A road game against a projected division winner sounds like unfortunate timing for a Seattle Seahawks squad trying to resolve challenges revealed by a suffocated offense in the loss at Green Bay and a breathless win at home over the 0-3 49ers of Santa Clara.
However, the Tennessee Titans might be a rising team with dynamic quarterback Marcus Mariota, blossoming second-year runner Derrick Henry even if DeMarco Murray can’t go Sunday, and an offensive line that puts Seattle’s embattled unit to shame—but those strengths for the Titans should be at least comfortably neutralized matched up against a Seahawks defense playing mostly to form with superstars at all levels. On the other side of the ball, as Kenneth Arthur wrote Tuesday, Tennessee rather presents an opportunity for Seattle’s own offense to shake off its funk by stringing together a lot of big plays Sunday in Nashville.
Indeed, after two weeks the Titans defense was fifth-worst in the NFL in giving up “explosive plays”, ahead of only the ghastly New Orleans Saints, New York Jets and Indianapolis Colts (and the Kansas City Chiefs, not usually known for poor defense but involved already in two shootouts)—and tied before the Thursday game with a Los Angeles Rams group that then went out and allowed 39 points to San Francisco. Explosive plays are considered pass plays that gain 16 or more yards or runs for at least 11. Here is a reel showing all 18 times already in 2017 Tennessee has got sizzled by its opponents:
Yes, the Oakland Raiders have a good offense, with lots of weapons and much better blocking than the Seahawks have displayed so far, and the Jacksonville Jaguars mostly gathered its chunks of yards in a second half when the Titans opened up a lead as big as 30-3. But the three-minute video shows Tennessee’s problems come from more than just playing soft zones to protect its lead.
Again and again you can see Titans defenders failing to wrap up tackles and giving up long yards after the catch, blowing one-on-one matchups or allowing receivers to split double coverage. Look at Amari Cooper scooting of Da’Norris Searcy’s shoestring effort, or Allen Hurns slamming Logan Ryan to the turf to slip beyond the first down marker, or Chris Ivory plowing through four or five tackles at a time. Those gains aren’t artifacts of the game script.
Rookie Adoreé Jackson has been a day-one starter for Tennessee but Derek Carr and Blake Bortles sought him out repeatedly, throwing for a 107.5 passer rating and 8.4 adjusted net yards per attempt on 13 tries. The veteran Ryan gets more respect but has done even worse when tested, allowing four completions out of five targets for two touchdowns.
Tennessee’s biggest priority in the offseason should have been upgrading its defensive line that was 24th in pressure rate in 2016, but after Jackson its only defensive draft picks were linebackers currently buried on the depth chart and run-stuffing nose tackle Sylvester Williams added in free agency doesn’t exactly chase the quarterback. The Titans are hoping for development by Austin Johnson and Kevin Dodd, but so far Tennessee has only produced pressure on 23 percent of opposing dropbacks.
Seahawks coach Pete Carroll has long emphasized the value of generating explosive plays and geared Seattle’s offense around producing them, believing offenses score close to 75 percent of drives after such big chunk plays. It’s a core part of the Seahawks strategy that should be put to good use Sunday, and establishing success in the mid- to long-range should also change the way future opponents stack the defense against Seattle’s weakness—hopefully helping ease the degree of pressure on Russell Wilson, the young offensive line and a running attack too often stymied early in 2017.
When I wrote about Tennessee’s mix of inexperienced talent and draw cards on defense before the season I said it should be a fun group that will need to make big strides as “as shootouts lead to fireworks and fuckups”. We’ve seen a lot of the latter through two games already, and that may allow the Seahawks offense to have some fun at last in week 3.