 yard
The Titans come out in a power running formation, two TE to the left and an I-formation behind VY. Scaife moves from left to right, making it a balanced 2-TE I-form set. The Jags have 8 in the box, with an LB over Hartsock next to Roos and 3 in the same slant as the previous rush. The play is a stretch run to the right side, which is obvious and the 4 non-DL defenders in the box are able to immediately react. LB Ingram totally loses backside contain, suggesting success on the bootleg as a possibility, but VY does give the handoff here. White takes the ball about 5 yards deep. Stewart has to keep the edge on DE Mincey, but gets pushed back into the backfield, slowing up White. Scaife also doesn’t get a good block, but the key play is Mincey beating Stewart and holding up White until the rest of the Jaguars are able to get there and help him take down White for a loss.
Eighth Carry: 1&10, own 26, 3Q 9:48
Result: 6 yards
Ah, more spread action. It’s a 4-WR set. VY is under center, and White is the lone setback. The Jags have 6 in the box, with one LB over left guard about 3 yards off and the other outside of RT about 4 yards off. There’s also a defender 3 yards off the WR slot left, but the slot right WR is uncovered. After the initial look, slot right WR Scaife motions back in over Stewart. The Jags LBs switch to more of a center position 3 yards off, the slot left defender moves in a yard, and a S moves in to the right position where the LB was. The Jag LBs both flow to the initial run left side. White nearly strides too far left and gets caught in the hole, but is able to reverse his direction right, where Scaife is blocking for backside contain. White is able to step out of an ankle tackle by Smith and find a lane not inside of the contain defender and get 6 yards. The extra effort of White gets about 5 extra yards on this play, though his overstriding nearly turned the otherwise 1 yard play into a loss of 2.
That was the last carry for White on the day, and he ended with a final statline of 8 carries for 12 yards, and that long of 6 yards. Half of White’s rushes began the drive for the Titans, and those 4 drives ended in a total of 0 points. Giving the ball to White frequently resulted in long yardage for the Titans. My belief from the above look is that White’s short rushes were generally the fault of the his blockers getting beat on a 1v1 basis, with a helping of the Jaguars outscheming the Titans. White generally got the yardage that was there, except for the extra yards he got on his final carry of the day. As a frequent critic of White, I will admit that this performance was less his fault than I expected. Nevertheless, an RB can’t expect superb blocking on a regular basis. I believe a good RB will be able to overcome the sort of performance the Titans’ had on Sunday and get extra yards on his own. Only only 1 of his 8 carries was White able to do this.
Given Fisher’s apparent preference for a feature RB who can carry the load, it seems likely that White, if healthy, will get the bulk of the workload out of the Titans backfield for the remainder of this year. Given that he seems to have mostly fixed the dancing problem I saw last year and early this year, he’ll get the yards the offensive line gets for him, and sometimes a little more. If the offensive line can fix the problems from last Sunday’s game, that and the strong defensive effort should be enough to get the team to the playoffs. If the offensive line and the defense both continue at the level they showed on Sunday, though, then a season that started so brightly will likely end short of the postseason.

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