Ryan Tannehill through a year and a half with the Tennessee Titans has clearly been far better than when with the Dolphins where he started his career. Too many in the media and fans don’t acknowledge just how good he has been, and they definitely understate his significance to their postseason appearances. The Titans in 2019 had a 17-7 lead on the Chiefs in the AFC Championship but they ended losing 35-24. Last season they lost in the wildcard round to the Ravens 20-13.
In 2019 after a 2-4 start the Titans put Tannehill in and ended the regular season with a 9-7 record to make the playoffs. The 2020 team went 11-5 and won the division. Clearly, after taking a step back in the playoffs and their division rival the Indianapolis Colts getting better, they need to do something different if they want to get back to the conference title game and have a shot to win the Super Bowl.
To make matters more interesting Arthur Smith, their offensive coordinator from the last two seasons, is gone along with their top tight end and number two wide receiver. Smith will be replaced by the Titans tight ends coach Todd Downing from the last two seasons, and maybe that will prove to be wise. Because of Derrick Henry, some might think running him more or getting more of the offense through him could be the solution, but Henry already ranks at the top of the league in touches. As a matter of fact, what they need to do is keep the best traits of what Smith was doing and look at what he could’ve done better. The Titans front office and head coach Mike Vrabel also need to make some changes, with the most important being letting Tannehill throw more and getting him another weapon.
Some of you reading this are probably thinking I’m a dumbass for suggesting the idea of Ryan Tannehill throwing more when the Titans have Derrick Henry, but a lot of those people probably branded Tannehill as garbage because of his time with the Dolphins. Henry ran the ball 378 times last season which is 66 attempts more than the next leading rusher while Tannehill was only 18th in pass attempts. The following QBs were given more attempts: Jared Goff, Philip Rivers, Baker Mayfield, Derek Carr, and Teddy Bridgewater. Passing in general is more efficient than running and taking some carries from Henry and turning them into pass attempts will help keep Henry’s body fresher, especially later in the year. People view him as invincible but he’s going to be 27 and has run the ball 896 times in the last three seasons.
Tannehill isn’t garbage anymore and keep in mind he had a complete fucking moron in Adam Gase as a head coach. We’ve been seeing how much better players do once freed from him like Devante Parker, Robby Anderson, and Mike Gesicki to name a few. Tannehill was also a receiver the first two years of his college career so he definitely needed developing and absolutely did not get that from Gase.
In week 7 of 2019, Tannehill got his first start as a Titan against the Chargers, and from there he completed 70.3% of his passes for 2,742 yards and 22 touchdown passes to six interceptions in ten games. They went 7-3 with him as their starter and stormed to an AFC Title game despite starting the season 2-4 with Marcus Mariota. Last season he completed 65.5% of his passes for 3,819 yards and 33 touchdowns against seven interceptions and brought them back to the playoffs, but this time Tennessee lost in the wildcard round.
Advanced stats further show he truly was great for the Titans. Pro Football Focus gave him overall offensive grades of third in 2019 and sixth last season. Football Outsider’s DVOA (Defense adjusted Value Over Average) had Tannehill fifth in 2019 and sixth in 2020. To be fair the success has been with one coordinator and one system, but when it comes to the eye test Tannehill certainly looks much better than in years past. It’s not just stats.
Arthur Smith did a great job of guiding this offense the last two seasons and especially once Ryan Tannehill took over after a 2-4 start to the 2019 season. There’s a reason he’ll be the head coach in Atlanta this season. The heavy rate of play action passes needs to continue as in 2019 Tannehill had a play action drop back percentage of 29.9% (9th) and last season he had the highest at 36.4% . Over the last two seasons, Pro Football Focus graded Tannehill as the second best play action quarterback in 2019 and sixth best last season. In traditional stats he had a 12 to 3 touchdown to interception ratio with 1,646 yards off of play action and a year ago 9 to 2 touchdown to interception ratio for 1,165 yards. In 2019 he had the sixth highest Average Depth of Target at 10.7 yards and in 2020 was tied for seventh with Lamar Jackson at 10.7 yards. The Titans need to continue to use play action at a rate right around what they did last season or go even higher with it.
Balanced usage of 11 (one running back, one tight end) and 12 (one back, two tight ends) personnel is another thing Smith did last season that they should keep up. According to sharpfootballstats.com the Titans used 11 personnel at a frequency rate of 38% with a 52% success rate which was the second highest from that grouping. From 12 personnel Tennessee had a 35% frequency rate with a 53% success rate. They also used 21 (two running backs, one tight end) at a 10% frequency rate with a 56% success rate and when in 13 (one running back, three tight ends) they had a 9% frequency rate and a 50% success rate. Success rate or successful play rate deems plays successful in the following ways: a team must gain at least 40% of the needed yardage for a first down on first down, 60% of needed yardage on second down, and then on third down all remaining yardage.
The Titans can help improve their offense by passing more on first down in particular. From 11 personnel Tannehill averaged 8.1 yards per attempt compared to Henry’s carries averaging 3.9 yards. On first down, they ran the ball 51% of the time from this personnel grouping but were far better throwing the ball. From 12 personnel they especially need to throw the ball more as their pass rate on first down from that grouping is only 33%. Tannehill averaged 9.3 yards per attempt compared to Henry’s carries going for 5.5 yards per carry, which is great, but again not a nine plus yard average.
From their top two personnel groupings when they threw the ball they set up second and very short situations because as stated above Tannehill averaged 8.1 yards per attempt in 11 personnel and 9.3 yards per attempt in 12 personnel on first downs. Derrick Henry the last two seasons has averaged over 5 yards per carry. If he gets carries on short second downs behind this offensive line (Pro Football Focus graded their run blocking fifth this season and sixth last year) they would be even scarier for defenses, and the way to get these favorable situations is by allowing Tannehill to throw more on first down. They drafted North Dakota State offensive tackle Dillon Radunz to help make the line stronger which was a wise investment particularly by helping improve their pass protection from the right tackle spot.
Ryan Tannehill on early downs (1st and 2nd) has a greater impact than their rushing. In 11 personnel he averaged 7.9 yards per attempt to 5.1 yards per carry when they ran. When in 12 personnel Tannehill averaged 9.2 yards per attempt while rushing produced 5.2 yards per carry. On first and second down Tannehill was a lot more effective when he threw than when the Titans ran the ball. Last season Henry ran the ball 378 times so there is definitely room for that number to come down and throw it more. Again, if they keep the heavy play action with balanced usage of 11 and 12 personnel and work in more Tannehill passes they should be very pleased with the results they get. Currently, they have a 54% pass rate from 11 which is good but only 39% from 12. The trend seems to be they threw the ball far too little while in 12 personnel. Get a more even balance and this offense will be more productive.
Already having AJ Brown on the roster is huge, signing Josh Reynolds from the Rams was solid but then here in the month of June, they add Julio fucking Jones. Tannehill should perform at an even higher level with Jones and Brown to throw to. They should look to get three dangerous receiving threats with one of them ideally being a tight end and play a little bit more from 11 personnel to keep defenders out of the box. Reynolds is a solid third option but an upgrade wouldn’t hurt. Make defenses have to deal with a heavy amount of play action and Tannehill would have at least three strong options to go with the ball and of course, with Derrick Henry’s bruising running style, they would be a nightmare to try and stop. They still need to use plenty of 12 personnel but pass more while in that grouping to help themselves be less predictable and in general more effective.
In today’s NFL your offense needs to be able to present as many threats to a defense as possible and if the Titans did what was mentioned above they’d certainly have that and be a real Super Bowl threat and not need a lucky year to get the job done. Getting Julio was a great move but it is still worth wondering if they have enough playmakers for defenses to worry about. Opening this offense up and letting Tannehill cook is the first step in being a contender. That decision is on Mike Vrabel to make.