In my not-so-humble opinion, the reason the Buffalo Bills have struggled against the Tennessee Titans the last few seasons comes down to one word—balance. Obviously the Titans have an incredible run game. It’s not just Derrick Henry either. Ryan Tannehill can hurt you with his legs and will do so if Henry’s damage is limited. Take away the pass, and Henry is certain to find seams to punish a defense. Speaking of Tannehill, while he’s not one of the AFC’s elite signal callers, he’s good enough to hurt you especially when he has weapons around him. Last season those weapons included A.J. Brown and Julio Jones, which is a pretty good duo. This season, the Titans are relying on Robert Woods and two rookies in Treylon Burks and Kyle Phillips. Tennessee is banking on the future, but how do they look in the now? To the film couch!
This isn’t intended as disrespect to Treylon Burks, which means I’m about to throw out a major insult. Anyway, there’s nothing special about the route he runs. That’s okay—not every play has to be a masterclass in route running. I highlight a couple routes running to the right at the beginning. Both of these are bringing defenders away from where Burks is running. Later in the play I highlight three receivers all running at different elevations from center to left of the field. Both of these strategies stress the New York Giants defense, and Tannehill is a good enough quarterback to find Burks coming wide open.
Reading the GIF you’re likely thinking I’m insinuating that Burks isn’t quick off the snap. That’s because I am insinuating that Burks isn’t quick off the snap. Please note, this looked like an occasional thing and it also applied to Kyle Phillips. However, I don’t highlight it for Phillips because I did the Burks GIFs first and knew I could point it out once and be done with it. Back to Burks, this isn’t a bad snap. Burks has a good first move, gains a little space and has to dive when Tannehill is a bit off the mark.
Tannehill averaged 7.0 yards per pass last season, which was 19th best or pretty average. In Week 1, Tannehill averaged 8.1 yards per attempt. Without A.J. Brown and Julio Jones somehow Tannehill became more efficient. New York allowed four different receivers to have receptions of 21+ yards. For this long catch by Burks, an early crossing pattern with his teammate causes a little hesitation on the Giants back end. It’s more than enough to create separation for an easy catch and run.
Similar to the Bills at corner, the Titans double dipped at wide receiver with a first-round pick (Treylon Burks) and a later-round guy (Kyle Phillips). And like the Kaiir Elam/Christian Benford comparison, both rookies earned the time on the field they’re receiving. Also like the Bills’ duo, there’s some scheming to support the rookies as they acclimate to the league. The Titans are flirting with a pick-play here to disrupt the defender who’s clearly keeping an eye on Phillips. It causes enough of a delay to get Phillips open for an easy chunk. It’s a decent route mind you, but that borderline legal play call is signficant too.
I picked on Burks for the slight lag in starting the play, so let’s pick on Phillips for this drop. He does everything right but catch the ball. For the record, Tannehill went right back to Phillips the next play on a similar route for the first down and that pass also wasn’t caught. Phillips had the most targets on the team with nine, and six catches for a 66% catch rate, which is higher than Tannehill’s completion percentage for the day (60%). Burks had 60% with three catches on five targets.
Here we go with the long pass to Phillips since everyone seemed to have one against the Giants. This one is less schemed and more simply a really good throw by Tannehill. Phillips gains some key space, but Tannehill does well to fit this over the defender.
While Ryan Tannehill is starting off the year with a higher yards per attempt than he finished last season, that’s probably a result of the sample size being so low. I think both Treylon Burks and Kyle Phillips show some potential, but it’s hard for me to put them ahead of last year’s duo of A.J. Brown and Julio Jones when it comes to talent. The Titans schemed a lot of opportunities for both players to be open. Some pretty normal rookie flaws crept up.
While I don’t sound all that high on them right now, the pair of receivers shouldn’t be written off by Bills fans. Remember why I think the Titans have been such a pain the neck for Buffalo. Tennessee still has a run game to take pressure off the passing game. Ryan Tannehill is stil capable of picking his spots when he has them. Even with the rookies getting significant time, Buffalo will need to play disciplined in order to shut down all the options Tennessee has.