The Tennessee Titans’ season was on life-support in Week 6 as they fell to 2-4, staring at another lost year.
In a move that seemed desperate at the time but anything but now, coach Mike Vrabel benched former No. 2 overall pick Marcus Mariota — the face of the franchise, the man on all the gear and tickets — for Ryan Tannehill, who washed out after multiple chances in Miami.
After that moment, the Titans have been on the move and now sit at the doorstep of a potential playoff spot. The biggest difference is an efficient offense that doesn’t go in the tank for halves at a time. Yes, sacks are still a problem, but they are overcome by splash plays in the passing game that were absent under Mariota.
Since Tannehill took over as the Titans’ starting quarterback, Tennessee is 5-1, have averaged 29.7 points per game, and have a 117.2 passer rating. Only one team in the NFL is outperforming the Titans in any of those metrics over that span: the 10-2 Ravens, who lead the league in all three categories since Week 7 and are riding an 8-game winning streak.
The Titans are averaging 13.4 more points per game under Tannehill than Mariota as the starter.
Tannehill’s play makes him an interesting character this offseason. There is a strong case to be made for the Titans sign him to a multi-year deal — especially if his run ends with a playoff berth — or possibly use the franchise tag to keep him around at least one more season. If he hits the open market, Tannehill could be the most coveted veteran signal-caller in free agency.
Right now, the quarterback isn’t worried about a future he can’t control, only the games he’s preparing to win.
“For me, it’s a head-down process of taking advantage of the week,” Tannehill said, via the team’s official website. “I’ve seen how this thing goes, the waves, the ins and outs of the season. So if you start taking a step back at this point, then you’re doing a disservice to your teammates and to yourself of opportunities you could take advantage of this week. So, really just trying to lock in on the Oakland Raiders and do everything I can to prepare for them.”
With his sterling performance in a comeback win over division rival Colts last week, Tannehill leaped Kirk Cousins for highest passer rating in the NFL this season at 113.9. In just six starts, Tannehill earned four games with a 120-plus passer rating this season — only Cousins and Russell Wilson have more such games (5) in 2019.
We previously broke down how Tannehill’s trust in his receivers has opened up a flagging passing game. The QB is also taking advantage of play-action to an enhanced degree to move the Titans’ offense. With Derrick Henry steamrolling opponents on the ground, the Titans’ signal-caller ranks first in the NFL in yards per attempt off play-action (12.4), first in completion percentage (76.1), and fourth in passer rating (128.0), among 33 qualifying QBs, per Next Gen Stats.
“It’s been a good streak for us,” he said. “I think I said it a couple of times, we’re on the right path. Just have to keep taking it one game at a time, improving every day at practice and get ready for the next one.
“Like I said, we’re playing well, we’re doing some good things. We have a lot to improve on. Still a lot of things that we have to clean up from the last game. Looking forward to this week so we can do that.”
Starting with Sunday’s game against the 6-6 Raiders, the Titans don’t face a team with a losing record the rest of the way. Closing the season with Houston, New Orleans, and the Texans again will prove a stiff test of Tannehill and the Titans. If they pass the trial and earn a playoff bid, it would be a stunner if Tannehill wasn’t wearing a Tennessee jersey in 2020.