How you fail on 15 straight pass plays

With 11:34 to go in the third quarter last Sunday’s game against the Jets, Kerry Collins threw a 9 yard touchdown pass to Nate Washington to stake the Titans to a 17-14 lead.  The Titans would call 15 more pass plays the rest of the game, but not a single one of them would be complete-13 would be officially listed as incompletions, of which 12 would fall harmlessly to the ground and 1 be caught by the Jets, 1 would result in a Collins scramble for a couple yards, and one in a costly sack.

So, how does a team fail to complete a pass on 15 straight pass plays, anyway?  To answer this question, I thought I’d take a look at those fifteen plays and try to figure out what happened on each one.  What I expected to see was a mix of wide receivers dropping the ball, a quarterback having problems delivering an accurate ball on time, and a defense that created protection problems against a team with backs having trouble picking up the blitz.

As for what I actually did see, well, the answers are after the jump.
2-7-NYJ 50 (8:51) Incomplete short right to Hall
The Titans lined up in an I-formation here, with Hall in front of CJ and Gage and Washington both tight on the right side with Stevens lined up next to Roos.  The Jets brought 4, with CJ picking up a stunting defensive lineman after Collins’ playfake.  Kerry looked downfield for Gage and/or Washington, then tried throwing for Hall in the right flat about 2 yards downfield.  With pressure from that side, he short-armed the throw and Hall was unable to make a diving catch.  An OL, probably Scott (who was blocking nobody), probably should have pulled to pick up the stunting lineman.

3-7-NYJ 50 (8:47) Incomplete deep right to Washington
Collins lined up in the shotgun with Crumpler to his right and CJ to his left.  The Titans had 3 WR on the field-Gage and Washington next to each other right and Britt wide left.  The Jets initially showed a big-blitz of 7, but 2 on the Titans’ left side dropped off.  With CJ running a route, the Titans had 6 to block 7 and David Harris came untouched between Mawae and Harris.  Kerry was forced to scramble outside the pocket to his right, and couldn’t make an in-bounds throw to Washington 25 yards downfield.  This was another play designed by the pressure the Jets brought.

2-8-TEN 26 (4:25) Scramble left guard for 3
Crumpler TE left side, Hall offset to the right in front of LenDale.  Gage lined up initially outside left but motioned to the slot right before the ball was snapped, while Britt was split wide right.  The Jets brought 4 down linemen.  Jenkins moved Scott back into Collins’ face, so he stepped up in the pocket and then decided to take off, sliding down after picking up a couple.  Without the all-22 film, it’s impossible to know if anybody was open here.

3-5-TEN 29 (3:40) Incomplete short middle to Crumpler
Shotgun 3-wide formation, with Washington split wide left, Gage slot left, Crumpler beside Roos, and Britt (I believe) wide right and CJ probably the back to Collins’ right.  The Jets loooked to be bringing 6 at the snap and did bring 5, with 1 dropping off to cover CJ as he moved into the right flat.  Mawae had trouble with a blitzing linebacker and Kerry was forced to make a throw with pressure in his face to Crumpler over the middle at the first down marker.  The throw as a little behind him, and S Smith was able to make the play in coverage.  A better leading throw is a completion, but it’s impossible to tell from the side angle if Collins had a throwing lane (including the official).

1-10-TEN 13 (15:00) Incomplete deep left to Gage
The Titans came out in base personnel, with Hall offset left of CJ in the backfield and Crumpler moving from left wing to right wing.  Gage was lined up wide left, while Washington (I believe) was wide right.  The Jets were crowding the line of scrimmage with 6, 5 of whom ended coming.  The Jets brought an overload to the Titans’ right side and ended up with a free rusher in #99 Bryan Thomas.  Collins had time, though, and got off a nice pass to Gage on a deep in about 22 yards downfield.  Gage had beaten Revis, but the ball goes off his hands.  Drop by Mr. Gage.

2-8-NYJ 45 (10:14) Incomplete deep left to Cook
The Titans lined up in a 3 “wideout” look, with Crumpler the tight end right, Washington outside right, moving inside near Crumpler as the play is snapped, and Gage and Cook on the left side with CJ in the backfield.  The Jets showed a 4 DL look and brought those four.  Collins had pretty good protection and threw for Cook on a corner route about 17 yards downfield.  The throw was a little high for Cook, who was open but also had to contend with S Kerry Rhodes coming over in support.  Still, this one’s on Collins.

3-8-NYJ 45 (10:08) Incomplete deep middle to Gage
Collins in the gun on 3rd and long, flanked by CJ and Crumpler, with Gage slot left, Britt(?) split left, and Washington(?) wide right.  The Jets had 8 guys in the box who looked like potential blitzers, suggesting single coverage on the wideouts, and did in fact bring 7, with the only non-rusher dropping off to cover LenDale White.  Bringing 7 against 6, the Jets ended up with the expected untouched rusher, who forced Collins to miss the throw for Gage on the post downfield.  The normal read here is a slant route to the wide receiver, where the CB is playiing off, and that call would have worked.  The problem pre-snap is that if one of the potential rushers is instead buzzing, that’s probably at least a pass defensed and maybe an interception.  In the game of move-and-counter-move, the Jets won this play.

2-10-TEN 31 (7:42) Incomplete short left to Washington
Double-wide, double-tight personnel for the Titans this play, with Gage wide right and Washington wide left.  Crumpler is lined up next to Roos, while Stevens moves across the formation to line up on Stewart’s wing.  The Jets are showing a 4-3 look with a safety creeping down between Stevens and Washington.  The Jets bring the 4 down linemen only.  Collins has time to throw and hits Washington 12 yards downfield on an in route.  Which goes off Nate’s hands.  That’s a drop by Mr. Washington.

3-10-TEN 31 (7:37) Incomplete short middle to CJ28
Titans line up in their normal 3&long package of 3-WR, TE, RB.  Britt is split wide right, CJ in the backfield, Crumpler on Roos’s wing, and Gage and Washington next to each other on the left side.  The Jets have 8 potential blitzers, though Bart Scott is already starting to bail as the play is snapped.  It looks like an overload left, and is in fact as the Jets bring 5 from the Mawae/Scott A-gap left.  Crumpler moves too far outside, leaving an inside lane between him and Roos.  CJ has lined up on Kerry’s right, and doesn’t know if he should take the inside guy or the outside guy.  It should be the outside guy, who he’d be late getting over on, but Crumpler’s error probably created indecision.  Either way, Kerry sees Crumpler beat to the inside, PLUS a free rusher from the outside.  Collins just throws the ball up the middle, in the general direction of Crumpler, but this probably should have been grounding.  Uh, we had some protection problems.

1-10-TEN 39 (6:22) Incomplete short right to Washington
The Titans are in base personnel, with LenDale and Hall offset left, Crumpler on Stewart’s wing, and Gage wide left and Washington wide right.  The Jets are showing “under” look with an LB standing up a couple yards outside of Roos in addition to the 4 DL.  They end up bringing only the 4 DL and the protection is fine.  Collins throws to the far hash for Washington about 14 yards downfield on a comeback route, but Nate can’t haul the ball in.  Another drop by Mr. Washington.

2-15-NYJ 44 (4:22) Intended for Crumpler, intercepted
Same formation as last time, only Gage is closer in, Crumpler is on the line next to Stewart, and CJ replaced LenDale as the tailback.  The Jets are showing an “over” look to go with the 4 DL and bring only the DL.  Harris, who I thought generally did a good job, got pushed back into Collins’ area by DT Sione Pouha.  Kerry was unable to step into his throw and it’s intercepted by underneath defender David Harris.  If Leroy Harris can give him the space to step into this throw, this should be a 20 yard completion to Crumpler.  Instead, the 1v1 battle was lost, and it costs the Titans possession.

1-10-TEN 46 (2:24) Incomplete short right to Washington
Passing personnel-CJ to Collins’ right in the backfield, Crumpler on Stewart’s wing, Washington wide right, Gage slot left, and Britt(?) wide left.  The Jets have 3 DL and 4 other guys in the area, plus the slot corner on Gage, of whom 6 show rush initially and 4 actually come on an overload to the right side.  There’s an unblocked safety coming free from the right side, so Collins has to make a quick decision.  He throws the 12 yard out for Washington-it’s a tough catch because the throw is a little bit too far outside, but still one you want to see your wideout get.  CJ also moves out late to pick up the blitzing safety, though I have a tough time faulting him because of the potential threat from the inside.

2-15-TEN 41 (2:18) Sacked for loss of 8 by 52-D.Harris
Same personnel package this time, only Crumpler is on Roos’s wing this time.  The Jets have 6 guys standing in front of the O-line, any of which plus the slot corner could be coming.  This time, the 4 leftmost do.  Collins tries to move right within the pocket to buy time, but CJ is slow getting over to the left side and Roos, no matter how awesome I think he is, can’t block two guys on his own.  David Harris gets around to the outside, and Collins is sunk.

3-23-TEN 33 (2:00) Incomplete deep right to Britt
Same personnel lineup as the first play in the drive, only Crumpler is lined up standing up slightly deeper in the wing position.  The Jets show 5 potential rushers on the line, plus the slot corner-with a safety wide right, it looks like an overload right.  The Jets in fact bring 4, with Harris rushing from his MLB position off the line, and S Smith makes it 5 after CJ stays in to block.  Leroy Harris flubs his block a little, failing to recognize David Harris’s delayed rush and not getting off the potential double team with Roos in time.  Collins has pressure coming up the middle and has to force a throw for Britt.  Kenny makes a nice diving try, but the ball goes over his arms and falls to the turf just short of the first down marker.  Not an easy catch, but definitely one he was in a position to make.

4-23-TEN 33 (1:54) Incomplete deep right to Gage
Convert or lose time.  Crumpler is lined up outside Roos again in the same position, while Gage has moved to the slot right position.  CJ is stil to Collins’ right side, and Washington and Britt was split wide left and right.  The Jets are crowing the line of scrimmage with 8 men, and have DBs lined up about 7 yards off the line of scrimmage on the two right WRs and the third 10 yards off on the left.  Depending on how many of the 8 showing pressure the Jets bring, your best bet may be a quick throw to a wideout and hope for a missed tackle.  Then again, that’s why the DBs are playing off-to delay the moment of decision and wait for friends to help.  After the snap, the Jets do in fact bring 7, with only S Smith dropping off to cover Crumpler on his route.  S Kerry Rhodes is the remaining guy and he’s coming in untouched off the right side.  Collins has to get rid of the ball and tosses it up in the air in the general vicinity of Gage, only too far and off to the right.

The $64,000 question is of course what you can do here, aside from Kerry throwing a better ball (possible, but difficult-timing is tough when a throw too early gets your WR tackled short of the sticks and a throw too late doesn’t get to him).  A jump ball to Gage, which is what Collins was probably trying to do, is certainly a reasonable option.  The Jets CBs are playing off enough a simple go route won’t be enough to get past them in the time you have before the rush gets there, nor will you have the opportunity to try a deep comeback, especially when the Jets know you have to get 23 yards for a first down.  Really, on 4&23, all options suck, which is why the Packers fired their defensive coordinator after the Eagles converted 4&26 in the playoffs earlier this decade.

The overwhelming impression I got is the Titans had a difficult time adapting to the Jets’ multiple blitz looks and overloads.  The guys in the backfield, both Crumpler and Johnson, both had trouble identifying and blocking the key rushers.  Some of that is on them, some possibly on Mawae’s calls, and some probably on Collins’ blitz identification.  Aside from blitz identification flaws, I thought Kerry actually played reasonably well, or at least much better than you’d expect from a quarterback who doesn’t complete any of his last 13 passes.  The Cook throw he missed was the only really bad one without pressure.  Some of the blame certainly rests with the wideouts, both in what they should be able to do but can’t (see the drops above) and some in what you’d want wideouts to do, like gain separation.

I was chatting with people who don’t normally watch the Titans during the game, and several remarked on the general lack of separation you get from the Titans’ WRs.  Washington was supposed to address this a little bit, and he probably does have good deep speed, but I’m not sure he has the short-space quickness to do that (the hammy may still be bothering him a little).  In fact, I can only remember one time during the game where a Titans WR did really establish separation-Britt beat Revis on a throw over the middle that helped set up Washington’s TD, and only one of those passes was intended for him.  That may be something that needs to change going forward.  I haven’t fallen in love with him yet, but he does seem to offer hints as to an important skill no other Titan WR has.  For that alone, he needs more looks.

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