A lot has been made this offseason about whether or not Ryan Tannehill is the guy that can win a Super Bowl with the Tennessee Titans. I have belief in Tannehill to not only grab the Titans a ring, but to be a guy that can carry a game or two if Derrick Henry was rendered ineffective.
There is also this idea that Tannehill is only as good as he is because of Henry. I have always said it’s a symbiotic relationship between the two, but after diving into the research and data (presented to me via Warren Sharp’s excellent book previewing all 32 NFL Teams for the upcoming 2021 season), I tend to side with Sharp’s assessment. This offense’s efficiency and explosiveness is sparked by Tannehill’s presence first and foremost.
Let’s dive into the numbers so you can decide.
For the last two seasons, the Titans offense has ranked in the top 10 in offensive efficiency in all four categories.
|Year||Pass Efficiency Rank||Rush Efficiency Rank||Pass Explosiveness Rank||Rush Explosiveness Rank|
Here is some data that supports that Tannehill’s presence helps Henry a lot. During the 2018 season with Matt Lafleur as offensive coordinator, Henry only averaged 66 rushing yards per game. When Art Smith took over in 2019, it was more of the same to start the year.
Henry averaged 3.68 yards per carry of the first six games of 2019 and 69 yards per game with four rushing touchdowns.
In the following nine games after Tannehill took over, Henry averaged 5.92 yards per carry with 12 rushing touchdowns at 125 rushing yards per game. Don’t forget, he even missed Week 16 versus the Saints that season.
This is made even more amazing when you look at Henry’s career
We all know how 2020 fared. Henry finished with over 2,000 rushing yards, averaged 5.2 YPC and 126.7 yards per game, and scored 17 touchdowns on the ground. Based on the data before us, it’s safe to say Henry wouldn’t be eyeing a second possible two-thousand yard season – and third consecutive rushing title – if Tannehill hadn’t opened things up for him.
This where things are going to get divisive for the readers, because I am about to talk about Marcus Mariota, the Titans former no. 8. A lot of people said when the Titans made the switch to Tannehill that offensive play calling and scheme changed. On top of that, people will claim that the changes they were made for Tannehill, and that the coaches could’ve helped Mariota thrive if they didn’t stifle him.
Well unfortunately, it’s not true that anything changed play-calling wise, and the only real change was just the QB executing it. Here’s what I mean:
- In 2019, Smith utilized pre-snap motion on 60% of snaps in the game’s first three quarters
- Mariota – 65% of the time
- Tannehill – 58% of the time
- In 2019, Smith utilized play-action on 49% of early-down passes in the game’s first three quarters
- Mariota – 49% of the time
- Tannehill – 49% of the time
Those are important because it shows that nothing changed dramatically outside of the quarterback. Smith used pre-snap motion at the second-highest rate in the league, while calling play-action plays at the highest. These are just the foundation of Smith’s offensive philosophy. Nothing changed. What did change was Smith’s ability to call deeper passing plays with Tannehill.
On first-half early downs, 38% of Tannehill’s passes went for over 10 air yards, while Mariota was only at 29%. Here are how those results ended up:
This trend continued into the Titans scoring and efficiency production when they entered the red zone:
|QB||EPA/att||Success Rate||Yards/play||Pass TDs||INTs||Rush TDs|
Here’s the bottom line in this debate. We should look at points per minute of possession:
|Titans w/ Mariota||0.43|
|Best Team: Chiefs||0.77|
|Titans w/ Tannehill||0.99|
Tannehill’s impact wasn’t just exclusive to Henry’s success, but also to A.J. Brown’s success. A.J. Brown’s stats shot up across the board starting in Week 7 with Tannehill’s first start:
The Titans have gone 18-8 since switching to Tannehill. That is a 69% win rate and the sixth-best mark in the entire NFL over that time frame
The Titans have averaged 22.7 first downs since Tannehill became the full-time starter. That is the fifth-best mark in the entire NFL over that time frame.
In 2020, Tannehill ranked fourth among quarterbacks in passing touchdown rate with 6.9%. He had 33 passing touchdowns in 2020 on just 481 attempts.
The Titans offense has averaged 30.6 points per game since switching to Tannehill, which is the third-best mark among NFL Teams during that time frame.
Since the switch to Tannehill, the team has averaged 165 rushing yards per game, which is the second-best mark in the NFL during that time frame, behind only the Baltimore Ravens.
The Tennessee Titans have averaged 0.93 points per minute since switching to Tannehill as the starter, making them the number one ranked team in the NFL during that time frame.
It has to be said constantly, the failings in 2020 fell on the shoulders of this defense. Admittedly, Tannehill does need to be better in post-season play. When it’s asked of him, he needs to take that next step. However, almost all of the offensive success the Titans have seen since the quarterback switch is due first and foremost to Tannehill’s presence.
Time to appreciate what the Titans got while they still got it.
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