Enemy Confidential: Seahawks Must Remain Wary of Talented Titans

Though Mike Vrabel's squad didn't look like a playoff team while getting blasted by the Cardinals in Week 1, Pete Carroll and the Seahawks are bracing for a challenging test against Derrick Henry, Julio Jones, and the star-studded Titans at Lumen Field on Sunday.
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Since the start of the 2019 season, few franchises have been more successful than the Titans, who have won 22 combined games over the past two seasons and made a surprise run to the AFC Championship Game two years ago behind the leadership of quarterback Ryan Tannehill.

Facing lofty expectations after adding future Hall of Fame receiver Julio Jones via trade this offseason and considered to be the overwhelming favorite to win the AFC South for a second straight year, however, coach Mike Vrabel's squad fell flat in last week's season opener against Arizona. Falling behind by 17 points right off the bat and struggling to stop dual-threat quarterback Kyler Murray, Tennessee couldn't recover from the huge hole and ultimately got blown out 38-13 on its own field.

But despite their upcoming opponent being on the receiving end of an unexpected laugher to open the season, given their track record of winning and previous history bouncing back from lopsided losses, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll isn't about to overlook an uber-talented Titans team featuring plenty of star power, including All-Pro running back Derrick Henry, Jones, and fellow receiver A.J. Brown.

"This is a really good team that we are playing," Carroll told reporters before Wednesday's practice. "The Titans were division champs last year, had a lot of wins, and had huge numbers by their players in terms of stats. All of the buildup and the high-profile guys, this is a really exciting matchup for us."

Looking to improve upon their seven-game winning streak coming off double-digit losses under Vrabel, here’s a closer look at the Seahawks Week 2 opponent, including series history, additions/departures, key numbers, scheme intel, and coach Pete Carroll’s evaluation of the Titans.

Series History

17th regular season meeting. The Seahawks lead the series 10-6, with the Titans winning two of the past three since 2010, including a 33-27 win back in 2017.

Sunday's matchup at Lumen Field will mark the fifth time the two teams have played since the Houston Oilers relocated and rebranded to become the Tennessee Titans in 1998. Dating back to the 1988 campaign, Seattle has won eight of the past 11 matchups, including going 6-1 at home during that span. Warren Moon and the Oilers beat Dave Krieg and the Seahawks in the AFC Wild Card round after the 1987 season, advancing in the playoffs with a 23-20 overtime win.

What's New

Departures: While the Titans lost several key contributors from last year's playoff team in free agency, including receiver Corey Davis, the team's biggest loss may have been in the coaching department. Former offensive coordinator Arthur Smith helped orchestrate two top-10 offenses in two seasons with the organization and parlayed that success into a head coaching gig with the Falcons. Replacing him internally, Vrabel elevated tight end coach Todd Downing as the new play caller. Personnel-wise, Davis fled for the Jets, standout tight end Jonnu Smith signed with the Patriots, Jadeveon Clowney went to the Browns after an injury-marred season in Nashville, and former first-round cornerback Adoree Jackson was released before eventually signing with the Giants.

Additions: After Davis took a multi-year deal to go to New York, Tennessee promptly replaced him by shipping a second-round pick to Atlanta in exchange for Jones, giving the team one of the biggest, most physical receiving duos in the NFL. Hoping to address one of the league's weakest pass rushes from a year ago, the team signed former Steelers linebacker Bud Dupree as well as ex-Colts starter Denico Autry, who combined to produce 15.5 sacks in 2020. As a replacement for Jackson, veteran Janoris Jenkins was added in free agency to provide a steadying veteran presence for a secondary that struggled mightily last season. In the draft, despite coming off of a back injury, the team used its first-round selection on talented Virginia Tech cornerback Caleb Farley and also spent a third-round pick on Washington standout Elijah Molden to further bolster the back half of the defense.

Injury Report

Coming off their loss in Arizona, the Titans practiced Wednesday without Dupree, who is nursing a new knee injury. Fellow pass rusher Harold Landry (groin) and Brown (knee) were limited participants, while receiver Josh Reynolds (heel) and Farley (shoulder) were both full participants.

Inside the Scheme

Leaning heavily on their ground game with Henry, the Titans ran 58 percent of their offensive plays under center in 2020, second behind only the Vikings. According to Sharp Football Stats, 72 percent of their plays under center were run calls, while only 28 percent of their snaps from shotgun were run plays. With Smith being replaced by Downing, albeit a small sample size impacted by the score of the game, they only ran the ball on 36 percent of their plays under center against the Cardinals.

When Smith was at the controls as coordinator last year, matching well with their smash mouth identity, the Titans deployed 12 personnel with one back and two tight ends more than any other team in the NFL (373 plays) at 35 percent. They were also one of the few teams in the league that consistently used 13 personnel with three tight ends on the field, doing so nine percent of the time. In the opener, Downing used 11 personnel with one back and one tight end on 81 percent of Tennessee's offensive snaps and only had six plays total with multiple tight ends on the field.

Defensively, the Titans have been one of the most man-heavy coverage teams in the NFL since Vrabel arrived, but haven't had great success in that regard over the past couple of seasons. Primarily playing Cover 1 with a single deep safety, they finished 26th overall in Pro Football Focus' defensive pass efficiency metric and were 28th in EPA allowed per pass play against man coverage looks in 2020. In regard to blitzing, they were in the middle of the pack sending five or more defenders 28.7 percent of their defensive snaps.

By The Numbers

45: Third down conversion rate, seventh-best in the NFL in 2020

74: Red zone touchdown percentage, second-highest in the league last year.

106.5: Ryan Tannehill's passer rating in 2020, fifth-best among qualified quarterbacks.

1,525: Yards after contact last year by Derrick Henry, the most in the NFL.

432: Yards after the catch by A.J. Brown, 18th among NFL receivers.

264: Receptions allowed to opposing receivers in 2020, second most behind only the Seahawks.

52: Percent of third downs converted by opposing offenses, dead last in the league.

68: Red zone touchdown percentage for opponents, 30th in the NFL.

1.4: Turnovers created per game, tied for the fifth-most among NFL teams.

3.54: Sack percentage per 100 opposing drop backs, 30th in the NFL.

Carroll's Thoughts

--On trying to slow down Henry, who would have finished second in the NFL in rushing yards just off of yards after contact in 2020: “He’s really unique. There have not been very many guys like him over the years because he’s really fast, a big strider, and runs through things. It’s not like he’s an impact runner that’s blasting off of guys, he keeps going, you can’t get him off stride because he’s such a powerful back. He has great instincts, his instincts of how to hit the line of scrimmage and how to use the opportunity of the blocking schemes is impeccable. He takes full advantage of what they do and they are really committed to running the football in their style. Their line blocks really well and their scheme is really good, so they know how to put him in the right spots. It’s a really challenging guy and team to play against."

--On teaching points for Seahawks defenders trying to bring Henry down: "We have to wrap him up, you have to hang onto him. You can’t knock him off of his feet, he’s too powerful and if you tackle him up high then he just shakes you down. He has a great straight arm and has a great knack, he does not expect to go down. Great runners play like that, a guy tackles him, and they don’t think that’s going to take him to the ground. They keep going and make something happen. You saw some examples last week with Jonathan [Taylor], he had 600 yards after contact last year and that’s because he does not give up on plays. He’s like okay this guy is going to hit me but I’m not going down and he just finishes and does spectacular things. That’s what you see Derrick do all of the time.”

--On dealing with Julio Jones and A.J. Brown as part of the same Titans' offense: “They’re incredible players, they are both great players. They are both physical factors. A.J. is really tough, makes all of the plays, makes spectacular plays on the catch and run. Julio is like as good as you can get. That’s a fantastic one-two punch, I don’t who is one and who is two but it doesn’t matter. They are really, really good.”