NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- For years, the Tennessee Titans were a franchise reluctant to throw screen passes.
Not the quick screen that gets the ball into the hands of a player quickly after the snap. But the slower-developing play where an aggressive pass rush is given a chance to get up field against the Titans, only to see the ball looped over the rush to a player with space and some lead blockers on the move.
It’s an area where the Titans are improving.
Two first-half plays showed how the Titans can be effective with screens.
On a second-and-6 they neutralized edge rusher Mario Williams and tackle Corbin Bryant with a play-action pass to Bishop Sankey on the right. Center Brian Schwenke got out in front with a good block on linebacker Preston Brown and Sankey got 8 yards and a first down.
On a second-and-18, right guard Jamon Meredith got out and blocked linebacker Nigel Bradham. Schwenke pretty much let Bryant past him at the line to get ahead on safety Aaron Williams, and Antonio Andrews did good work with a pass going for 23 yards.
Such plays take timing and patience. The late Mike Heimerdinger, the Titans' offensive coordinator for two stints under Jeff Fisher, wasn’t a big screen coach. The Titans believed the amount of practice work that was needed to correctly time things up wasn’t worth what the team would get out of the plays, so they generally chose to focus on other areas.
Ken Whisenhunt is trying to incorporate them more.
"The screens are a big piece of what you’re doing offensively if you can be successful with them," he said. "There is a little bit of a timing to it, you also have to work on executing it. There were even one or two (Sunday) that could have been better had we executed them the right way, but we’ve made tremendous progress with our screens.
"I think when you’re facing a team that will give you some pressures, that’s a good way of slowing down the rush, because it makes them think. We’ve had a little bit of success with that and hopefully that continues."
Quarterback Marcus Mariota said the offensive line is doing good work to sell the plays.
"It starts up front," he said. "Those guys did a good job of selling the pass and allowing the pass-rushers to get up the field, and once they’re out in open space they did a good job of getting on guys. We’ve taken pride in that, and we look forward to using that more and it being successful."
It’s an area where Sankey can excel, and the Titans need to find spots for the 2014 second-round pick to help.
Don’t expect the Titans to run a ton of screens. But against the more aggressive defenses they face, a handful of well-executed screens can really serve as a smart counter move, one we’re not used to seeing in Nashville.