Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Tennessee Titans, Contenders Or Pretenders?

Can Ryan Tannehill guide the Tennessee Titans to it’s first AFC South title since 2008?

Empower Field At Mile High Stadium, October 13th 2019: A perplexed Titans head coach Mike Vrabel looks on from the sidelines, as the second overall pick of the 2015 draft quarterback Marcus Mariota has turned the offense into a lifeless entity floating into the outer reaches of the NFL wasteland. Mariota is in the midst of a troubling stat line, 7-of-18 for 68 yards and two interceptions along with another two sacks.

Through the first six weeks of the season Mariota has completed a career-low 59.1% of attempted passes, whilst averaging less than 200 yards per game. The ground swell of mumbling and discontent emanating not only from Titans fans, but from a national perspective surrounding Mariota and the offenses ineptitude, isn’t what the usually media starved Titans desire. But things are about to change as Vrabel takes an unprecedented leap of faith, the first real one of his young coaching career as Ryan Tannehill trots onto the field to replace Marcus Mariota at quarterback.

In relief Tannehill would go 13-of-16 for 144 yards, zero touchdowns and one interception. The 16-0 defeat left the Titans with an unwanted 2-4 record heading into a week seven matchup against the LA Chargers.

Head coach Mike Vrabel on the reasoning behind the move: “We’re trying to get a little spark, trying to evaluate what we’re doing and how we’re functioning as an offense,”

Vrabel added more context to what he wants to achieve by making the switch: “You have to look at the body of work and really just try to evaluate how we want to try to function, the passes that we need to complete, the operation, getting the entire offense, To be able to function, score points, move the field, convert third downs.”

Contenders

The turnaround in fortunes has been unprecedented as the Titans (8-5) find themselves in pole position as they bid to win the AFC South for the first time since 2008. A bland, lifeless offense that scored 25 points or more just once under Mariota, has now surpassed that total during five of it’s seven games under the stewardship of Ryan Tannehill.

Since week seven, the former Miami Dolphins signal caller (eighth overall pick of the 2012 draft) completed a career high 73.4% of his intended passes whilst guiding the team to a 6-1 record. The 31-year-old has thrown nine touchdowns and one interception during his last four games and has completed over 77% of his passes in three straight games.

Tannehill remained humble when asked about the situation: “I just think it speaks to the guys around me, they’re playing well, the offensive line giving me time, and guys are catching the ball and getting open downfield. I think it all kind of works together – putting the ball in a catch-able spot, and then guys making a play on it. I have a lot of confidence that if I throw a ball, that our guys are going to go get it right now. We just need to keep on that track, building that confidence out here on the practice field and carrying it over to games.”

In regards to any friction between himself and Mariota; “Marcus is huge (for me), Obviously, it is a difficult situation for him. A ton of respect for Marcus and not only what he’s done in his football career, but the person that he is each and every day. Like I said, tough situation for him, but he’s been nothing but professional throughout the whole process. He’s been supportive. I’ve been able to just talk through things on game day, during the week. He helps me with watching the tape. I think he does everything he can possibly do to help me and this team along, which says a lot about his character as a person being in that tough situation.”

The upturn in fortunes goes beyond Tannehill.

Whilst Tannehill has been the focal point of large sections of the media running back Derrick Henry has left an unprecedented path of devastation in his wake. The 6ft 3″ 247lb Henry (with Tannerhill at QB) has rushed for 827 yards, averaging 6.03 yards per attempt whilst gracing the endzone at least once in six of the seven games since Tannehill took over. Henry finds himself perfectly poised to be crowned the NFL’s 2019 rushing champion. With three games remaining Henry finds himself second (by just 38 yards) to Cleveland Browns Nick Chubb with 1243 yards rushing.

Second round rookie (2019) A.J. Brown has also reaped the rewards of from Tannehill’s play, the 6ft 226lb wideouts last three games have resulted in two games with at least 135 yards receiving along with three trips to the end zone.

Defensively Logan Ryan has put forward an impressive year, the two-time Super Bowl champion leads the team in tackles (94), passes defensed (17) and interceptions (4) and has also recorded 3.5 sacks. Another that jumps out on tape is outside linebacker Harold Landry (41st overall selection of the 2018 draft). During his sophomore season the 23-year-old has recorded a sack during five of the last six games (leads team with nine) along with five tackles for a loss, seven quarterback hits and an interception.

Pretenders

Whilst the argument for the Titans as genuine contender’s is extremely compelling. We need to address the flip side of the coin and play a little devil’s advocate, and highlight a few interesting facts.

Of those six wins, five were against teams without a winning record. They lost to a Kyle Allen (who completed 53.13% of his attempted passes) led Panthers team who are now without a head coach. I won’t mention it was Mahomes’ first game back from a dislocated knee cap when they beat the Chiefs….oops.

Defensively the Titans are far from perfect, and have held teams below 20 points just once in those seven games, on four occasions quarterbacks have passed for over 300 yards. Speaking of which the Titans have allowed the eighth highest passing yards by quarterbacks (3589 yards), that’s more than the Bengals, Jaguars and Dolphins who have a total of eight wins between them.

Interesting they’ve also allowed the fifth highest recieving yards (643) by running backs, eighth most yards by tight ends (761) and third (tied) most touchdowns by tight ends (7). The overall play of the offensive line has improved, however Tannehill has been sacked four times or more in three of his seven starts.

Conclusion

I’ve struggled with this as I have a soft spot for the Titans and as Jets fan I’ve seen enough of Tannehill not to fall into the hype trap, I get the feeling this is a glorified reboot of Nick Foles’ 2013 season, I’m 60/40 on the side of pretenders it’s just unsustainable in my eyes. However sweep the Texans and beat the Saints and I’m all in. Titans fans over to you…

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Mark Teece
Aspiring sports writer with an unhealthy NFL obsession. Enduring unimaginable misery via my beloved New York Jets.

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