Re-Focused – Titans @ Browns, Week 4

| October 5, 2011

Prior to the start of the season, I thought that both the Cleveland Browns and the Tennessee Titans would be at the bottom of their respective divisions from the get go. As it turns out, I was completely wrong, as both teams entered this matchup with 2-1 records.
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After what turned out to be a wildly amusing game, the Titans ended up winning, thanks to an 80 yard touchdown catch from tight end Jared Cook Jr., and a 57 yard catch by Nate Washington which helped set up a touchdown. While Tennessee’s defense did enough to prevent the Browns from scoring many points, Cleveland did manage to put some very long drives together. Now that the Titans are tied for the best record in the AFC (with five other teams), here are some things that we can take away from this game.
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Tennessee – Three Performances of Note

1)   Pass Blocking Excellence

In his last season with the Seattle Seahawks, Matt Hasselbeck (+4.1) had some problems when passing under pressure. On 25.8% of plays where he was pressured, he ended up getting sacked, which was tied for the highest percentage in the league. Now that he is in Tennessee, his PFF Quarterback Rating is 91.73; which is significantly higher than any of his quarterback ratings over the past three years. With that being said, a big reason for his success this season is that his offensive line has been amazing. Hasselbeck only encountered one pressure during the entire game – unheard of in this day and age. However, with the lack of pressure he faced, Hasselbeck didn’t look overly impressive as he never completed a pass beyond 20 yards.  Had the Titans’ offensive line not performed so well, the big plays that propelled them to victory may not have happened.

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2)   Finnegan’s many Stops

When you first see that Cortland Finnegan (+3.0 coverage) allowed eight catches on 10 throws, you would think he had a tough day. However, he only allowed six yards per catch, and in most cases he was able to prevent any real damage from being done. In three cases, Finnegan stopped a receiver short from a third down, which is the most important part of those plays. Two more times, on earlier downs, he was able to stop the receiver for a short gain. He hit Greg Little once to force a drop, and disrupted a wide receiver screen which led to Colt McCoy throwing the ball away. He did allow three passes to be caught for first downs, but he was also the reason that eight different Browns plays didn’t work out.

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3)   The Return of CJ2K

After averaging less than three yards per carry over the first three weeks, Chris Johnson (+1.3) finally averaged 4.4 yards per carry in this game. Johnson had little help from his offensive line (the team had a -5.7 run block rating), which resulted in over half of Johnson’s yards coming after contact. He set the tone for the game with a 25 yard run which led to a touchdown on the Titans’ second drive of the game. During that play, he ran to the far left side of the field, and with a cut to the sideline followed by a quick sprint, he was able to avoid an unblocked Chris Gocong. It took free safety Mike Adams, the Brown’s last line of defense to bring him down. Some good cuts as well as four defenders missing tackles on him led to his best game of the season thus far.

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Cleveland – Three Performances of Note

1)   Passing Woes

While Colt McCoy (+3.0 passing) had a very average PFF pass rating, it was the receivers around him that caused most of the problems on offense. Only 11 running backs in 2010 had more than four drops over the course of the season, and Montario Hardesty had four drops in this game alone. Rookie Greg Little ran 59 pass routes, with 40 of them coming from the slot position. For all of those routes, the rookie receiver only had six catches, with only two of them coming within the first three quarters, when the game was still relevant. Believe it or not, it was their least receiver in Brian Robiskie who led the team in yards per pass routes run with 1.32. The Browns couldn’t get anything going in the passing game, as McCoy’s receivers made it impossible for them to win.

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2)   Safeties Not Figured Out

The Browns have been starting T.J. Ward (-2.8 coverage) at one safety position, with Mike Adams (-0.4 coverage) and Usama Young (-1.9 coverage) rotating at the other spot, and all three of them were part of the Titans’ big passing plays. The first touchdown that Tennessee scored came from Craig Stevens, who went into Ward’s zone in the end zone and found the area that Ward didn’t have covered. Ward followed that up with missing a tackle on Jared Cook, which led to him getting more yards and a touchdown, which he scored later on that same drive. Speaking of Jared Cook, Young could have prevented the 80 yard touchdown catch had he taken a better angle on Cook and not missed the tackle. Prior to this game, it looked like Adams would be the odd man out of the starting lineup, but he had the best game of the three. He should have been able to stop the 57 yard Washington pass sooner, but it would still have been a big gain regardless. The Titans won because of their big gains, and these three players could have done a lot more to stop them from happening.

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3)   Stopping the Run

While Chris Johnson had some nice runs, on other plays, the defense got the better end of the deal. The duo of D’Qwell Jackson (+2.9 run defense) and Scott Fujita (+2.6 run defense) combined for one tackle for a loss, one tackle for no gain, and six tackles for short gains. On the line, rookie second round pick Jabaal Sheard (+2.6 run defense) joined in, with one tackle in each of those three categories. He now has the fourth highest overall rating of all 4-3 defensive ends.

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Game Notes

●  80% of the time when Peyton Hillis ran the ball, it was between the tackles. 85% of the time when Montario Hardesty ran the ball, it was somewhere to the right of the right guard.

●  Cornerback Joe Haden had more passes deflected (two) than passes allowed (one)

●  In weeks 1-3, defensive linemen Jason Jones spent 48% of his time at defensive tackle. In this game, he spent 63% of the time there.

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PFF Game Ball: 

Tennessee Titan’s Offensive Line

How about a game ball for an entire unit? With a quarterback as fragile as Matt Hasselbeck, you need a good pocket and that’s exactly what he got this week from his offensive line. The Titans’ line yielded only one hit, no sacks, no pressures in the game.

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Follow Nathan on Twitter: @PFF_NateJahnke and check out our main Twitter feed too: @ProFootbalFocus
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