Gridiron Grades: Titans offense continues to produce at historic clip in Week 15

Gridiron Grades with Justin Melo is a recurring piece that will assign a letter grade to each position group following every Titans game.

The Tennessee Titans may have the best offense in the NFL, producing at a historic clip right now. Take the opponent into account, but they just put up 46 points on the visiting Detroit Lions en route to a Week 15 blowout victory.

The Titans are now the ninth team in NFL history to score at least 30 points and go over 400 yards of offense in five straight games. The exact number Sunday was 463 yards. They were averaging 9.1 yards per play at halftime. It felt like they could do whatever they wanted.

The win keeps the Titans in first place in the AFC South. The Colts continue to match their win total, but Tennessee currently holds the tiebreaker thanks to a 4-1 divisional record.

The defense continues to struggle while creating opportunistic turnovers. We’ll get to that. For now, let’s appreciate how good this offense is.

Quarterback: A-plus

I praised Ryan Tannehill for his efficient performance in last week’s beatdown of the Jaguars, and this was even better. Tannehill picked his spots to perfection while taking advantage of a poor Lions defense. It was just another day at the office for one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL (yes, I said it). Tannehill was nearly perfect as he completed 21 of 27 passes for 273 yards and FIVE total touchdowns.

Tannehill started hot and remained that way for the duration of the game. You know he’s feeling himself when he’s attempting tight window throws on second-and-long this early:

He threw his first of three touchdowns on a 75-yard deep ball. It was the answer the Titans needed after the Lions had tied the game at 7 apiece. Tannehill would find the end zone for the second time on this impressive 17-yard scamper:

Tannehill would account for the team’s three final touchdowns as well, either via the air or ground. He is, simply put, ROLLING right now.

You’d have a hard time nitpicking this performance even if you tried. Midway through the third quarter, he misfired a throw that would have gone for a big gain on a second-and-five. He made up for it on the very next play with a beautiful sideline strike that kept the drive alive. He missed a wide open Corey Davis in the end zone late, but it didn’t cost the Titans as Tannehill found Darrynton Evans on the next play (more on that below).

Tannehill became the third quarterback in NFL history to throw for three touchdowns, rush for two more, and have a passer rating of at least 145.8. He’s now accounted for 3,482 yards and 31 touchdowns through the air with two games to go.

It was that kind of the day for Tannehill. He’ll look to keep it rolling in next week’s primetime showdown with the Packers.

Running backs: A-plus

D-Henber lives. Stop me if you’ve heard this before. Derrick Henry went out and dominated yet another football game. Unlike last week, Henry wasn’t the main story here. The entire offense was. But that doesn’t mean that Henry wasn’t absolutely ridiculous in this game. He was.

He finished the game with 147 yards on 24 carries. That’s good for 6.1 yards per carry. It’s the type of performance we’ve come to expect from him. That in itself speaks volumes of his ability. Henry found the end zone just once on Sunday. It was the opening score of the day:

The touchdown featured some beautiful blocking from MyCole Pruitt. It may have been Henry’s only touchdown of the day, but it wasn’t his only highlight worthy play. Ah yes, the stiff arm made what felt like its weekly appearance on this violent, ferocious iteration:

That’s just downright unfair. Henry has now rushed for at least 130 yards in four of the last five games. What else can you say? As per usual, Henry is getting better as the year goes on. He’s hitting his peak at the opportune time with the playoffs right around the corner.

Last year’s rushing champ now sits at 1,679 yards and 15 touchdowns through 14 games. He’s already surpassed last year’s yardage total of 1,540. He is all but guaranteed to take the rushing title home for the second straight season. This offense needs to continue riding him down the stretch.

Henry isn’t the team’s only running back that deserves some praise. Rookie Darrynton Evans made his return to the field and looked like the player they thought he was when they spent a third round pick on him. Evans was often praised at Appalachian State for his ability to hit the big play. The Titans had yet to see that potential at the pro level. The injury bug has hampered his rookie season thus far, but Evans looked excellent on Sunday.

Evans was drafted to serve as a change of pace from Henry’s running style, and that’s exactly what he looked like here. He showed some nice juice on several plays, and found the end zone for his first career touchdown:

As if this Titans offense wasn’t good enough, they may have just added another wrinkle to their playbook.

Wide receivers: A

You’d be hard pressed to find a better 1-2 punch than A.J. Brown and Corey Davis right now.

We’ve seen these two seemingly alternate who gets to have a big game on a weekly basis. It’s as if they’re flipping a coin before kickoff. After a disappointing showing last week that included just 34 total yards and a fumble, No. 84 bounced back in a major way. Davis continued to build on his career year with an electric performance that was highlighted by the longest play of his career, this beautiful 75-yard touchdown grab:

Both Davis’ route running ability and yards after catch prowess were on display on the touchdown. Davis totaled 110 yards on just four catches. Davis made several big plays for his team outside of the TD grab. Two of his other three catches came on third down. One of them was a tough, short contested catch on third-and-three that moved the sticks. The other was another chain moving grab on third down near halftime that helped lead to three points. Davis is now just 55 yards away from his first 1,000-yard season.

Brown was not to be forgotten. He may have been held to 44 yards on five catches, but he did find the end zone for the 10th time this season. He also drew a 23-yard pass interference on the team’s third possession of the game.

No other Titans receiver recorded a catch.

Tight ends: B

Jonnu Smith had his best game as a pass catcher in nearly two months. He finished the game with 52 yards on five receptions. You saw one of his fine catches under the quarterback heading. It came on a 2nd-and-14 early in the game. It was a lovely leaping grab in-between two defenders. He also had a big 16-yard catch-and-run near halftime that allowed the Titans to attempt and make a field goal. This game was a nice reminder of how big of a mismatch Smith can be in the passing game. We hope he can carry that momentum into next week and beyond.

Pruitt recorded just one catch. He was his usual unsung hero self as a blocker in the run game. Anthony Firkser also caught just one pass, but it was a big one. The Titans were up 24-16 in the third quarter when the offense was faced with a critical third-and-11. That’s when Firkser moved the chains with a 20-yard grab. The Lions had moved the ball on offense. If the Titans had to punt on the next play, there’s a decent change they’d be trailing the next time they touched the ball. Firkser made sure that didn’t happen.

Offensive line: A

You can’t go with less than an “A” when the team’s rushing attack finishes with 198 yards and your quarterback is sacked just once. The big guys up front did their job and then some.

As has been the case, the starting five were terrific as run blockers. They continuously won the line of scrimmage and opened up gaping holes for Henry to run through.

Tannehill was only sacked once. It unfortunately went for a safety. David Quessenberry was the culprit. He made a puzzling decision to attempt to cut down his man, who made an impressive leap over Quessenberry’s effort while taking a clean path to Tannehill and the two points.

Quessenberry continues to play at a a level that doesn’t hamper the offense overall, but he’s obviously the weakest link on this offensive line.

Rodger Saffold played a helluva’ game despite not practicing all week. He was slapped with the questionable tag but gutted it out and played a great game of football. If the Titans manage to clinch the division before Week 17, few players would benefit more from a week off than Saffold would.

Nate Davis, Ben Jones and Dennis Kelly were their usual terrific selves. This offensive line continues to perform like one of the best units in the game.

Defensive line: B-plus

This group did a decent job holding the Lions’ run game in check. D’Andre Swift did have some success as he totaled 67 yards on just 15 carries and scored two touchdowns (both TD’s came inside the 10-yard line). Swift would have likely done more damage with more opportunities. Adrian Peterson was held to just 23 yards on six carries.

This D-line also had a hand in all three turnovers forced on Sunday. They score some major points for that.

DaQuan Jones was his usual disruptive self. He helped force a fumble at the goal line that occurred at a critical moment. As we see on a weekly basis, he consistently resets the line of scrimmage.

Jack Crawford had a late pressure and QB hit that lead to an interception. He played 33 valuable snaps. Crawford has been the unsung hero of this group.

Jeffery Simmons recovered a fumble in the third quarter. It was a solid contribution, but his play has tailed off a bit over the past month. It’s been a while since he’s truly flashed on a snap-by-snap basis. You have to wonder if whatever keeps causing him to pop up on the injury report isn’t hampering his play.

Teair Tart returned from his one-game suspension. He should have ended the team’s sack drought with what appeared to be a sack, but a silly rule regarding fumbled snaps meant that it didn’t actually get recorded as a sack on the stat sheet.

Matt Dickerson contributed with 23 snaps.

Inside linebackers: C-minus

This group did not have a great day. Rashaan Evans was pretty invisible here. He’s a liability in coverage and his instincts seem to only kick in around the goal line. Its been a problem all year and this was no different. He gets lost in coverage here, stepping forward when he should be gaining depth.

At the same time, it’s hard to fault him too much seeing the way Stafford released this ball:

Evans wasn’t the lone culprit on the play, but he looks completely lost in coverage on a pretty consistent basis.

David Long Jr. continues to play a ton. He was on the field for a whopping 98.4% of the team’s snaps on defense. It’s been a meteoric rise for him in terms of playing time. He’s played better games. He missed a tackle on the Lions’ first drive and didn’t make many noteworthy plays throughout the day. He did have a really nice pass break-up in the third quarter, though.

Will Compton made his presence felt on his lone snap of the day. That’s right, THE BOY (I had to) came up with a fumble recovery at the goal line on his only snap.

Not only did Compton recover it, but he helped force it as well.

Nick Dzunbar and Daren Bates also received a single defensive snap each while handling their full workload on special teams.

Outside linebackers: D

There’s not a whole lot to say here. Different week, same story. This group just can’t generate any pressure on the quarterback whatsoever. I have Harold Landry down for one true pressure that forced the Lions’ first punt of the day. He played a whopping 61 snaps. He’s a good all-around player that just isn’t impacting the pocket enough.

Derick Roberson played 37 snaps and sorta’ kinda’ forced the fumble that Simmons recovered. It was forced by his knee, and may have been more of a fluke than anything, but credit him for being there to take down T.J. Hockenson right at the sticks.

The pass rush isn’t going to come to life. This is who they are. The Titans defense is going to have to hang their hat on stopping the run, playing good coverage and forcing turnovers… unless they sign a street free agent like Clay Matthews or Cameron Wake.

Wyatt Ray was active but didn’t play a single snap.

Cornerbacks: C

This group was headlined by the return of Adoree’ Jackson. He finally made his season debut. That surely brought a ton of joy to this fan base. We can finally put some of those ridiculous rumors to bed. He was on an obvious pitch count as he played just 27 snaps. It was a nice debut for him. It’ll be interesting to see how they handle his workload in what’s likely to be a shootout next week.

It wasn’t a great day for the rest of this group.

I heaped loads of praise on Tye Smith last week, but he came back down to earth a bit here. He was picked on in coverage a bit. The lowlight was this deep ball to rookie WR Quintez Cephus:

Smith was beaten quite badly on that route. We should see less of him going forward. The coaching staff seemingly decided to make Kristian Fulton a healthy scratch despite having Jackson on a pitch count. It meant lots of snaps for Smith.

Malcolm Butler has been on a roll as of late, but he wasn’t perfect here either. Marvin Jones got the better of him for a 40-yard gain just before halftime. It’s worth noting that Butler should have had some safety help on the play.

Desmond King saw a lighter workload than usual. He was on the field for just 50% of the team’s defensive snaps. He was also called for a pass interference. Chris Jackson played nine snaps in garbage time. Kareem Orr and Chris Milton were limited to special teams.

Safeties: C-plus

Kevin Byard had his ups and downs here but ultimately played one of his better games of the season. We admit that the bar is low, but he definitely played some good football. Notably, he recorded his first interception of the season:

It was nice to see Byard finally open his account. We’d love to see him carry that momentum over into the coming games. Interceptions often come in bunches, and now would be a great time for Byard to go on a turnover streak. Outside of the INT, Byard played great coverage on Hockenson throughout the day. Hockenson has been one of the better tight ends in the NFL this season, but was held to just 18 yards on two catches here. Byard gets a lot of credit for that.

Kenny Vaccaro missed his second straight game with an “illness.” You’re starting to wonder if he’s suffering from lingering concussion symptoms. That would be scary. Amani Hooker started in his place and had some struggles. He got beat early by Hockenson on third down for a chain-moving grab. Third down continues to be an issue. At one point, the Lions turned a third-and-three into third-and-13 with back-to-back penalties. They still converted, and Hooker was at fault on the play. His worst lowlight of the day came when Lions tight end Austin Bryant beat him for a 44-yard gain. The coverage was pretty good. Bryant simply made a better play:

Joshua Kalu was on the field for 18 plays in addition to his regular special teams workload.

Special teams: A

It’s nice when you don’t have anything bad to say here.

Stephen Gostkowski made his lone attempt from 38 yards out just before the half. He was also a perfect five-for-five on extra points. Gostkowski has been really consistent as of late.

Brett Kern punted just once, and not until the third quarter. This offense is keeping him on the sidelines.

Nick Westbrook-Ikhine played a terrific game on special teams. First, he covered Kern’s lone punt, tackling the returner for a one-yard loss at the DET 7. Then, the Lions ran a fake punt early in the fourth quarter. It looked well set up to be converted, but Westbrook made a play-saving tackle just short of the sticks. It all but sealed the victory. He also made an excellent tackle on Kern’s lone punt of the day. You love to see fringe roster players playing with this sort of passion and effort.

As a Titans fan, you should be excited for next week’s game against the Packers in Green Bay.

Author: Justin MeloSenior Writer, Interviewer and Podcaster for Broadway Sports covering the Tennessee Titans and NFL draft. For more than five years, Justin Melo has professionally covered all things NFL draft and Titans for The Draft Network, SB Nation and USA Today. Best known for his Interview Series with NFL draft prospects, Justin has interviewed more than 500 NFL players. Co-host of the Music City Audible podcast alongside Justin Graver (@titansfilmroom).

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