To be honest, while I am a cheerful participant in many draft-related discussions, it gets little, well, monotonous. We’ve seen most of these guys play, to some degree or another, but that’s over and has been for months. Now, not much new information comes out-you have pro days, but mostly it’s rumor, innuendo, guessing.
So, to inject a little bit of actual football, I re-watched for the first time the Titans’ Wild Card loss to San Diego, focusing particularly on the failures of the Titans’ offensive line. With the loss of Bell and retirement of Olson and the addition of Scott, the OL looks a little different now than it did most of last year, but it did that day in San Diego, too. Loper was starting in place of Olson, and Amano for Mawae, while Roos, Stewart, and Bell were all at their typical locations. So, what did I see?
First drive notes: The Titans didn’t ask a great deal from the linemen on passing plays this drive-most of the throws were quick, and those that weren’t featured QB movement. Bell whiffed on MLB Cooper on a screen pass to Hall, but Ahmard did well to avoid that problem. Something that became a trend throughout the day is that Loper had a couple bad plays-blocking the wrong guy, and getting beat. Ross Tucker had an interesting article recently where he wrote right guard was the toughest of the interior positions to play-for Loper, that Sunday, it clearly was. The drive stalled out on a 3rd down play where Shaun Phillips, lined up as a DE in a 4-man front, beats Stewart with his initial jump (looked offside, but wasn’t)-Brown chips him, but it’s not enough, and Stewart’s too far inside on this short-side rollout to the right, letting VY take a hit as he throws the ball away. Not Stewart’s best effort.
Second drive: VY takes his first sack of the game on second down of the second drive. Jacques Cesaire gets it. Loper goes left a little to help Amano on NT Jamal Williams, so it’s a 3-on-2. Both Cesaire and Williams get a little upfield, but not enough to create a force. Stewart, though, peels off a little to check on the outside rusher, Merriman, whom Hartsock has reasonably contained. Cesaire is able to take advantage of the peel off, beat Loper, and bring down VY. The Chargers get another force on the third down play-they rush 6, and the Titans have 7 blockers (including Brown). Olshansky and Williams run a twist stunt on Bell and Amano, and with the pressure up the middle there’s not enough room for Bell to get around. Olshansky. Tough for Bell and Amano to do anything about-the guy who has to help here is Loper, who needs to peel off helping Stewart to cover the inside gap.
Third drive: White fails to convert 2&2 after Williams is able to stand up Amano-no penetration, but he is able to move laterally and plug the gap. For a run right, I’m not really sure what Loper’s supposed to do here-maybe double Williams with Amano, maybe block downfield. He does eventually block downfield, but helping out on Williams (who’s really good when healthy) would have been better, probably. Loper looks bad again to me on a 2&5 later in the drive-he has an initial block on Cesaire, then seems to let up a little after Brown goes through the hole. Brown cuts back, though, and Cesaire is able to make the tackle a couple yards downfield-if Loper holds his block longer, this play may be a first down. The drive stalls and ends on a fumble after the Titans get to the 12-Phillips beats Hartsock to stop the first play (White should’ve followed Hall and run outside), and then Brown fumbles (I think Hall should’ve gone further outside and let Stewart get the guy), forced by Merriman, who was deliberately left unblocked on the play (fine if the play goes where I think it should, not fine where it went, but the unblocking was by design, and maybe a little foolish).
Fourth drive: LenDale White takes forever to get to the hole. LenDale White falls down after catching a screen pass. Chris Davis fails to catch a pass, which was short of the marker anyway.
Fifth drive: Bingham beats Bell on the second down run. Third down, White shows off his craptacular blocking skills (on Phillips, I think), and VY probably takes a hit as he lets the pass go. Merriman was giving Roos some push, too, but not enough to create a force.
Sixth drive: No plays noticeably disrupted by SD defensive pressure. A pretty good performance in the end-of-half offense.
Seventh drive: Drive starts with a bootleg pass-Williams is pressuring VY, but not nearly enough to make a difference. He came off an Amano single-block. Pretty much the entire O-line got stood up at the line on Henry’s 2&6 run that created the drive-ending 3&6. On that play, the Chargers brought 5 and run a stunt, but it was picked up reasonably well.
Eighth drive: Pretty good pocket for VY on the opening long pass to Troupe. Pretty good blocking on the end-around to Davis the next play, too. Troupe gets beat to the inside to blow up White on 1&10 from the SD17. Next play, VY nearly throws a pick, probably because Olshansky had pushed back Loper near his face.
Ninth drive: Now down 17-6, and the Titans go 3&out with 2 sacks. First down is an incompletion, and a weird blocking scheme-Roos down-blocks, Loper pulls left to block Merriman. Roos has lousy positioning on Williams and he’s getting free as VY chucks the ball in the general direction of Davis. Second down, the Chargers bring 5, 4 of them on the Titans’ right (strong) side. Helpfully, White looks for rushers on the left side, then slips out. Loper totally whiffs on Phillips, forcing VY to move. He dodges Castillo first, then runs smack into Merriman, whom Stewart had contained. Third down brings another overload to that side. Tucker comes in free from the outside (thanks, LenDale!), and ends up running into the three guys into the middle. Three key plays to try to extend a season, two utterly ruined by a poor response to defensive pressure.
Tenth drive: Roos with a slight flinch to turn 1&13 from the 3 into 1&14 from the 2. Aside from that, the OL play was ok this drive. Just, starting backed up. Plus, y’know, the Titans’ general offensive mediocrity, especially in obvious passing situations.
Conclusions: I know this feels like a solid drumbeat against the O-line, but that’s intentional-offensive lines are defined by their failures as much or more than their successes. I also don’t know how well this one game reflected the problems of the offensive line. Before I watched the game, I expected to see more schematic breakdowns, created by having the less-experienced Amano in from Mawae at center making the line calls. Nope, most of the offensive line issues could be traced, directly or indirectly, to Daniel Loper. There are other contributors, of course-Stewart seems to have nearly as many mediocre plays as noticeably good ones, but there’s one assessment I am confident in: if the other new starter at guard for the Titans in 08 is Daniel Loper, the Titans will have some offensive line issues.