Why aren't Titans using more play-action?

November, 21, 2013
11/21/13
2:32
PM ET
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- As the Tennessee Titans told us about the revamped offense they'd run in 2013, they consistently mentioned play-action.

They'd be a run-first team that would build off it with play-action passing to keep defenses off kilter.

[+] EnlargeJake Locker
Ronald C. Modra/Sports Imagery/Getty ImagesJake Locker and the Titans have run very few play-action plays this season.
But the 4-6 Titans have run only 43 play-action snaps out of a 623 plays, according the ESPN Stats & Information. That works out to be not quite seven percent of the plays. By comparison, the NFL's top play-action quarterbacks, Washington's Robert Griffin III and Denver's Peyton Manning, have run 18.7 and 16.8 percent play-action snaps respectively.

Twenty-nine quarterbacks have dropped back for more play-action attempts than Jake Locker and Ryan Fitzpatrick combined.

On their play-action snaps, the Titans have completed 51 percent of their passes with one touchdown, two interceptions, five sacks and a 56.3 passer rating.

Offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said the Titans have been close to 50-50 run-pass on first-and-10, and that of those passes, roughly half have been play-action.

"I don't know what's defined as play-action from the statistics that you guys have," Loggains said. "It's something we have done, I think it's something we will continue to do. The other things is, early on in a couple games when the running game's struggled, you get away from it a little more."

How about the quarterback perspective on it?

"I think part of it is you've got to go with what's working, what we're good at and what we've kind of had some success with," Fitzpatrick said of the league's No. 21 offense. "We worked on [play-action] a lot this offseason. That's still a big part of what we do in terms of going into games. Some of that is just feeling a game out. We've had some big plays, there were a couple big plays in the St. Louis game with the play-action and throwing some balls to Kendall [Wright] and things.

"As that run game goes, those play-action passes get even better."

Several players were surprised when I told them about the play-action numbers.

"If we're ranked 30th as far as play-action, it's a low number, yeah," tight end Craig Stevens said. "That stat speaks for itself, right? It seems like it would be good to try to get some more in there, just to diversify."

There is some conventional, and flawed, thinking that a team has to run well in order for play-action to work. Defenders read keys, and whether Chris Johnson is breaking off five yards a run or one, those keys don't change.

"Obviously a defense has to honor their keys," offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said. "They're reading the guard. Is he selling run? Is it play action? There is also the human element of, ‘Hey, we're getting gashed in the run game, we've got to sell out and stop the run game.'"

Mike Munchak circled back to the high number of 3-4 defenses the Titans have played against as part of the reason. Some of those teams did well to take it away.

But surely other teams run play-action against those defenses. The Titans have used the number of 3-4 defenses they've faced as an explanation for several offensive failures, but they did know through the offseason than many of their opponents would use it. So I wonder a bit about how they mapped things out, considering.

"In these next six weeks as far as play-action and things like that, we have to do a better job," Munchak said. "I'm surprised by [the low numbers]. We thought it'd be a lot different, we thought the season would play out differently that way. But again, this league is about making adjustments. I thought we did that the first part for the season when we ended up coming out 3-1, I thought Jake did a really good job with that.

"Now you start changing [with Fitzpatrick], you saw us last week go a little more empty, hurry up offense, no-huddle. When you do some of that it takes away from some of the play-action."

Paul Kuharsky | email

ESPN Tennessee Titans reporter

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