For one of the rare times this season, I had the opportunity to watch in detail the all-22 for both the offense and the defense in the Titans' last game before the played the next game. Thus, a post on what I saw.
As always with what I write about what I saw, this post is what I choose to write about what I saw. What I write in this post is not everything I saw, and what I saw is far from everything that happened on the field. The analysis in this post is my best explanation of what happened, based on what I think is a pretty good in-depth knowledge of the Titans and a lesser knowledge of the Cardinals. Like all evaluators, I have things and players I like, and those I do not, but I try to be an equal-opportunity glass-mostly-empty misanthrope. I am doing this without knowledge of the actual offensive and defensive playcalls and specific player assignments on any given play; if I knew these things, it may radically change some of my beliefs about what happened in the game. What I write in this post is what I think I think about the game, based on what I think I know, can surmise, and educatedly guess.
1. I actually find writing about Ryan Fitzpatrick kind of frustrating. I've expressed this mostly in Q&A's, as opposed to posts here, but he's a quarterback with certain strengths and limitations in some way similar to those Matt Hasselbeck displayed. Unlike Hasselbeck even in 2011, though, Fitzpatrick is not really even the present, except immediately so, of the Titans quarterback position. That is still defined by Jake Locker. I have stated my belief that Fitzpatrick's play this last part of 2013 is important to Locker's future-the Titans are unlikely to find a clearly better (as opposed to differently-flawed) quarterback than Fitzpatrick to come as the backup should they decide to part ways with Fitzpatrick. Given that a conservative general manager (Ruston Webster might prefer to describe himself as prudent) would want a quality backup option should Locker fail to make healthy through 16 games in 2014, something he failed to do in 2012 and 2013. Is Fitzpatrick, or a Fitzpatrick-type good enough to be that backup, and perhaps, will the Titans look for a differently-flawed backup?
2. That said, Fitzpatrick played for the most part pretty darned well against an opposing defense that had been pretty stout against the pass this year. One thing that helped was his occasionally-scattershot deep accuracy was mostly on target this game. Two throws in particular stood out-the completion to Kendall Wright on the deep out for 20 yards on third-and-8 on the third quarter touchdown drive and the deep post to Nate Washington in overtime, right before the interception. Patrick Peterson had what I thought was pretty good coverage both plays, but those were very good throws in my book.
3. Two interceptions by Fitz-the first pass I didn't have an issue with, as I think Nate Washington needs to beat Antoine Cason to the spot, preferably to get the catch but at least to get the breakup. The second, as he acknowledged in the postgame presser, was on him. The Cardinals ended up bringing overload pressure after safety Tony Jefferson came on the blitz and the linebacker he'd accounted for in the protection scheme did not. I didn't screenshot this play, but the Michael Griffin sack in this post for an example of the same thing. Having made that protection call, he needs to get the ball out quicker.
4. Want to see what cutbacks on the backside of a zone play are supposed to look like? Here's a pretty good example.
5. While Chance Warmack did his job on that play (Taylor Thompson had the other cut), there were enough other plays he did not to have at least an elevated level of concern over his development. A smattering of my notes:
a. First drive, third-and-3, Walker comes open over the middle after the short crossers clear, but Warmack has lost to Rucker so badly Fitz is forced to escape;
b. Third drive, third-and-9, he and Battle struggle to pick up Calais Campbell on a loop move;
c. Sixth drive, first-and-10, loses to Dockett, forcing Fitz to scramble (sacked for a loss of 5);
d. Sixth drive, third-and-5, struggles with T-E stunt pickup (a recurring problem for the Titans);
e. Seventh drive, second-and-10, loses to Dockett on an outside zone run to the right side and got grabby, drawing a holding call; and
f. Ninth drive, first-and-10, more struggles with T-E stunt pickup, this one resulting in a sack.
6. To be fair to Warmack, he's not the only rookie playing on the Titans offensive line right now who's struggling. I though Brian Schwenke played reasonably well when he first came into the lineup, but Arizona gave him nearly as many problems as they did Warmack. If you look at the picture above, CJ cuts it back because Campbell beat Schwenke playside, and that wasn't the only time he couldn't get his block on Campbell. I'm more forgiving of fourth-rounders who missed training camp with an injury and didn't start until midseason than I am of top ten picks, but those were the only two guys on offense I busted out CAPS LOCK for in my notes this game.
7. Just because, here's Schwenke getting one on Calais Campbell, knocking him to the ground (to CJ's left).
8. Harping on Schwenke and Warmack doesn't mean I'm absolving David Stewart of his woes in a disappointing injury-plagued season. As I said on Twitter this week, I'm half-scared the Titans will decide injuries caused all his problems this year and Stewart will be fine in 2014 so they'll bring him back and half-scared the Titans will decide they need a quality right tackle to be the team they want to be and spend their first-round pick on a right tackle.
9. Praise for OL I'm ripping screenshot, of Stewart (right side) blocking two guys.
10. Kendall Wright was of course the player who came out of the game with the gaudy numbers-12 catches, 21 targets, 150 yards receiving and a penalty drawn. Watching the notes, I saw what felt more like a typical Kendall Wright performance. Fitzpatrick had been targeting him a lot, and the numbers are a function of volume (the Titans called 65 non-spike pass plays). In terms of percentage of passes, this game came out behind the first Colts game, in a virtual 3-way tie with the other Colts game and, perhaps a bit of a surprise, the Houston game.
11. This is a hard game to process for me. Through the pick-6 that made 34-17, the Titans had been successful on 36% of their offensive plays-roughly the same rate as against Denver and down there with their least successful games of the season. The final 24 noh-spike plays, 71%. It's tempting for me to arguing they were running the ball too much and calling all pass plays was why they were so successful, but they didn't have much better success passing than they did running in the first three-plus quarters (37% v 33%). Plus, it's not like they were as insanely predictable as they'd felt at times on first down, calling 13 passes and 11 runs.
12. The Titans ran Spot out of at least three different alignments and personnel groupings.
13. Arizona had some weird miscommunication issues in the secondary at times, giving the Titans some open receivers. Really odd to see from a good defense in Week 15, though I believe Greg Cosell noted similar weirdness as a recurring issue with the Cardinals.
1. I'll try to make this relatively concise, because it has its place in a future post, but I'm saving myself the privilege of going back and looking at my notes from one of Chet Parlavecchio's radio spots, where he talked about how linebackers are the key to the defense. 5-9 record notwithstanding, the 2013 Titans are better than the 2012 Titans, and I think that's true pretty much across the board. About the only position where the 2013 team might be worse, now that Leon Washington has stabilized the returner position, is linebacker, and I'm tempted to describe the position as a disaster the second half of the season.
2. Whatever Zach Brown did that made the coaches want to bench him, I didn't see it in the six plays he played this game. He made the tackle on the 13-yard run to open Arizona's second possession-as the backside flow guy, after Pitoitua, Hill, and Ayers all got beat at the point of attack. He made the tackle on Ellington's 26-yard reception-maybe they thought he should have been closer to him in zone, but I'm not sure about that and he seemed to think he had pretty good zone coverage (good play design, something I noted repeatedly from Arizona, and a good, accurate throw by Palmer).
3. Would Akeem Ayers have been benched, too, if the Titans had somebody else who could play Sam linebacker? What made me irate were Mendenhall's two touchdown runs, both of them cutbacks into the gap where Ayers started the play before jumping out of his gap to join the pile in the middle. Maybe this is designed, and I should actually be thoroughly aggravated with Jerry Gray and/or Gregg Williams instead. Based on other plays I noticed, though, I'm guessing those were on Ayers.
4. If I were Brown, watching Gooden's play this game would make me irate, because it's not like he was an upgrade on Brown. The play that's been noted the most was Mendenhall's big run in overtime, where Gooden got downhill quickly into the wrong gap, leaving an open hole for the run. And it's not like that was the only run where Gooden did that. His play reminded me of Colin McCarthy's, dumb aggressiveness. Sometimes, that results in making good plays, though it didn't for Gooden this game. More often, it's stressing the rest of the defense and giving the offense the chance for big plays.
5. While I'm comparing Titans linebackers to other Titans linebackers, Moise Fokou this game reminded me of Barrett Ruud in 2011 in his non-aggressively he got downhill and just waited for the play to come to him (including sometimes the offensive lineman coming to block him after the D-tackle can't soak up the double team). His most aggravating play was Palmer's touchdown pass, where he dropped in zone coverage in the middle of the field and sank, to where he was within a couple yards of single-high safety Michael Griffin a couple yards deep in the end zone, on a play where the Cardinals started at the 6. I lean towards agreeing with Matt Bowen that teams should never play single-high in goal-to-go situations, but even beyond that this play was inexplicably, insanely, pathetically easy for the Cardinals.
6. You want easy? I've highlighted the Cardinals receivers I would describe as "open" on this play.
The nice thing about pass plays is you only need one receiver open. Having four is a tremendous luxury. In case you're wondering, Palmer threw the ball to Michael Floyd at the top of the screen for a 20-yard gain.
7. What happened on third downs that game? Well, take a look:
a. Dropped pass to open receiver past the sticks on third-and-10;
b. Third-and-1 converted on fullback blast as Gooden can't make the tackle short of the sticks (tough play);
c. Third-and-3 converted on a short cross against tight coverage;
d. Gain of 9 on third-and-11 after Blidi Wreh-Wilson whiffs on the initial tackle attempt (Arizona kicks the 25-yard field goal);
e. Actual good defensive play(!), as blitz from 3-1-7 helps Jurrell Casey get pressure and Coty Sensabaugh (who's been solid this year) breaks up the pass;
f. Third-and-7 converted for 12 yards on a deep out (like a flat in Sail) on the next-to-last play of the first half, to help set up a reasonable Hail Mary;
g. Bad shotgun snap on third-and-9, though some credit to Derrick Morgan for getting there quickly;
h. Dropped pass to open receiver past the sticks on third-and-8;
i. Blidi Wreh-Wilson beaten in man coverage for 16 yards on third-and-7;
j. Larry Fitzgerald catches a deep out against Coty Sensabaugh for 18 yards on third-and-7;
k. One of the aforementioned "wtf is Akeem Ayers doing?" touchdowns, on third-and-goal from the 1; and
l. Thanks to Eric Winston for false starting and turning third-and-4 into third-and-9 in the four-minute drill, as Michael Griffin makes a solid tackle on the backside four yards downfield.
By my count: 12 third down attempts, 6 conversions, 4 failed conversions due to Arizona self-inflicted mistakes (counting the Winston false start in that category), one near-conversion that could've been important in different circumstances, and one-and-a-half actual good defensive plays (Winston false start notwithstanding, that was a solid play and the defense accomplished what it needed to).
8. Jurrell Casey is great and needs at least one UFR of his own just because I need to write a post all about how great he is and how many plays he makes-I had him down for about 8 disruptions or other impactful plays this game. That's not the most I've ever noted in a game (I did cover one of the best seasons by a defensive player in NFL history last year), but it's still really good.