The Dallas Cowboys host the Tennessee Titans on Monday Night Football this week. Both 3-4 teams are coming off of bye weeks after losing in Week 7.
The Titans’ Mike Vrabel is a rookie head coach who has also hired a rookie play-caller in offensive coordinator Matt LeFleur. LeFleur has spent all of his NFL coaching career around Kyle Shanahan and Sean McVay, so his scheme shares a lot of similarities to those of the 49ers and Rams.
Below are a few concepts Tennessee will likely call on game night.
Many people have noted that the Rams’ offense frequently deploys their players in condensed formations. These are alignments where the outside receivers on both sides of the formation have a reduced or near split to the offensive line.
These condensed sets allow coordinators like McVay and LeFleur to disguise their concepts or confuse defenses because receivers have plenty of space to break inside or outside on their routes. LeFleur will call a variety of plays from these looks, often involving crossing routes to rub defenders or spacing concepts that put coverage players in conflict and create voids between zones.
Or the Titans could utilize play-action and have their receivers sit down in an open zone like the following play.
The design is a simple two-man route combination. Instead of running two deep crossing routes, one of the receivers settles behind the linebackers who’ve been sucked in by the play-fake. Marcus Mariota threw for an easy 19-yard gain using this play at Buffalo in Week 5.
Don’t be surprised if nearly half of the Titans’ plays are run from a condensed formation.
One of Tennessee’s favorite concepts is the screen pass. Whether to a wide receiver or running back, LeFleur is guaranteed to call at least a couple of screens.
Over the past three games, there were two scenarios when the Titans tended to execute some form of screen pass. The first was if they were struggling on offense. In those cases, the team attempted to jumpstart a drive with a quick screen on first down. The second was when the offense built some momentum on a possession. LeFleur dialed up a screen, usually on second down, to keep the offense moving. In fact, the vast majority of their screen passes in the last three contests occurred on second down.
The most common screen pass they’ve called is the tunnel screen.
The quarterback makes a quick throw to the outside receiver, who runs underneath the blocks of the offensive linemen. Against the Texans in Week 2, Taywan Taylor scored from 18 yards out.
Another quick pass they’ll run is the flat screen.
On this play, the inside slot receiver immediately drives to the flat while the two other trips receivers act as open field blockers. This flat screen in Week 5 also appears to be part of an RPO. Given the number of defenders out wide, Mariota likely knows he’s throwing the ball before the snap.
Notice the formation on the play. Whenever Tennessee lines up in a 3×1 set with the tight end closed on the single side, they might be running the flat screen.
One of the Titans’ offseason acquisitions was running back Dion Lewis. The former Patriot was always a threat in the passing game.
If Tennessee doesn’t use a tunnel or flat screen, then watch for the swing screen pass.
This play is quite similar to the flat screen, except the running back executes a swing route. For the Titans facing the Chargers in London two weeks ago, they have Lewis motion to the perimeter while the ball is being snapped.
Here’s a tunnel screen from Week 7 in London; this time, Lewis motions out wide pre-snap.
Lastly, another similarity between LeFleur’s scheme and McVay’s is the regular use of stacks and bunches. The Titans’ weekly game plan is often littered with these receiver groupings, usually in a condensed formation.
As stated earlier, Tennessee will utilize a variety of concepts from condensed or mostly-condensed alignments. One of those plays is a type of Hi-Lo spacing design.
From a bunch set, this route combination mixes a shallow cross from the point man with a curl-dig concept from the inside and outside bunch receivers. Against zone coverage, the curl-dig stresses the hook/curl defender with a hi-lo conflict.
The shallow cross occupies the middle zone defender, which leaves the hook/curl defender outmatched in a two-on-one scenario.
Against man coverage, the bunch routes can rub defenders to create separation or Mariota can target the backside receiver isolated one-on-one.
Like the Cowboys, the Titans have struggled on offense in the first half of 2018. This is in part due to the season opener, when Mariota injured his ulnar nerve. The other issues are their lack of a run game and adapting to a new scheme.
With the team playing at home, where they’ve won all three of their games, the Dallas defense should limit Tennessee’s opportunities. If that’s the case, watch for the occasional screen pass to open a drive starting with the third or fourth possession.
This is one of Dallas’s most winnable games, although it has the potential to be a close contest. However, with the addition of Amari Cooper and the seeming return of the offensive line to its more successful roots, along with the team’s track record at home this year, anything but a victory would be disappointing.
You can follow Allan on Twitter at @AllanUy22
*Animations derived from NFL Game Pass