On a third-and-10 in the final two minutes, Titans running back Derrick Henry broke off a 22-yard run for a first down. Mariota keyed the play with a block:
What Mariota did here is impressive, and not just because it’s fun to see a quarterback get his hands dirty and make a block. The Titans ran a zone-read option play, a common call in the college game that’s become more and more common in the NFL.
The play is designed to pick on an unblocked edge defender. The quarterback reads the defender and tries to send the ball where that player isn’t. On this play, that’s No. 51 for Kansas City, Zombo.
Most typically, the running back goes one direction, and the quarterback holds the ball into his belly while watching an outside linebacker on the other side of the formation. If the linebacker (or a defensive end) crashes toward the running back, the QB pulls the ball and runs. If he doesn’t, the QB gives the running back the ball, and the offense is supposed to have a numbers advantage on a zone run. That’s because instead of blocking that “read” defender, an offensive tackle has moved to help the running back.
On this play, the Titans got the best of both worlds. The outside linebacker stayed somewhat set, prompting Mariota to give the ball to Henry. But this was a counter run, whether by pre-snap intent or not, and Henry quickly darted back toward Mariota once he got the handoff. Mariota had time to get in front of his running back and put his body into Zombo.
That allowed Henry to get a head of steam. And when Henry gets a head of steam, good luck tackling him. The Titans killed the clock and moved to the Divisional Round.