AFC Championship: Titans looking to continue their miraculous turnaround
The Tennessee Titans entered the playoffs as the #6 in the AFC after a Week 17 destruction of the largely second-string version of their AFC South rivals, the Houston Texans. The Titans now head in to the AFC Championship off the back of two post season upsets, brushing aside the New England Patriots 20-13 and shutting down a scary Baltimore Ravens team 28-12. This weekend against the Kansas City Chiefs in Arrowhead, the Titans will yet again be the underestimated underdogs.
After a disappointing start to the season, going 2-4 under the lacklustre leadership of Marcus Mariota, Mike Vrabel made the decision to switch to the now starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill and the Titans never looked back. They went on a 7-3 run to break in to the playoffs and give themselves a shot at postseason glory.
The Reasons Behind the Success
Where do we begin? From October 20th it has been an exciting time to be a Titans fan, with an offense full of players with something to prove, and a Head Coach showing what he can do with a talented team willing to play his way.
The Unsung Hero
With the playoff heroics of Derrick Henry, Ryan Tannehill has become somewhat an unsung hero of the Tennessee Titans. While the spotlight has been taken off him, what he has achieved coming in to this team is commendable. Tannehill came in to Tennessee as a backup quarterback after a disappointing 6 years with the Miami Dolphins. On the surface he showed no problem backing up Mariota and boy did he step up to the plate when he was given his chance.
Since Week 7 when Tannehill officially took the starting quarterback job, he has had a 117.5 QBR as per Pro Football Reference, which is the highest among any quarterback in the league. He has accumulated an impressive 2,742 Passing Yards, 26 TD’s and only 6 Interceptions. The most astonishing stat that Tannehill has managed to achieve is a 70.3% Completion Rate whilst playing behind the NFL’s 32nd ranked Offensive Line in pass protection according to Football Outsiders.
The Train Without Brakes
From Week 13 in the 2018 season, Henry began to show us all the talent and strength he possesses at the running back position. There were mixed opinions on whether Henry would carry this form in to the 2019 season and luckily for us fans, he did. Henry took the rushing crown this year with an astounding 1,540 yards (102.7 per game). Henry has once again demonstrated he was the reliable bell-cow back that the Titans could fall back on with 5.1 yards per carry.
Henry’ biggest perceived weakness is his role in the passing game, but a large part of that is a lack of volume as opposed to production. He caught 18 of 24 targets this year for 206 yards and 2 TD’s with a 75% completion rate when throwing his way. Those numbers would suggest, ability does not seem to be the issue. In total, Henry racked up 16 TD’s and 1746 yards from scrimmage this year, making him one of the most formidable players on the ground. Henry has continued his strong form in the postseason so far, with 406 total yards and 2 TD’s in just the two games. The game against Baltimore was his third straight game straight with 200 or more yards from scrimmage, which is incredible no matter how you look at it.
A Star in The Making
A.J. Brown was selected with the Tennessee Titans’ 51st overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. He started his NFL career with a 100-yard game against the Cleveland Browns and never looked back. He went on to be Tannehill’s deep threat and racked up a modest 1,052 Receiving Yards with 9 TD’s, which led all rookie wide receivers in both categories this year. Brown’s ability to create separation and learn the offensive plays quickly has allowed him to maintain an average of 20.2 yards per reception, again leading all rookies.
Prior to becoming a Head Coach in the NFL, Mike Vrabel’s NFL experience was coaching the defensive side of the ball. In 2018 he was appointed the Head Coach of the Titans who were desperately in need of some fresh ideas in the franchise. Although it is the defensive aspect of football that Vrabel specialises in, it is the offense that has improved the most in his time in Nashville. Last year, the offense was ranked 22nd in DVOA and the defense ranked 19th, which is a vast contrast to this year where the offence has ranked 6th in DVOA and the defense has ranked 16th. This improvement has largely been led by his and his offensive staff’s decisions to hand the keys to the offense to Tannehill and unleash Henry as a lead back as opposed to using a committee approach.
The Dream Continues
The Titans have been nothing shy of incredible in the playoffs. They have played to their strengths on offense and Mike Vrabel has put together a solid game plan to stop two of the top seven scoring offenses in the league. Limiting New England and Baltimore to a total of 25 points in their own back yards is equally as impressive as Henry putting three consecutive 180 rushing yard games together.
It is easy to look at the AFC Championship and say that the Chiefs will win, just as it was easy to do this in the previous two rounds. As road underdogs for the third straight week the Titans will need to continue riding their wave into Arrowhead. After what they have shown us in the past two weeks it would be foolish to underestimate them.
Kansas City’s defense is ranked 14th in DVOA this year and, most importantly, is ranked 29th against the run. This is ideal for Vrabel and the Titans as the look to continue with their ‘run first’ philosophy. As we saw last year when the Patriots relied heavily on their run game to win them a Super Bowl, this way of playing can be very successful if committed to in the right way. The Chiefs ranked 6th against the pass this season, making it even more appealing for the Titans to keep the ball out of Tannehill’s hands and hopefully ride Henry all the way to the Super Bowl.
The only thing in their way is the 3rd ranked offense by DVOA. Patrick Mahomes and his offense will not just lay down and give away a second consecutive home AFC Championship game. Their fighting spirit was demonstrated in a big way with their victory over the Texans last week, coming back from 24-0 nothing down to win 51-34. If Vrabel can come up with a plan to limit Mahomes’ success, then there is a fighting chance for the Titans to be in Miami on February 2nd. This is a really tough game to call, but the clash of styles should make this an absorbing 60 minutes of football on Sunday.
ARI IS A 29 YEAR OLD FATHER OF ONE FROM LIVERPOOL WITH A PASSION FOR SPORTS. HE STARTED FOLLOWING THE NFL SIX YEARS AGO AND IS SEAHAWKS FAN. HE RECENTLY CREATED FOOTBALL FANATICS UK TO OFFER A UK PERSPECTIVE ON ALL THINGS NFL, CONNECT THE BRITISH AND US FANS AND TO RAISE AWARENESS OF THE BRITISH AMERICAN FOOTBALL GAME WORLDWIDE.
Image Credit: Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports