It’s no secret what the bread and butter is for the Tennessee Titans under head coach Mike Vrabel: ground-and-pound offense on the legs of Derrick Henry.
With a rebuilt offensive line, and some continuity at the skill positions, the Titans will surely lean on the run game with Henry on Monday night at Mile High against the Denver Broncos to open the 2020 season, which comes one year after the Titans made a surprise run to the AFC Championship Game.
However, the one real weapon the Broncos will have to make sure they put enough attention on and try and scheme up ways to stop is second-year wideout A.J. Brown, who closed the 2019 season strong, setting up a potential breakout second season.
Coming out of Ole Miss, Brown was viewed as a prototypical physical receiver that was good after the catch and was an above-average route runner.
Brown was slow to adjust to the NFL early on in his rookie season, but once he adjusted…man was he good.
In the final six weeks of the season, Brown racked up 25 catches for 604 yards and five touchdowns, averaging 24.16 yards per catch. That astronomical number was aided by a 91-yard catch-and-run for a score at Oakland.
The one thing I noticed on tape down the stretch with Brown was that teams simply weren’t providing safety help to the corners assigned to Brown, which led to some big busts.
Arthur Smith really did a good job scheming things up for Brown, especially off of play-action.
Take a look at that clip against Oakland last season. With Henry in the backfield, the Titans were able to lean heavily on the run, which set up play-action, which led to explosive plays for the Titans, namely from Brown.
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Man Over the Middle
When they weren’t going deep, the Titans asked Tannehill to look across the middle to Brown on naked bootlegs, which really chewed up yardage for Tennessee.
If the Broncos want to make sure Brown is negated somewhat on Monday night, they’ll have to make sure they don’t give him free releases off the line of scrimmage, and the depth of coverage drops by middle linebackers Alexander Johnson and Josey Jewell is adequate to take away easy pitch and catches like this one against Jacksonville in Week 12.
Chances are, if the Broncos struggle to stop the run early against the Titans and are sucked up against play-action, Brown is going to chew them up over the middle and possibly rip off an explosive play or two.
While the clips above show Brown winning off of play-action, he showed late in the season that he can create late separation on go routes with play-action fakes and tracks the ball very well down the field.
How to the Broncos Win
For the Broncos to take away Brown, they’d be best suited to put A.J. Bouye on him and ask Bouye to disrupt his timing off the line of scrimmage.
Brown is going to get his numbers on Monday night, but the Broncos also need to make sure they tackle well in space. Brown — much like Henry — is a powerful, explosive athlete in space. Tackling him soundly early and often can negate some serious splash plays for the Titans.