The Tennessee Titans are one of three undefeated teams in the NFL heading into Week 7 and have scored 42 points in back-to-back games. They are currently second in the NFL in points per game, averaging 32.8. Their offense is running on all cylinders right now. When you add in the fact that they had their facility shut down for almost two weeks due to an outbreak of COVID-19, it makes their offensive output that much more impressive. Their ability to score took a dramatic shift when they made a change at the quarterback position in Week 7 of the 2019 season.
Insert Ryan Tannehill.
Tannehill has been arguably the most important player for one team since he took over for Marcus Mariota in 2019. Tannehill has been playing like a top quarterback since he took over the starting job right around this time last season. Through five games in 2020, he is playing at an elite level.
He earned himself a contract extension (4 years, $118 million) after last season, and he’s making that look like a bargain. He owns a 14-4 record in 18 games as the starter. He currently ranks third in QBR (85.5), tied for fifth in touchdown passes (13) and is sixth in completion percentage (69.9%). Tannehill has the lowest percentage of bad throws at 9.8 and is the only QB this season who falls below 10% in this statistic. He is fourth in percentage of on-target throws with 81.7.
But the most important stat that reflects how well Tannehill has played is Tennessee’s record of 5-0.
Tannehill has greatly increased the potency of the Titans’ offense and has arguably been a big reason why running back Derrick Henry has found success since Tannehill has taken over as the starter.
Before Tannehill took over in Week 7 of the 2019 season:
- Henry had just six career 100-yard rushing games
- Henry had just one 100-yard rushing game in 2019
After Week 7, when Tannehill became the full-time starter:
- Henry, he had seven 100-yard rushing games (including playoffs)
In the 18 games since Tannehill has been the starting quarterback, Henry has totaled 10 100-yard rushing games, including six games where he eclipsed 150-plus yards rushing.
Many argue that Henry’s emergence has been one of the biggest reasons for Tennessee’s success and for Tannehill’s success as a starter but these stats argue the opposite. Tannehill’s emergence has been a big reason for Henry’s success. The Titans offense took a huge step forward as a unit once Tannehill was under center.
- In weeks 1-6 of the 2019 season, the Titans scored 20 or more points in just two of those six games. A small sample size, but the Titans have failed to eclipse 20 points just once in the 18 games since Tannehill has been the starter.
- Tennessee has eclipsed 30 points in nine of Tannehill’s 18 games as the starter. From 2016 through Week 7 of 2019, in 69 games prior to Tannehill starting, the Titans eclipsed 30 points a total of 10 times.
One of the biggest reasons for Tannehill’s success as Tennessee’s starter is the way they have utilized play-action passes:
- In 2019, Tannehill had success on play-action passes, finishing seventh in the NFL in play-action passing yards. All the quarterbacks ranked above him had started at least 15 games. Tannehill had started just 10.
- In 2020, Tannehill has attempted the third-highest amount of play-action passes in the NFL (69).
- Of his 1,368 passing yards this season, 653 have come from play-action passes (third-most in the league).
This success isn’t just because of Tannehill. Offensive coordinator Arthur Smith has done a great job utilizing Tannehill’s success off play-action passes and needs to be given credit in Tennessee’s offensive success of late.
Tannehill will face his biggest test of the 2020 season in Week 7 when the Pittsburgh Steelers travel to Nashville. Pittsburgh’s defense has been the best in football, leading the league in both sacks and pressures forced. With left tackle Taylor Lewan tearing his ACL in Week 6, Tennessee will need to continue to protect Tannehill if they are to succeed. Tannehill has been sacked just five times this season. If the Titans can slow down the Steelers’ ferocious pass rush, they have a chance to remain undefeated. Either way, it’s clear the future in Tennessee looks bright with Tannehill at the helm.