Tannehill and the ‘Flash of the Titans’
Let’s play ‘Guess Who?’
This player has guided his team to six wins in the last seven games, and in that time he has also:
- Completed 73% of his passes, second only to Brees.
- Thrown for over 1,800 yards
- Been responsible for 18 total touchdowns to just four interceptions.
Who might this be? Jimmy G? Brady? Mahomes? Lamar Jackson?
No, this is Ryan Tannehill and the resurgent Tennessee Titans.
You remember Ryan Tannehill, right? The former Texas A&M receiver who converted to QB. Deemed surplus to requirements by the ‘tanking’ Dolphins after years of up-and-down seasons. Originally brought in as a back-up/potential competition for Marcus Mariota. Well look at him now, he and the Tennessee Titans are effectively tied for first place in the AFC South and with two games in three weeks against the Texans, Mike Vrabel’s team have their fate in their own hands.
Tannehill’s performances have categorically ended the Mariota era in Tennessee and almost certainly given the Titans food-for-thought about a potential deal for their current starting QB. In fact, news out of Tennessee over the past week or so has suggested that the Titans are working towards a longer-term extension. He may not have just returned from a major injury, but the storyline of Tannehill’s redemption should lead voters to seriously consider him worthy of the NFL Comeback Player of the Year Award.
During their four consecutive victories, the second longest win streak in the league, the Titans are outscoring their opponents 150-90. Offensive coordinator Arthur Smith (how many of you could have named him at the start of the season?) has continued to develop the playbook and perfect his scheme with Tannehill. Mariota was never a QB who would push the fall down field aggressively, but with Tannehill, you are seeing a confident signal-caller consistently come off the ‘safer’ read and look to pick up ‘chunk yardage’ in key situations.
For example, with 19 seconds to play in the first half against Oakland, Tannehill doesn’t throw the easy and open stop/deep-curl route to his receiver, opting instead to throw a perfect ball over a trailing linebacker and in-front of the deep safety, hitting Anthony Firkser for a 39 yard gain. Tied at 21-21, this got the Titans into field-goal range to close out the half. This sort of aggression is a part of this new-look, revitalised team. With Tannehill playing the best football of his career, Derrick Henry consistently rushing for 100 yards per game and rookie A.J. Brown showing he has WR1 ability, the Titans now appear to have a very-high ceiling and realistic play-off ambitions.
Looking back again at this past Sunday against the Oakland Raiders, nothing has perhaps reflected the current confidence with which Tannehill and the Titans offense are playing more than a first-and-ten play backed up on their own nine yard line. Tannehill was under centre with Henry behind him and two receivers lined up on his left. Presented with what appears to be quarters coverage (four-defenders deep), Tannehill checks the play at the line of scrimmage. Running a fake jet-sweep to draw the safety down, Tannehill, while taking a huge hit from a rushing defender delivers a perfect throw to A.J. Brown on a post-route. Brown evades some poor-tackling and the play goes for a 91-yard TD, the longest passing TD of Tannehill’s career. This big-play ability wasn’t there under Mariota and without sounding too cruel, it’s Tannehill playing at this level that has actually made the Titans much more watchable.
Throughout this run, you can’t neglect their defense, they shut the Raiders out in the second-half and they’ve been a top-10 defense over the course of the season in both yards and points allowed. Unsurprisingly, Vrabel has them playing fundamentally sound and greater than the sum of their parts. Rookie Jeffrey Simmons has recovered from his injury to make an impact during this 6-1 run and along with the always impressive Kevin Byard, 2018 second-rounder Harold Landry has also been a standout player.
Saying that, this is the best I’ve ever seen Tannehill play. He had some moments in Miami, but he appears to be a player who needed that change of scenery. He’s 6-1 as the Tennessee Titans’ starter and his performances over the past seven weeks have demonstrated that he’s a viable franchise QB in the NFL. A homage to the Titans is not something I expected to be writing at this stage of the season but it is certainly time to put some respect on their name. They’re playing some of the best football in the league right now and I wouldn’t want to face them in the regular season or beyond. Houston might have a problem.
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