3 reasons why Ryan Tannehill has struggled this season

Ever since Ryan Tannehill took over the starting quarterback job for the Tennessee Titans, he’s found nothing but statistical excellence and has earned a respectful amount of praise from coaches and his peers around the league.

His steady, yet consistent play has given the Titans a stable, successful option at quarterback for the first time since the days of the beaten and battered Steve McNair, something that shouldn’t be downplayed whatsoever due to the quarterback carousel the Titans went through since McNair was booted out of town in 2006.

Tannehill’s compatibility with the Titans’ impressive assortment of skill players and his seamless marriage to the team’s run first offensive scheme isn’t something that should be ignored either.

All of this and more has given Tannehill a home in the mid south, certainly a welcomed development after his up and down stint with the team he was originally drafted by, the Miami Dolphins.

However, things haven’t been all sunshine and rainbows for Tannehill so far this season. Granted that no season will go by smoothly without an ounce of discomfort and frustration due to a plethora of things. But things have been especially difficult for Tannehill this season. In fact, it’s been so difficult for Tannehill that his questionable has led to a few legitimate concerns.

One being that his play could hold the Titans back from truly contending for a Super Bowl title.

He’s struggled with turnovers, he’s been inaccurate at times — something that’s out of the ordinary for him because he’s been so accurate throughout his career despite his obvious struggles at times — and he just hasn’t looked like the same Ryan Tannehill that was at the forefront of the Titans’ historic offensive success during the latter half of the 2019 season and the entirety of the 2020 season.

A drop off in play as significant as that has to be further examined, so I went ahead and dup up some tidbits that could explain why Tannehill hasn’t looked like himself this season.

Turnovers

Perhaps the one thing that stands out regarding Tannehill’s struggles this season has been his abnormal tendency when it comes to turning the football over.

One of the things that made the Titans’ offense so efficient last season was their ability to limit turnovers. Tannehill was a big part of that, throwing only seven interceptions and losing just three of his six fumbles. This season though has been a different story, as Tannehill has put the ball in harms way more times than not.

Tannehill has thrown 13 interceptions in 12 games this season, an alarming figure that becomes even more alarming once you realize those 13 interceptions are tied for the second most he’s thrown in a season during his nine year career.

Tannehill hasn’t thrown double digit interceptions since 2016 (!)

Some of these turnovers haven’t been on Tannehill, since at least one or two of his interceptions have come as a result of drops downfield by Titans receivers. But for the most part, Tannehill has been treating the football like an unwanted stepchild, and that has to stop sooner rather than later if the Titans want to hold off the rest of the competition in the AFC.

Struggles throwing down the field

What concerns me the most about Tannehill moving forward is his ability to connect with his receivers down the field. The Titans of course employ a physical run first offense that’s reliant on the success of their running game. I know that, you know that, we all know that for a fact.

But another key piece of their scheme is their play action passing game that feeds off of the success, and sometimes even the presence of the run game alone. Intermediate in cut routes across the middle of the field, shot plays that are meant to attack single high safety looks as a result of defenses bringing in an extra body to account for the run game, these sort of routes that can result in chunk plays are a very important facet of the Titans’ success offensively.

For these plays to work though, you need a quarterback with a strong arm and an ability to accurately place these low probability throws.

Tannehill did just enough of that in 2020, completing just over 45% of his throws that traveled at least 20 yards in the air per Pro Football Focus. That number might be low, but to put things in perspective, 2020 NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers only completed only 42% of such passes.

So far this season though, Tannehill has only completed 28% of his passes that have traveled at least 20 yards down the field, way below his 2020 figure.

Tannehill hasn’t only struggled to consistently connect with the deep ball either.

Tannehill’s completion percentage for throws that travel at least 20+ yards (regular season)
202045%
202128%

He’s completing only 56% of his throws that travel between 10 and 19 yards in the air, down by almost 4% compared to his 2020 total. To make matters worse, Tannehill has thrown eight interceptions attempting these kind of throws, by far the highest total he’s ever had since becoming a Titan in 2019.

All of these numbers being thrown around might make your head jumble, but the bottom line is that Tannehill has struggled to connect with throws down the field, at least statistically wise. For an offense that relies on these types of throws to create success within the passing game, these specific struggles should be cause a bit of a concern.

Without the downfield passing aspect, this offense’s potential will be limited, and that’s even if A.J. Brown, Julio Jones. and the rest of the receiving core are healthy and ready to play.. It’s a problem the Titans had to deal with before they found success in the explosiveness department offensively. They were all beef and braun, but there wasn’t a lot of finesse to balance the rest of the unit out.

That’s why it’s uber important that the Titans — and Tannehill himself — correct their issues when it comes to throwing the football down the field.

Now to be fair, Tannehill has dealt with an injury crisis at receiver he’s probably never ever seen throughout the entirety of his career. Add in the fact that the sample size comparison between 12 and 16 games isn’t working in his favor either, and the fact that he’s had to deal with some disappointing drops by his receivers down the field.

But even despite that, there’s obvious room for improvement on Tannehill’s side.

Pass protection

One of the few things Tannehill hasn’t been able to control this season has been the lack of protection in the passing game.

Earlier in the season, the Titans were inept when it came to keeping Tannehill off of the turf. It was a rather surprising development, not only because the line did such a great job at protecting Tannehill last season, but because the offensive line possessed a fair level of talent across all five spots.

This season though, that talent hasn’t proven itself on the field enough, and it’s led to Tannehill repeatedly getting pummeled in passing situations. Some of the sacks have come as a result of Tannehill either holding on to the ball too long or getting himself into trouble. That’s all fair and dandy, but the majority of the pass protection failure falls squarely on the shoulders of the front five and others.

Team leaders in sacks allowed per Pro Football Focus
David Quessenberry: 8
Taylor Lewan: 4
Nate Davis: 4
Aaron Brewer: 2
Rodger Saffold: 2
Kendall Lamm: 2
*Bobby Hart: 2
*=no longer on the team, **: Geoff Swaim has also allowed two sacks this season, an accurate assessment of his pass blocking which has been poor this season.

When a quarterback continuously gets beaten and battered, you obviously begin to get concerned about his health and his effectiveness on the field.

And although Tannehill’s game hasn’t started to break down solely because of the physical beating he’s taking, the concern exists for that scenario to play itself out as well. A quarterback is going to struggle when there isn’t ample protection in front of him, even an experienced veteran will find it difficult to maneuver if they can’t get ample time in the pocket to throw the football.

In Tannehill’s case, it’s especially difficult for him since he’s had to rely on a revolving door of a receiving core for the better part of the last month. If the Titans want Tannehill to at least receive the chance to work through the issues he’s battling right now, there has to be a heightened effort towards keeping him out of harms way.

If they can’t do that, then Tannehill is going to either get himself hurt, or his game will begin to crumble.

We all know that Titans can’t afford either of those scenarios to occur.

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