When you think of a good offense most people will conjure images of big-armed quarterbacks, powerful running backs, and elusive wide receivers. Not me. I see five monsters on the offensive line, throwing back pass rushers and launching linebackers into orbit on running plays.
While the Atlanta Falcons are currently the living embodiment of the first type, the second is not quite where you think it is. The Dallas Cowboys, for all their notoriety and pedigree, are not that team. Tennessee is.
Titans in the trenches
A pair of first-round offensive tackles are the headliners when it comes to the Titans offensive line. But that doesn’t adequately describe Taylor Lewan and Jack Conklin.
The two are very good in pass protection. They are light on their feet, patient, and precise with their hand placement and leverage. However, it is in the running game where they excel. Few tackles run block with as much aggression, determination, and explosive power as they do.
They block with the ferocity normally reserved for guards, and the twin pillars of brilliance have influenced the rest of the team when it comes to working without the ball in your hands.
The Titans impressive play up front has it’s roots in the most famous offensive line in NFL history, The Hogs. The Redskins line in the 1980’s and early 1990’s were the foundation of three Super Bowls, and at the heart of The Hogs was Tennessee’s offensive line coach and Hall of Fame left guard Russ Grimm.
Grimm became the Titans OL coach in 2016, just when Conklin arrived along with right guard Josh Kline who had been a poor piece in New England’s line and the unspectacular center Ben Jones.
The mixture of new players, a new coach, Lewan’s talent and the improvement of left guard Quinton Spain into an everyday starter created a dynamic, aggressive, and highly productive offensive line. The turnaround in Kline’s performance is especially notable, he has become an extremely reliable and consistent piece of the puzzle for the Titans.
It’s a testament to Grimm that someone who was such a liability in a fairly standard New England blocking scheme can flourish with a bit of fine tuning and coaching.
And the emphasis on nasty, physical blocking hasn’t been limited to the offensive line. It has spread like a cloud throughout the locker room.
Tennessee were expected to be a good offense this season based on their strong ground game in 2016, the third-year bump from Marcus Mariota, and several additions to the receiver corps. However, manhandling some of the league’s best defenses was not what we expected to see.
In previous years tearing down Jacksonville’s defense wouldn’t have been such a big thing. But in Week 1 & 3 the Jags created chaos in Houston and London, destroying the opposition and laying out the red carpet for their offense. Not so in Week 2 against the Titans, where they allowed 5.0 yards a carry and gave up 390 yards in total.
And this week they dominated the Seahawks defense with a team-wide dedication to blocking.
Week 3’s brilliance
Much like in Week 2, the offense took time to work. They poked and prodded at the Seahawks defense. Testing it, setting up, landing some body blows before working up to the head and knocking it out in the second half.
A 21-point third quarter featuring touchdowns of 55 and 75 yards demonstrated just how all-encompassing a physical blocking game is to Tennessee’s success in 2017. Here is the start of Rishard Matthews' 55-yard touchdown. It's a hard play action right, and then a throwback screen to the receiver. The hope here is that the linebackers lean enough to open up a window for Matthews to run into and gain a nice chunk of yards before the defense rallies. It's a play searching for the first down, but more likely to bring four or five yards and set up a manageable third down. Instead, it goes the distance.
Here you see the hard play action, with the entire right side of the offense selling the run, including a pull from Spain at left guard to get that side going the wrong way.
Lewan breaks off his fake early and heads to the outside, but he is still a long way from Matthews.
However, as Matthews receives the ball off the fake Lewan has got well past him and is taking out Earl Thomas, who's job description does not involve contact with 310-pound left tackles.
Ben Jones and Josh Kline are also out in front to cut off Michael Wilhoite (#57) and anyone else in the way. It's a piece of brilliant play-design, great execution and world-class effort from the offensive line that gives Matthews nothing but green grass to run into. However, you don't go 55-yards without the other side of the defense getting involved.
Seattle's defense rallies, but Philip Supernaw, who also pulled right from tight end to sell the run-fake, has hustled downfield to help clear the way of Kam Chancellor.
It was a similar story on DeMarco Murray's 75-yard run off the left side. With Taylor Lewan getting outside and then downfield hustle from the skill-position players.
Fullback Jalston Fowler makes his first block four yards downfield on corner Jeremy Lane thanks to Lewan's range, and then gets downfield to make another block on the corner 40 yards later.
This is a convoy of a fullback, two receivers and, on a run that was off-tackle left, the right tackle Jack Conklin in hot pursuit 45 yards from the line of scrimmage.
The Titans offensive effort and dedication helped them deliver huge blows to a defense that prides itself on not giving up big plays and on rallying to the football. Tennessee simply out-worked them on the edges and used a destructive offensive line to stamp their authority on this game.
The rest of the NFL should take note, because the Titans will bring this every week. They have already cut through two very good defenses, and Houston are next on their hit list.
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