Tennessee Titans first preseason game review

If I have time, I plan to do separate offensive and defensive reviews for subsequent preseason games, but like last year the first preseason game is getting a comprehensive review. I once again will go position by position with an implied depth chart, playing time notes, and whatever insight I managed to gleam from a preseason game in the rain with preseason broadcast with preseason production values.

General disclaimers apply in spades to this game. Preseason production values meant the broadcast missed entire plays. The weather meant player identification was at times difficult, and was part of the reason whole plays were lost. I do not have coaching film available and end zone/overhead camera angles were rarely shown, so judging things like passing windows, coverage, and just how big a running lane actually was was somewhere between difficult and impossible. What I write below, as is the case in about every post I write but is even more true here, is what I saw and think about what I think I saw, not definitive statement of fact. For production-value related reasons, snap counts are generally the official ones from the gamebook.

Quarterback
Depth chart:
1. Jake Locker (12 snaps)
2. Charlie Whitehurst (33 snaps)
3. Zach Mettenberger (16 snaps)

As Paul Kuharsky said, we got no real data on Locker from this game. I thought he could have done better with the two throws he didn’t complete (one negated by a defensive penalty). Due in part to the weather, the Titans ran the ball 9 of the 12 plays he was in the game (counting the aborted muffed exchange play as a run). Whitehurst looked like Charlie Whitehurst, with some throws that I thought he could have done better on and some solid plays, plus a bit more mobility than I was expecting. Mettenberger looked like Mettenberger, though also with more mobility (the DB blitz he avoided on the end zone incompletion to Michael Preston surprised me). The fumble on the sack was a good example of why you don’t want your quarterback to have the football waist-high while he’s in the pocket. His biggest throw was easy money-a wide receiver on a linebacker in the middle of the field with nobody over the top-but it was still a solid throw.

Running back
Depth chart, more or less:
1. Shonn Greene (7 snaps)
2. Dexter McCluster (5 snaps)
3. Bishop Sankey (33 snaps)
4a. Antonio Andrews (9 snaps)
4b. Jackie Battle (14 total snaps)

Greene and McCluster played with Locker, with both seeing time in 3WR sets. Sankey played every snap with Whitehurst, in both regular personnel and 3WR sets. Andrews played first and second downs and third and short with Mettenberger, while Battle got a third-and-long snap (I think) and the last drive, all of which was in 11 personnel. Greene and McCluster both looked solid-as I noted, McCluster had one particularly good run where he got low and shrugged off a hit from Packers first-round safety HaHa Clinton-Dix. When he doesn’t get low, he won’t get that extra yardage. Sankey was what I thought he’d be-solid in the passing game, meh in the running game. When there were yards blocked, he got yards. When there weren’t, he did. By success rate, 3 of his 13 carries were successful. His touchdown catch was a good one, looking over his outside shoulder for a ball thrown to the outside (cf Mariani, infra).

Fullback depth chart:
1. Jackie Battle
2. Collin Mooney (10 total snaps)

I had each player with 8 snaps at FB (Battle 15 total, 7 at HB, Mooney 2 extra from the kneeldowns). Each had a catch-Battle when the (backup) linebacker overplayed the middle and left his short flat route open, Mooney on a Texas route. I’m not sure whether intended receiver Battle or Mettenberger was more to blame for the deflected ball interception; my preseason default is to blame the rookie instead of the veteran, and the pass looked fast to me (thus the deflection), but Battle probably should have done better. My “stood out”-style note taking only noted in blocking that Mooney could have done a better job on Mettenberger’s incompletion to Preston over the middle where he got hit about the same time he threw.

Wide receiver
Roughly speaking, 2 WR sets:
1. Nate Washington (12 snaps)-Kendall Wright (11 snaps)
2. Derek Hagan (22 snaps)-Justin Hunter (20 snaps)
3. Brian Robiskie (23 snaps)-Michael Preston (31 snaps)

3 WR sets:
1. Washington – Hunter – Wright (slot)
2. Hagan – Hunter – Mariani (slot)
3. Williams – Preston – Robiskie (slot)

1 WR sets:
1. Washington
2. Hagan
3. Preston

Mariani, who only played in the slot, was the only receiver with multiple catches, and one of those was a sans-blocking WR screen that lost 3 yards. He stood out the most, probably because he had two chances to make a big play and missed on each one. Neither was an easy catch, but I thought he would have had the TD had he looked to the outside for Whitehurst’s outside throw instead of looking to the inside and having to contort his body to make the catch (cf Sankey, supra). Preston had one catch and one big pass interference play, and I didn’t think he had a chance on either incompletion thrown his direction. Hagan got knocked on his butt by Clinton-Dix on the edge on one play and didn’t come up with the only ball thrown his way. In a world of Overreading Small Samples, Hunter didn’t show he fixed his body-catching issues on his one grab. Robiskie didn’t play special teams, while Hagan and Preston (and of course Mariani, the sole return guy) did.

With the wide receivers, it felt like there was more presnap motion than we saw last year. Stacked releases were an occasional feature, as were bunch sets. In a world of Overreading Small Samples, I’m guessing it resembled what Ken Whisenhunt ran in Pittsburgh back in 2004 and 2005, which was also run in Indianapolis in 2012. Washington, Hagan, and Robiskie were the players playing the Hines Ward role Reggie Wayne played in 2011. Note this is a downfield offense, which was one of the questions I noted pregame.

Tight end
Depth chart, roughly:
1/1a. Craig Stevens (10 snaps)/Delanie Walker (8 snaps)
3. Taylor Thompson (33 snaps)
4. Jason Schepler (19 snaps)
5. Chase Coffman (13 snaps)

I list Stevens and Walker as 1/1a because they both had their role with the first-team offense. In two tight end sets, they both played. In one tight end sets, Walker played with three wide receivers and only one back, while Stevens played with two backs and two wideouts. In two TE sets where only one was in-line, Stevens was that guy. Stevens and Thompson had a couple snaps of overlap; in those, Stevens was the inline guy. With Schepler on the field, Thompson (and Coffman late) was the sole inline tight end.

Coffman and Schepler each caught the only ball thrown in their direction, while Thompson caught 3 of the 5 thrown his way. Two of the catches came on underneath routes, one of them ending just short of the sticks on third down. Should he have set up a yard deeper and instead converted with the reach? Possibly. One of his incompletions would have been a big play, but Clinton-Dix recovered to get his hand in there; you’d still like to see Thompson come up with it, but it’s an understandable non-catch. Overreading Small Samples, I’d say he can now catch but isn’t comfortable at it.

Offensive line
Depth chart, roughly:
1. Michael Roos (12 snaps)-Andy Levitre (12 snaps)-Brian Schwenke (12 snaps)-Chance Warmack (12 snaps)-Michael Oher (12 snaps)
2. Taylor Lewan (47 snaps)-Tyler Horn (33 snaps)-Chris Spencer (5 snaps)-Eric Olsen (47 snaps)-Byron Stingily (46 snaps)
3. X -X-Gabe Ikard (43 snaps)-Justin McCray (16 snaps)-X
4. Jeff Adams (2 snaps)-Ikard/Viondy Merisma (2 snaps)-Olsen/Danser (2 snaps)-X-Will Poehls (2 snaps)

Okay, this gets a little ugly. The first team offensive line was as listed, as was the second team. When Spencer went out, Ikard came in for him. After they’d seen enough of Horn, McCray came in at right guard, Olsen shifted from right guard to center, and Ikard shifted from center to left guard.  Adams-Merisma-Danser-McCray-Poehls appeared to be the line for the two kneeldowns at the end of the game.

The line performance was a mixed bag, as you’d expect. The Packers spent a lot of the game with an extra defender in the box or coming down quickly, which made it hard to run the ball. Both sacks came on DB blitzes that weren’t picked up. Sankey claimed responsibility after the game for the first of those, which I thought was on Whitehurst, while Mettenberger was likely the culprit on the other one. The Packers tried a couple stunts (I think; didn’t keep a formal count), none of which came home. It was just the DB blitzes that seemed to result in free rushers, and it seemed unusual to see those in a preseason game.

The big concern is Chris Spencer’s ankle injury. Since it’s preseason and teams don’t have to give good injury reports, we may not have a good idea of just how serious it is for a while. Ikard is a UDFA. Horn is listed as a C but didn’t play it. Do they trust Olsen enough to play there? I had him with 8 plays there late in the game. I was sanguine about reserve interior OL when I just did the center positional analysis, but that was due solely to Spencer’s presence. It’s hard to find good linemen of any stripe, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see the Titans troll the waiver wire if Spencer’s injury extends into the regular season.

Offensive Personnel Groupings
These are off my count:

11: 28 snaps
12: 15 snaps
21: 12 snaps
22: 4 snaps

As a reminder, number of RBs is listed first, number of TEs second, number of wide receivers is five minus the two digits. 16 snaps, or just over a quarter of the time, is probably at the high end of my expectations for FB use in a regular season game.

Defensive line
Depth chart, base:
1. Ropati Pitoitua (11 snaps)-Sammie Hill (8 snaps)-Jurrell Casey (11 snaps)
2. Datone Jones (29 snaps)-Al Woods (15 snaps)-Karl Klug (26 snaps)
3. Lanier Coleman (12 snaps)-Chigbo Anunoby (24 snaps)-Lavar Edwards (20 snaps)

Depth chart, sub:
1. Pitoitua-Casey
2. Jones/Woods-Jones/Klug
3. Anunoby-Edwards
4. X-Coleman

Marcus Dixon is on PUP and Antonio Johnson and Mike Martin did not play. Who knows where they would have slotted in.

Sides, sides, sides. Defensive linemen generally played their position and didn’t respond to shifting strength by changing sides. As noted, Jones played both LDT and RDT with the second-team sub package. Woods also played a few snaps of LDE in base while Jones played NT.

Run defense was a lot of blah early in the game, with matchups not won, or not won enough to matter. Things got better in the second half. Edwards had a good sack that was reminiscent of what he did at LSU, abusing the reserve guard and eluding the center’s help to sack the fourth-string quarterback; it could be neat to see him do that instead of play edge run defense as Derrick Morgan’s backup (query: if Edwards was Morgan’s backup last year, why are they playing different positions this year?). Nobody else did much in the pass rush, even on the rare occasion there was time to expect a pass rush.

Linebacker
Outside linebackers:
1. Derrick Morgan (12 snaps)-Kamerion Wimbley (11 snaps)
2. Shaun Phillips (25 snaps)-Akeem Ayers (33 snaps)
3. Brandon Copeland (32 snaps)-Patrick Bailey (24 snaps)

Sides here for the most part as well, though Bailey and Copeland did play both left and right. There was no substitution of outside linebackers between base and sub. If it was base, they were generally the outside men in a five-man front. If it was sub, they were generally the outside men in a four-man front. I didn’t track standing up or hand in the dirt when it came to pass rushing stances.

The Packers seemed to get good yardage when they got to the edge. There wasn’t much pass rush to be found here on a regular basis. I rate this as somewhere on the unsurprising end of the worrisomeness scale. The Titans didn’t do much too creative in sub. Wimbley and Phillips didn’t make my notes. Morgan got sealed on the first play, had a break-up on a bootleg throw Flynn should have done a better job with, and ended up in coverage on a third down seamer Flynn didn’t find. Ayers had a nice play in run defense avoiding a TE cut block, though of course he wasn’t actually the one who made the tackle. Patrick Bailey looked okay against third- and fourth-stringers, but he’s a WYSIWYG in my book.

Inside linebackers:
1. Wesley Woodyard (11 snaps)-Zach Brown (8 snaps)
2. Moise Fokou (25 snaps)-Zaviar Gooden (28 snaps)
3. Avery Williamson (32 snaps)-Colin McCarthy (6 snaps)
4. X-David Hinds (26 snaps)

MLB-WILB, more or less. True for the first two groupings, and my guess for the latter two. There were no changes between sub or base here either, with both players playing off the ball in both circumstances. Brown’s splash plays still stood out on the rewatch, and I didn’t notice anything too unsound from him. Gooden is a player who I think has to be protected to be effective, as does Woodyard. I go back and forth on whether there’s a roster spot for Fokou; I had him on my initial 53, but my current thinking has Gooden on in his place (and Williamson the fourth ILB). None of the inside backers had more than two solo tackles, so it’s not like they were filling up the stat sheet. Overreading Small Samples (or just more confirmation of larger ones), McCarthy’s possibly extended absence from his shoulder injury is not a loss.

Cornerback
Depth chart:
1. Jason McCourty (11 snaps)-Coty Sensabaugh (13 snaps)
2. Tommie Campbell (33 snaps)-Blidi Wreh Wilson (10 snaps)
3. Ri’Shard Anderson (17 snaps)-Micah Pellerin (37 snaps)
4. Khalid Wooten (38 total snaps)/Winston Wright (11 snaps)-Marc Anthony (11 snaps)

Slot CB:
1. Wreh-Wilson
2. Sensabaugh
3. Marqueston Huff (42 snaps)
4. Wright

About the same time Huff entered the game, I had the Packers running 34 consecutive plays out of 11 personnel. Would he have played outside CB had the Titans not responded by playing nickel? We’ll never know. (I also had him down with some safety snaps.)

Long stretches of this game reminded me unpleasantly of 2012’s defense, with lots of what looked like soft Cover-3 with off coverage that Packers QBs were happy to throw short routes in front of. That sort of thing makes it less interesting, less enjoyable to judge both cornerbacks and wide receivers in my book. There were a couple plays where I wasn’t sure if Huff made the right call, as he appeared to be playing switch while Pellerin was playing man on the two-point conversion and seemed to carry his route to create a void in the zone everybody else seemed to be playing on another completion. Then again, I thought the Packers’ biggest play, a 38-yard gain, came when it was Pellerin that got yanked out of his zone to create a void, so maybe Huff did the right thing on the two-point conversion. Huff, who led the team with 5 solo tackles, had some good work filling in run support and from the slot.

Safety
Depth chart:
1. Bernard Pollard (11 snaps)-Michael Griffin (9 snaps)
2. Daimion Stafford (33 snaps)-George Wilson (19 snaps)
3. Hakeem Smith (24 snaps)-Wooten/Huff

Lot of high-profile safety play in this game, for the normal and expected reasons. Stafford stood out with the big hits, but also had a couple missed tackles you really don’t want to see and a read or two I liked even less. Nobody else particularly stood out to me one way or the other. I’ll get to their positional analysis sooner or later, but I’m not too worried about Pollard and Griffin, and to the extent I am the Aaron Rodgers and Jordy Nelson-less Packers aren’t the team to expose them. Talk to me about that again after the Falcons.

Defensive Personnel Groupings
The Titans were in their Penny package (3 CB, 1 S) the first play of the game. That was the only play I noticed where they were in Penny, though of course with Wooten playing some CB and Huff playing some S they could have called some plays that without me realizing. I’m guessing they wanted to start in 3-4 but still adjust to Green Bay starting in 11. Most of the time GB 11 meant nickel, with the slot CB being one of those listed in the depth chart. I didn’t see any snaps of Big Nickel, except to the extent Huff in the slot counts as a third S instead of a third CB. We saw a little bit of formational creativity on third downs, but not much and not as much as I expect to see in the regular season. Thank you, Ray Horton, for sending Huff on the blitz on the Hail Mary at the end of the first half; I abhor the three-man rush in that situation, especially with a popgun quarterback.

Conclusion-Type Things

Eh, it’s a first preseason game, and of course I ended up writing entirely too much about it. Every thing I said in the foregoing will be at least as perfect of a predictor as Pannel Egboh starting the first preseason game in 2012 and Kendall Wright finishing sixth among wide receivers in snaps, playing only the slot, in last year’s first preseason game.

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