Los Angeles Rams: Defensive Gameplan for the New Look Titans

by Tommy Mo
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The Los Angeles Rams continued their winning streak with a decisive win over the Houston Texans in Week 8. The defense pitched a shut out for three quarters until they let off the pressure in the fourth quarter. The Texans scored three times in the Fourth to bring the box score to a less impressive 38-22 victory. The Rams secondary held Brandin Cooks in check all day until he broke out for a 45-yard TD catch from Davis Mills. With a non-existent running game, the Rams defense was able to focus on stopping the passing game.

They will be in a similar situation this week against the Titans, now without star running back Derrick Henry. However, the Titans’ passing attack with Ryan Tannehill and AJ Brown is far more potent than what the Texans offered. With newly signed veteran running back Adrian Peterson on the team, the Rams defense will face their toughest test since Week 5.

The Offensive Line

The offensive line for the Titans is statistically just OK. But they have the benefit of being led by one of the better tackles in the league, Taylor Lewan. There are no other big names currently starting for the Titans, but second round pick Dillon Radunz has the potential to be the future of this unit. This is an area that the Los Angeles Rams can exploit.

Current left guard Rodger Saffold has been with the team since 2019 as a free agent. He is versatile in that he can play most positions on the line. Ben Jones at Center is another undrafted free agent signed in 2016, who like Saffold can play multiple positions. Right guard Nate Davis was drafted in the third round in 2019, and has been a solid starter. Right tackle Kendall Lam was signed this season and entered the league in 2015 undrafted with the Texans.

Profiling this offensive line you can see that besides Lewan, this unit has been thrown together with a mid round draft pick and mostly undrafted players. The positive is that they have been playing together for at least a couple seasons. But this line is not a strength of this offense. They do enough to be successful with an outstanding running back behind them.

The offensive line was ranked 15th overall by Pro Football Focus to enter the season. And Brad Wire for The Undroppables ranks them at 18th as of October 18.  That is right about where they are performing statistically. Ok, but not great.

Tendencies

  • 18th in adjusted line yards
  • 29th in adjusted sack rate (8.7%)
  • 8th in creating open field yards
  • runs favor the center of the offensive line

The Run Game

Before Week 8, the run game of the offense was the strength of the team. Now in Week 9, the Titans have signed Adrian Peterson to team up with Jeremy McNichols in working to replace Derrick Henry. Henry hurt his ankle in Week 9 and may be out 6-10 weeks.

If this team wasn’t so run heavy and dependent on Henry, his loss could be manageable. The Los Angeles Rams caught a break with not having to face Henry. Now without their work horse who opens up the passing game, this Titans offense may look completely different. For the past four seasons this offense has been top 10 in rushing attempts per game. In 2020, they ran the ball the second most in the league. In 2021 so far, they are leading the charge with 32.5 rushing attempts per game.

Henry was also seeing stacked boxes (8+ defenders) a league high 35% of the time. The next closest is Jonathan Taylor with 25%. Teams were still unable to stop Henry  as he was easily leading the league in rushing with 937 yards. And with 219 rushing attempts so far on the season, Henry was on pace to break 400 rushing attempts and almost hit 2,000 yards.

His backup, Jeremy McNichols has only received seven carries for 38 yards on the season. However, he’s been very productive in the passing game as a third down back. Tannehill has targeted McNichols 27 times, which he has turned into 21 receptions for 203 yards and 1 touchdown. Not overly impressive numbers as some running backs have seen 20+ targets in two weeks, but when you have Henry dominating touches, you get what you can get.

The Titans signed Adrian Peterson and activated him from the practice squad this week. It’s difficult to predict how many touches Peterson will see on Sunday, but despite his age this 36 year old has been productive his past few seasons. As a journeyman landing in Washington, he almost rushed for back to back 1,000 yard seasons in 2018 and 2019.

In 2020 he landed in Detroit to provide depth and rotational usage with the often injured Kerryon Johnson and rookie D’andre Swift. He managed to lead the team in carries with 156 rushes for 604 yards and 7 touchdowns. He also contributed some in the passing game, catching 12 passes off 18 targets for 101 yards. No matter the backfield split, Peterson will be ready to go.

Tendencies

  • 4th in power success rate
  • 19th in stuffed rate (17.4%)
  • Most successful rushing on third (75%) and fourth (100%) downs
  • Most successful running to the left side of the line, specifically over the left guard
  • Explosive runs (10+ yards) have mostly occurred to the outside left

The Passing Attack

The Titans passing attack often takes a back seat to the highlight grabbing plays that Derrick Henry can create on any given run. At the helm is 2019’s Comeback Player of the Year, Ryan Tannehill. He’s had a resurgence to his career in Tennessee, taking the 2020 team to the playoffs with an AFC South Division title.

His 2021 has started off quite well with a 6-2 record, but his passer rating is the lowest it’s been since joining the Titans. Tannehill is currently at 2,002 yards off 262 attempts and 172 completions for a 65.6 completion percentage. He’s on pace to pass for over 4,000 yards. His completed air yards per pass attempt are also at its lowest with the Titans at 4.1. He’s throwing shorter passes at a higher rate.

The majority of those passes have been to one of the league’s top wide receivers A.J. Brown who will be going up against Los Angeles Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey. He currently has 35 receptions off 54 targets for 509 yards and three touchdowns. Brown has had a slow start to 2021, but has turned it on hot the past three weeks, amassing 379 yards and two touchdowns. He’s big and fast, and while he’s never been a YAC monster, his yards after catch per reception numbers are the lowest of his career at 4.5.

Some were worried Brown’s production would fall off some this year with the addition of Julio Jones. Jones has been mostly ineffective so far as he’s been dealing with a hamstring injury that has kept him out of three games. Jones is on pace to set his career low in targets, receptions, and yards. And when it comes to injuries, both Jones and Brown were on the Titans injury report this week. Jones does not have an official designation but Brown gets the Questionable tag.

Tendencies

  • 22nd in passing attempts per game (33.1)
  • 22nd in passing yards per game (229.5)
  • 28th in passing touchdown percentage (42.31%)
  • 26th in quarterback sacked per game (3.0)
  • Passer rating is the highest on short throws
  • On third downs, most successful passing to the deep left, or short middle
  • On third downs, most common target is deep right, despite lack of success

Defensive Game Plan

The Los Angeles Rams do not get the luxury this week of focusing their efforts on one aspect of the Titans’ offense. However, the run game is not what the Rams were expecting to face. But with football it’s always about the next man up and the defense should not take the run game lightly with McNichols and Peterson.

Peterson is the kind of guy that will put up 100 yards just because opponents are doubting him. Don’t sleep on the run game. But now that Henry is out of the picture, the Rams don’t need to worry about stacking the box.

The Los Angeles Rams can play cover 3 looks with a roll down safety in running situations. And switch to cover 2 or cover 4 with a two high safety shell on passing downs. Ramsey would expectedly shadow Brown with help over the top. The weakness to exploit on the Titans comes from their offensive line. I would expect Morris to show a variety of coverages, and bring pressure to the right side of the offensive line. He’ll also look to get Aaron Donald in Tannehill’s face and disrupt passing lanes. The Rams need to limit big plays and force turnovers.

Exploiting Tendencies

  • Attack the offensive line; bring double A gap blitzes on short yardage run downs
  • When calling stunts for the defensive line, slant towards the right
  • Run cover 2 and cover 4 looks to provide help over the top
  • Double team Brown on 3rd and long if lined up on the left side of the offense
  • Pressure the quarterback all day
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