Happy New Year, everybody.
When Vince Young took over as Titans quarterback following the bye week this year, the question every Titans fan was interested in seeing answered was whether or not VY had used his time on the bench wisely, whether or not he had decided to put in the hard work necessary to be an NFL quarterback; work that, if put in, hadn’t been apparent in his play in 2007 or in his limited work in 2008.
That question, happily for Titans fans, was answered in the affirmative; VY was confident and decisive in the pocket, and more accurate than he’d been in the playoff season of 2007. While this itself was a very encouraging sign, any quarterback willing to work operating with at least semi-competent coaches (which QB coach Craig Johnson and OC Mike Heimerdinger certainly are) could have at least some initial success.
The bigger test, though, is to sustain that success, after teams have seen tape on the quarterback and been able to adapt the defense. For this reason, I was particularly interested to see how Vince Young threw the ball against the Chargers on Christmas day. And, well, he completed a mere 8 of 21 passes for only 89 yards and threw 2 interceptions. Not very impressive statistics, to be honest, but how did he really play? To answer that question, I decided to take a look at every Titans passing play against the Chargers to see what I could see.
Normal disclaimers apply: doing this off TV coverage makes these analyses incomplete at best; it’s frequently difficult, if not impossible, to see route combinations, discern the precise coverage scheme, and identify valid alternatives to what actually happened. This last is particularly important with a QB like VY, with his ability to use his legs. So, don’t take these at the final word; it’s likely that, if I had coaches’ tape and knowledge of what play was actually called on offense and defense, what I write below would change.
2-9-TEN46 (1Q 10:21) Complete short left to Washington for 12
Titans start this drive with the game scoreless. Titans are in an offset I left, Gage(?) close right, Washington left slot after moving across the formation, Crumpler the FB with CJ the tailback. Chargers are playing 5 on the line, Phillips on the offensive right and Merriman aligned outside Scaife. RCB Cromartie is about 4 yards off the line, LCB Jammer about 8 off, the safeties 9 and 11 yards deep in the middle of the field. The Chargers rush 4, with Merriman dropping into a short zone, while CJ stays in to block as VY takes a deep drop. Phillips is getting push on Stewart on a bull rush, but not enough to disrupt VY. VY surveys the field and finds Washington on an out on the left side for a dozen yards. VY leads him a little too much, but Washington is able to make the toe tap to complete the catch.
1-10-SD42 (1Q 9:50) Complete short left to CJ28 for 14
Offset I again, this time with Hall the FB to the left. Scaife moves from Stewart’s wing to a left slot position while Britt is split left side with Jammer over him. Chargers are showing the same look in the front 7 with Merriman and Phillips flipped, plus S Ellison aligned over Scaife 5 yards off the LOS. They bring the same 4. VY fakes to CJ, who slips out into the left flat. Phillips gets a good wide rush on Roos, while Castillo beats Stewart badly, knocking him down. Under pressure, VY takes advantage of the open outlet receiver. Cooper has outside positioning on CJ, so he cuts it back up the middle and gets about 13 yards after the catch, because he’s CJ28 and that’s what he does. It’s a little surprising the Chargers didn’t pay more attention to CJ, as teams like to bracket him even when he’s just the outlet guy, but I’ll take the gain.
2-10-SD28 (1Q 8:26) Incomplete short left to Britt
VY is in the gun with CJ on his right, Scaife TE right, and trips left with Gage flanked by Britt (inside) and Washington. The Chargers have 6 guys in the box, plus Gregory is on the line in front of Gage, with Cromartie playing outside 5 yards off and Weddle inside 8 yards off. The Chargers bring the 4 you’d expect, plus Gregory jams Gage (also expected). Scaife runs a route, and CJ slips into the right flat. Of the trips, Gage is trying to go upfield, Washington is going upfield, and Britt runs a shallow out. While Britt is officially the intended receiver, the pass may have been for Gage, who was in the middle of the field about 6 yards downfield. Either way, it’s tipped at the line by Alfonso Boone, who hadn’t gotten any penetration against Mawae and Amano but was able to get his hands up. Aside from “passes batted down at the line are bad,” I’m not sure what to say about this play; could have been an error by VY, could have been just fine. Judging by VY’s patting himself after the play, I’m guessing he screwed up somehow.
3-10-SD28 (1Q 8:22) Incomplete short left to Washington
Same formation for the Titans, while the Chargers have 1 more guy in the box. Gregory is still heads up on Gage, while Cromartie is playing deeper to the outside. The Chargers bring 5, including a DB in the box, and drop the rest. CJ stays in to block. Washington runs a shallow out, about 7 yards downfield, while Gage, Washington and Scaife run deeper routes. The Chargers end up with 2 free rushers, the DB and more importantly Cooper up the middle, who pancakes CJ on his attempted block. VY has to make a throw off his back foot; intended for Washington, who has a tough assignment of catching a mediocre throw and turning upfi… eh, it’s Nate, he drops the ball anyway. You’d prefer one of the interior OL pick up Cooper’s blitz, and CJ handle the DB off the edge. You’d prefer that Nate catch the damn ball, for a change. Either way, it results in a field goal attempt.
1-10-TEN26 (1Q 1:12) Incomplete deep left to Gage
Titans start this drive down 7-3. Crumpler(?) next to Stewart, Scaife offset to CJ’s left in the backfield, Gage narrow split left, Britt(?) narrow slot right. Chargers show the normal 5-2 look, with rookie Larry English the man outside Roos. Playfake to CJ and a deep drop. Chargers bring 4, including English, and both Scaife and CJ initially stay in to block. VY has a good pocket and takes a shot 40 yards downfield for Gage. S Eric Weddle comes over to join CB Cromartie in coverage and tips the ball away. Probably not the best decision by VY, though it’s impossible to see how easy it was for Weddle to see what was happening and come over to assist.
1-10-SD43 (2Q 15:00) Incomplete short right to Cook
A wide formation for the Titans; Gage split wide left, Washington motions right to slot left, Cook wide right, Scaife next to Stewart, CJ the lone setback with VY under center. Chargers have the normal 5 on the line, both outside CBs playing well off the wideout. The Chargers bring 4, CJ shows block initially. Ian Scott, blocked by Mawae, is able to get his hand up and bat down VY’s pass at the line. Cook, who looked like he was being covered by CB Jammer, isn’t visible on the screen, so who knows if he was open.
1-10-SD29 (2Q 12:58) Intended short middle for Crumpler, intercepted by B.Siler
I formation, Hall in front of CJ, Crumpler moved from right to Roos’s wing left, Washington split wide left, Gage split wide right. Chargers are showing 8 in the box, with 4 “DL” and Merriman (who’s been a coverage guy, not a pass rusher thus far). The Chargers bring what looks like 5, but Ellison is shadowing CJ and drops off to follow when #28 moves into the left flat. The other 3 guys in the box, LBs, drop into coverage. It looks like man coverage, based on the outside, but Merriman, Cooper, and Siler were playing zone. VY reads man and sees Crumpler come open inside of Cooper, and doesn’t see Siler lurking in the middle of the field. Bad read by VY or, alternatively, credit the Chargers for confusing him with combo coverage.
1-10-TEN35 (2Q 8:38) Complete short right to Hall for 3, illegal contact on Jammer
Titans start this drive down 14-3. Offset I, with Hall in front of CJ, Crumpler wing left, Washington narrow left, Gage narrow right. Chargers 8 in the box, so it’s like a 5-3. They bring 5, included the DB who motioned with Crumpler, as CJ stays in to block (and picks up the DB, thanks for not screwing up). VY dumps it off for Hall in the right flat; the ball is underthrown and Hall has to go down for it; then again, given his fumbling issues, that may not be a bad thing. Jammer is flagged for illegal contact on Gage on what may have been, but was probably not, supposed to be an out and up route.
3-5-TEN45 (2Q 6:24) Scramble up middle for 4, fumble recovered by SD
Shotgun, CJ to VY’s left, Britt wide right, Scaife left side, Gage slot left, Washington split wide left. Chargers have 6 in the box, 3 DL and 2 possible rush OLBs, of which 1 comes for a total of 4. CJ stays in before slipping out into the left flat. Boone beats Mawae, and VY is affected by the pressure. Rather than hit Britt on the shallow cross (a la the hot read to Hawk on the game winning drive against the Cardinals), he keeps it himself with Phillips, who came off Stewart’s block, in pursuit. VY goes down a yard shot of the line and is ruled to have fumbled. Cooper was in the zone where Britt was heading, but a good pass beats the coverage. That’s what VY should have done, pressure be damned. Too much trust in his legs, not enough in his arm.
1-10-TEN23 (2Q 3:07) Scramble left end for 8
Titans start this drive down 21-3. Offset I, Hall to CJ’s left, Washington split left, Britt split right, Scaife(?) next to Roos. Chargers in the normal 5-3, with the safety part of the 3 showing rush right before the snap. Garay beats Amano, getting pressure on VY up the middle and forcing him to scramble. Roos had Martin contain, but he’s able to shed the block and join in Garay on getting pressure on VY scrambling to his left side. Not enough to catch up with him, of course. Hall gets a block on Merriman downfield. VY could have cut this back inside and possibly gotten the first down, but, really, 8 yards and avoiding a hit is the better call here. This play, though, was defined by Amano getting beat by Garay.
2-12-TEN21 (2Q 2:08) Complete short left to CJ28 for 15
Backed up after a hold on Amano, VY is in the guy flanked by CJ and Scaife, with Britt(?) wide left, Gage slot right, and Washington wide right. Chargers show 4 and bring 4, and it’s the pseudo-double screen with Cj going left and Scaife (mostly sans blockers) right. Mawae kind of waves in the general direction of Dobbins, Scott falls down, and Amano picks off Martin, who’s not going to catch up with CJ when #28 has a 4 yard head start. Antonio Cromartie’s massive overcommitment to the inside/hatred of even pretending to try to tackle completes the Keystone Kops routine. No matter, CJ gets 15 on his own and heads out of bounds, which would be great if it wasn’t (a) the two minute warning and (b) the play started before 2:00 was left in the second quarter, so the clock restarts once the ball is set anyway.
1-10-TEN36 (2Q 1:59) Complete short right to Washington for 11
Same formation, on both sides pretty much, but the Chargers bring extra guys into the box and big-blitz with 7. It’s picked up fairly well, and VY hits Washington for the gain on the comeback, or maybe out. Against this sort of blitz, you’d like to see maybe a shot at a big play, as single coverage is quite likely, but not much to complain about here.
1-10-TEN47 (2Q 1:54) Complete short left to Washington for 9
VY in the gun with CJ, Gage strong slot left, Washington wide left, Britt(?) wide right, Chargers bring the expected 4. Washington runs a short in and gets 6 plus a couple YAC. Not sure why this was a quick pass; the Chargers weren’t showing blitz, and Washington had no chance to get out of bounds. Frankly, this looks like a play designed to run some clock.
2-1-SD44 (2Q 1:21) Complete short left to Britt for 13
See 2 previous plays, flip sides. Comeback, or maybe deep out, to Britt, who fights through Cromartie’s pseudo-tackle to get out of bounds. Fine play in the two minute drill. Millen claims the Chargers were in cover-3 this play, which has at least a 20% chance of being true, maybe higher since it wasn’t his favorite “man under 2 deep.”
1-10-SD31 (2Q 1:12) Incomplete short right to CJ28
VY in the gun with CJ, Scaife next to Roos, Gage, Hawk, and Britt from left to right on the right side. Chargers show 6 in the box, plus a DB aligned near Gage who seems to be blitzing, and is. 5 total come, and 2 drop off. VY fake to CJ, then drops back. It’s a screen, but the blitzing DB, Gregory, forces an inaccurate pass. Pity, as the screen against the blitz would have worked here, as it often does.
3-6-SD27 (2Q :58) Scramble up middle for 9
In the gun again, Scaife next to Roos, Washington wide left, Gage and Britt(?) wide right. Chargers show and bring 4. CJ runs into the pattern, VY retreats and, apparently not seeing anything he likes, takes off. He has room for a good gain, but instead runs laterally to get out of bounds and save clock. With only 1 TOL, that’s the right move.
1-10-SD18 (2Q :50) Complete short right to Washington for 7
In the gun again, formation pretty much reversed. Chargers get a little more creative on the blitz, bringing 4 but dropping English(?) and bringing Cooper up the middle. VY, seemingly not really trusting his protection, hits Washington on a short in. Probably a quicker decision than was necessary, but not a bad one.
2-3-SD11 (2Q :31) Complete short middle to CJ28 for 8
Same formation as last play. Chargers show and bring 4; it looks like Merriman (against Roos) is offside, not flagged. CJ is a dumpoff option middle of the field, and an attractive one; he catches the ball for the first and then gets a couple more to set up the eventual TD. Once again perhaps a quicker decision than was necessary, and still not a bad one.
1-10-TEN38 (3Q 14:54) Incomplete short left to Gage
Titans start this drive down 21-10. Trips close right, made up of Scaife flanked by Crumpler (inside) and Washington, Gage split left, CJ in the backfield. Chargers bring 4 (the OLB not on Scaife). VY makes a fairly quick pass to Gage on a stop route about 9 yards downfield. Cromartie seems to go through Gage and breaks up the pass; no flag is forthcoming. Not sure what the other options were, but I’ll give Heimerdinger credit for the world’s weirdest trips set.
1-10-TEN24 (3Q 9:43) Sacked by I.Scott for loss of 1
Titans start this drive down 28-10. Titans are in an ace formation, Scaife and Crumpler inline, Gage wide left and Washington wide right, CJ the lone setback, Chargers in the 5-2 and bring 4. Amano, nor a helping CJ, can’t block Boone, so VY is forced to step up in a messy pocket. Scott peeled off of Jake Scott’s block, and VY slides down for a 1 yard loss. It’s of course unclear if VY had anything open downfield or if taking off was his best or even only option.
2-11-TEN23 (3Q 9:11) Incomplete short middle to Britt Titans in the gun, Washington wide right, Gage slot right strong, Britt wide left, CJ in the backfield. Chargers show 4 DL and bring those 4. Pass is a quick slant to Britt, who didn’t seem to be ready for the ball, or maybe it was a little too far, or maybe he let up rather than let Cooper, lurking in wait, decapitate him. VY, it’s bad form, if nothing else, to lead your receivers into hard hits over the middle of the field.
3-11-TEN23 (3Q 9:09) Scramble up middle for 2
Same formation as last time. Chargers show 5 and bring 5, including a stunt. VY sees pressure coming and takes off, but Dobbins makes a good tackle from behind to get him for a gain of only 2. From the end zone angle, it doesn’t look like anybody was open, but it also appears that VY took off earlier than he needed to and could have waited for somebody to come up but trusted in his legs and not his protection.
1-10-TEN29 (3Q 3:13) Incomplete short middle to Gage
Titans start this drive down 35-10. Scaife offset I left in front of CJ, Washington slot left, Gage wide left, Chargers 5-2 + CB over Washington as a potential blitzer. Chargers bring 4. VY throws for Gage on the comeback deep left, but leaves the ball too short for Justin to get it. A poor throw by VY thanks to some pressure by Garay, who’d beaten Mawae.
2-10-TEN29 (3Q 3:08) Intended short right for Britt, intercepted by E.Weddle
Trips right, Gage flanked by Washington (inside) and Britt(?). Chargers bring the obbvious 4, CJ heads out into the field. VY throws for Gage about 12 yards downfield on the right-comeback, or maybe out route. Gage had outside positioning, but Weddle made a good break on the ball, plus the pass was too far inside to avoid CB Cason, who was in the area. Poor throw and poor decision by VY, though I feel like Britt could’ve done a better job of fighting for the ball.
1-10-TEN37 (4Q 13:37) Incomplete short right for Gage.
Titans start this drive down 42-10. Britt wide left, Gage slot right strong, Hawk wide right, CJ the lone setback and Scaife the TE. Chargers showing 4 DL, plus another guy creeping down late, and bring those 5. VY looks for a hot read, who is Gage, who doesn’t seem to realize he’s the hot read, or at least that’s what I’d assume from the ball hitting him in the face mask. Somebody, VY or Gage, screwed up their assignment here.
1-10-TEN48 (4Q 12:51) Incomplete deep left for Britt
VY in the gun with CJ, Britt wide left, Gage slot right strong, Washington wide right. Chargers showing 4 DL-types, plus a 1 inside backer, and bring the 4 DL-types. VY sends one flying for Britt on a go pattern/9 route on the left sideline, but the ball’s just a little bit too far for Britt to haul in. Down 4 scores (assuming you hit on all the 2-pt conversions), this isn’t too consequential, but it is disappointing. Hopefully they’ll hit this one next time.
3-12-TEN46 (4Q 12:04) Incomplete short right to Britt
VY in the gun with CJ, Cook the TE left side, Gage slot left, Washington wide left, and Britt wide right. Chargers show 7 in the box and bring 5 of those. Weddle brings the heat, but VY gets it off to Britt on the right side for what would be a first down if Kenny could hang onto the ball. Drop.
This is the second time this year I’ve done this sort of breakdown; the previous time was for Collins’ streak of incompletions to end the Jets game. That time, I sort of had an idea as to what to expect from doing that; this time, it was a little messier. What wasn’t really surprising is the Titans are what you could call a comprehensively imperfect team when it comes to passing game failures. Some of the incompletions were VY’s fault. Some were created by poor play by the offensive line, particularly Mawae and Amano. Some were the fault of the receivers, particularly drops.
To some extent, these sorts of errors are all inevitable; no QB, not even Peyton Manning, will make the perfect read every time, even the best OL will screw up, and receivers who don’t play for the Saints will drop passes every game. The key, unhelpful though it may be, is to do those things less often. Some of that can be fixed by coaching, but some of it may be by player upgrades. The Titans came into the year with a problematic passing game created in part by nobody you could clearly identify as above league average in terms of skill position players; even now, I’d say CJ has improved as a pass catcher where he qualifies, though he remains only mediocre at blitz pickup.
Kenny Britt has been incorporated more into the offense, as I suggested should happen in my review of the Jets game. He remains promising but still is clearly a work in progress. The other players are cogs, not hubs you can build around. Like others, I had hopes for Jared Cook this year, but those remain unfulfilled, while Gage is limited and Washington hasn’t been able to transition from a cog to a hub. But, really, Friday’s game clearly showed the difference between an elite passing offense and one that has a lot of work to do to be above average, let alone elite.