NASHVILLE, Tenn. – When the news came down that Taylor Lewan, likely the best player on the Titans’ offense, would miss the first four games due to a PED suspension, it seemed inevitable the team would lose at least one more game than it should during his time away.

Was that the Colts’ game?HumphriesColts

Well, we haven’t seen the full four yet. But his absence sure hurt on Sunday, when the Tennessee offense couldn’t get moving and sustained very little in a miserable 19-17 loss to Indianapolis.

They might have lost it with him, and there were plenty of culprits who did play. But I’d suggest Lewan contributed in two big ways.

Surely Marcus Mariota would have been less skittish against the Colts if his top offensive lineman was in place. He would have seen less pressure and he also would have been more confident that fewer rushers were going to arrive.LewanPEDs

And more targets would have gotten out sooner for him. While he seemed to be having trouble sorting through options and processing things, it would have had to have been better for him for targets to have gotten out more quickly giving him even earlier, better first-read options.

Particularly Adam Humphries.

“The offense was handcuffed by too many eligible receivers that had to stay in to help out the offensive line in pass protection,” Blake Beddingfield wrote in his game review.

Here, Herndon illustrates Humphries having to help Kelly before moving on to his route.

This is hardly uncommon work, though it would be far less common of one of the best left tackles in the NFL was in position instead of suspended.

Humphries releases pretty quickly here and is a wide-open option for Mariota as a check-down. In this instance, it was not a bad thing he didn't get a look. Mariota found Delanie Walker deeper, for a 12-yard gain.

But in times of need, Mariota seemed allergic to check-downs against the Colts.

At other times, the chipping is clearly part of the reason Humphries and others aren’t as involved offensively as we expected they would be at this early stage of the season. It’s slowing them down in terms of getting out on routes.

As Mike Vrabel points out, the chains being so far away is a big issue as well.

“As a route runner, it makes your route obviously the secondary focus,” Humphries said. “Going into the play obviously your No. 1 your job is to put that defensive end on the tackle, help him out, help the protection.

"Once you chip him, do your job there, then you start thinking about your route, and obviously it shortens because you’ve spent a lot of time on the chip. So it changes it a little bit.”apple icon 144x144 precomposed

Humphries jokes the guys he’s chipping generally have him by “a couple hundred pounds,” but helping as a blocker was not an uncommon thing for him in Tampa Bay where he excelled as a pass-catcher out of the slot.

So clearly a balance can be struck. Right now, however, the Titans are leaning heavily to the one side of it, the protection side. He’s got three receptions for 4 yards and one carry for 1 yard.

The route-chip ratio should be back in better balance when Lewan is back on the field for Week 5 against Buffalo.

In the meantime, the Titans need to do better surviving on the edges. If they can get in third-and-manageable the way Vrabel talks about then perhaps a slippery, big-money threat who looked like an unstoppable chain-mover in training camp can go do his thing and won't have to spend so much time at the line of scrimmage.

The absence of Lewan is also impacting the run game. Look where Derrick Henry is going, per Warren Sharp.Screen Shot 2019 09 17 at 8.24.52 AM

The plan was not to be running most behind Jamil Douglas and Ben Jones.

The adjustment at left tackle has prompted too much change.

The Titans lost their $80 million tackle (minus the suspension-related givebacks) and without him they're losing the best qualities of their $36 million receiver and not running the bread-and-butter zone read to the left with their best back, Derrick Henry.

While surviving two more games against good defensive fronts, they can't afford to sacrifice much more.

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