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Film Breakdown: How Bengals Can Stop Titans' Smash Mouth Offense

Cincinnati is hoping to upset Tennessee on Saturday in Nashville.

Even though the Tennessee Titans defense has been more impressive than their offense this season, some of that is because star running back Derrick Henry has missed more than half the season with a foot injury. 

It took awhile for the offense to find their footing after Henry went down on Oct. 31. The former rushing champion will return to the field this week. This means that the Titans offense should look like it did earlier this season. 

Let’s dive into the film to see what they did on offense and why it worked so well.

The Titans Bread And Butter

duo drawing

Henry can run an array of different concepts, but the most common run in the Titans arsenal is duo. Duo is essentially power without a puller. It’s a downhill concept that has the offense try to displace the defense vertically. The most interesting part of the play is that the linebacker is not picked up until pretty late. This is because the running back makes his read based on that linebacker. If he fits inside, the back will bounce the run to the outside. If the linebacker stays to the outside, then the back will hit the run up the middle.

Related: How Joe Burrow and the Bengals Can Attack the Titans' Defense

You can see why this play makes sense for the Titans. They have a strong interior offensive line and this play allows Henry to get downhill fast. Henry not only uses this play to attack vertically but also does a great job of reading the defense. He quickly shifts momentum and cuts based on how the linebacker plays it.

Theoretically, the MIKE linebacker can never be correct on this play because the back will always just choose to run where the MIKE is not. Then to make sure that the MIKE cannot go to one spot and then jump to the other, one of the players on a double team comes off to seal him off so that the running back can get to the open field. Henry’s size and strength is his greatest asset and coming downhill quickly like this helps to maximize those traits.

There are a few things that the Bengals need to do in order to slow this play down. The first is that they need to not give up ground on the double teams. The double teams are probably the most crucial block of the duo concept and if those doubles cannot vertically displace the defender, then there is not all that much room to run. 

The other important thing for the Bengals to focus on in this play is with the linebackers. Specifically, the MIKE linebacker needs to be smart and not commit too early on the play. It’s a cat and mouse game with the running back and if the MIKE can outsmart him and stay patient, then they will have a free shot at Henry.

Play Action Attack

PA Over

The duo concept is also the main way that the Titans attack downfield with their play action game. For the most part, they like to throw over routes after a play fake that is meant to look like their duo run. They like to throw those over routes to attack the linebackers that try to come up to fit the run. This is not only because duo is a fast hitting downhill play, but also because of who is running it. 

Defenses can't expect to tackle Henry 1-on-1. He needs to be hit early and by multiple players. He's going to win 1-on-1 matchups more times than not and is a monster at breaking tackles. He is a runaway train if he can get momentum downfield. The play and personnel will have the linebackers flowing downfield a little bit quicker than normal. This will open up wider windows for the over route to be thrown.

You can see in this video that they try to use a play fake that looks just like their duo concept. This often gets the linebackers to bite hard because the blocking scheme looks so similar to the Titans' number one run play. They also try to fit quickly because duo is a quick hitting concept so they want to meet Henry before he gets going. This sets up easy, cheap yardage for their Pro Bowl wide receivers over the middle of the field. If the safeties try to sit on those plays over the middle, then Ryan Tannehill has no problem attacking teams over the top to the clear out.

It's not just play action within the pocket that teams need to worry about. The Titans also run plenty of boot concepts off of wide zone. These concepts are easy on the offensive line because it’s almost a play off where they just have to run and sell wide zone while the blocks are not critical.

They will run quite a few different route combinations on this, but it does have an Achilles heel: blitzes off the edge. If a team blitzes off of the backside edge in response to this play, then they can hit Tannehill before he is able to read the defense and make a throw. That would turn these plays from potential easy gains into negative plays for the Titans offense. This will be something for the Bengals to consider on Saturday.

Wide Zone

Wide zone

Since they run boots with wide zone action, then it would only make sense that the Titans also run wide zone. I have done a full article on wide zone, so make sure to check that out for a deep explanation of the play. 

The elevator pitch is that the offense will try to push the front horizontally and then the back will make a cut based on how the defense reacts. The name wide zone indicates that this is a perimeter run, but it goes somewhere up the middle more often, especially in the Titans' case.

In both of these clips, Henry makes a cut to run wide zone up the gut. This is partially because of how the defense plays this, but I also think that this is due to who he is as a runner. Henry wants to get up the field pretty quickly and wide zone is a play that is slowly developing. By hitting up the gut, he gets to exert his physicality and punish defenders.

With this in mind, let’s look at how I think the Bengals can best defeat the Titans wide zone.

The way to success against the Titans wide zone is two fold. The first thing is that they need to try to force this play back to the inside. If they give that look, Henry should try to hit this to the inside somewhere. From there they need D.J. Reader to be the monster that he's been all season. The block from the center is a key block when it comes to wide zone, so the Bengals need Reader to win against it. 

This is made easier if they get into their base odd front stuff so that they know they will most likely be getting a solo block from the center. While Ben Jones is a pretty good player, Reader still has the edge. This matchup is one of the more underrated ones of the game and could be crucial to the Titans' success with their wide zone concept.

A Mauling Guard

The next thing I want to highlight with the Titans' offense is left guard Rodger Saffold. He is big. 

Saffold is 6-5, 325 pounds. Despite this size, he moves extremely well and is a fluid athlete. He is one of the best guards in the NFL when it comes to blocking wide zone with his special blend of size, athleticism, and power.

This highlight real shows everything that Saffold does at an extremely high level. He gets to the second level with ease and destroys linebackers, can seal defenders with fluidity, and has the power to move defensive linemen. He is one of the most fun lineman to watch and could be an issue for the Bengals. Especially considering Cincinnati will be without one of their starting defensive tackles. They will need whoever is lined up over Saffold to bring their A game. 

The Screen Play

screen

Lastly, the Titans like to utilize screens so that they can get their athletic offensive linemen (such as Saffold) blocking in space. This also works as another layer of their run game, because they will often begin their screens with play action. They will run these screens to not only running backs, but also wide receivers and even tight ends.

Their offensive line is able to move and lead the way on screens like the one in the video above. It helps that their play fakes are so effective that they constantly pull in the defense. The goal here is to get their talented playmakers in space with athletic linemen in front of them. These screens will lead to a lot of cheap, explosive plays if the defense is not keyed in on them. It’s another thing that the Titans' offense effectively utilizes because of how scared teams are of playing against their run game.

There is a lot for the Bengals defense to have to focus on and with their recent health issues, it may be too much to overcome. Still, if they can take away some of the things that the Titans love to do, then they will give themselves a good shot at winning on Saturday. 

It’s imperative that they do not let the Tennessee completely control the game. The battle between the Bengals' defense and the Titans' offense comes down to how many turnovers they can get along with the ability to slow them down and get key stops when needed. It’s a tall task, but the Bengals' defense has slowed down great offenses during this season.

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