I get it... the Titans 27-23 win over the Bucs on Sunday didn’t feel like the convincing win that we all would have liked it to be. It came with more frustrating calls from the coaching staff — both from a game plan and in-game decision making standpoint — but this is not the thread for the “FIRE EVERYONE AND BLOW IT ALL UP MIDSEASON” takes. There will be plenty of opportunity for that elsewhere.
This article is the balance to those hot takes.
And there should be balance. After all, the Titans are a 4-4 football team with a +13 point differential coming off back to back wins. Balance.
Has it always looked perfect? No. Did they catch a couple breaks the last couple weeks? Sure. But they’re 4-4 just the same. Those breaks that didn’t go their way against Indianapolis and Buffalo, shouldn’t count any more or less than the ones that did against the Chargers and Bucs.
The Titans have played four one possession games and are 2-2 in those matchups. They’ve played four games that have been decided by multiple scores and are 2-2 in those matchups. (Strangely, all of the one score games have come at home and all of the multiple score games have been on the road). The old Bill Parcells quote that “you are what your record says you are” applies here. The Titans deserve to be 4-4, nothing more, nothing less.
So let’s look at some of the reasons to be excited about this team as we head into the back half of the regular season.
Ryan Tannehill is playing well
You can throw all the qualifiers out that you want — small sample size, quality of opponents, help from turnovers — but Tannehill has helped this offense over the last couple weeks. Among quarterbacks with at least 60 passing attempts this season, he ranks top ten in the following stats:
- Passer Rating: 113.1 (4th)
- Completion Percentage: 73.1% (3rd)
- Yards Per Attempt: 8.32 (7th)
- Adjusted Yards Per Attempt: 8.45 (8th)
There is no perfect quarterback metric so you can pick any of these apart if you’d like, but they’re all reflective of a performance that is at least above average over the past two and a half games.
Tannehill has also been good when it matters the most. He’s led long go ahead touchdown drives in the fourth quarter of each of the last two games, going 85 yards and then 75 yards in back to back marches against the Chargers and then going 90 yards late against the Bucs. He’s also been a perfect 6 for 6 on converting red zone opportunities into touchdowns the last two weeks.
He’s also doing all of that despite the fact that he’s been getting backup reps in practices for most of the season in a new offense with new teammates. In theory, Tannehill should be getting better as he gets more comfortable with this team.
There is certainly no guarantee that he’ll continue to perform at a high level when the Titans face tougher defenses, but he’s playing well now and that’s all we have to work off of at the moment, so let’s enjoy it instead of worrying about if/when the other shoe will drop.
The Titans defense is excellent
Despite giving up a season-high 23 points against the Bucs on Sunday, the Titans defense still remains 3rd in the NFL in points allowed per game. They have also jumped to 7th in the league with 13 takeaways and 9th in the league with 22 sacks through the first half of the season.
This is also a group that still hasn’t been seen quite at full strength just yet. After getting Jeffery Simmons back the past two weeks, they’ve been without key players in Jayon Brown against the Chargers and Adoree’ Jackson against the Bucs. Simmons is still working his way into playing shape — something that showed at times on Sunday — and should continue to get stronger as the year goes on.
The Titans talent level on defense is at or near the top of the league with a formidable nickel package of Harold Landry, Jurrell Casey, Jeffery Simmons, Cameron Wake, Jayon Brown, Rashaan Evans, Logan Ryan, Malcolm Butler, Adoree’ Jackson, Kenny Vaccaro, and Kevin Byard leaving few weak spots for offenses to attack.
Jonnu Smith, Corey Davis, and A.J. Brown are all dynamic threats in the passing game
We are staying positive so we will skip over how these guys are being used right now and focus on the fact that Smith, Davis, and Brown have all shown flashes of really high levels of play over the last couple weeks. All three are really good with the ball in their hands, showing outstanding run after catch ability.
It’s been a long time since this franchise has had a group that is as talented as these pass catchers and they’re all young. Davis is the oldest of the trio at just 24 years old. You would expect them to continue to get better as they develop a better rapport with Ryan Tannehill and/or whoever the quarterback ends up being in 2020.
The offensive line is showing small signs of progress
Look, I’m not here to say these guys are playing really well. They’re not, but they are at least trending slightly in the right direction. Ryan Tannehill has been pressured on just 30.9% of his dropbacks over the past two weeks, down slightly from 35.1% over the first six weeks of the season. That rates him as the 10th best protected quarterback in the NFL during that timeframe out of 31 qualifying quarterbacks per PFF.
The biggest issue in pass protection remains right guard, where Nate Davis’ growing pains continue. Of the three sacks that Tannehill took against the Bucs, one was on a clear missed offsides call and the other two were both caused by quick pressures allowed by Davis against Carl Nassib. Growing pains are expected for young offensive linemen though and I don’t think anyone should be bailing on the third round pick at this point. He should get better as he gets more experience.
The rest of the line has been largely clean over the last two weeks. Rodger Saffold and Jack Conklin have both pitched shutouts when it comes to pass protection against the Chargers and Bucs (though it’s fair to note that both guys missed a chunk of snaps due to injury). Taylor Lewan has allowed just two pressures and Ben Jones has given up three.
From a run blocking standpoint, the Titans still aren’t creating a ton of room for Derrick Henry, but the big back has averaged over 4 yards per carry in back to back games for the first time since Weeks 1 and 2.
The Titans had three different linemen leave with injuries against the Bucs, though Lewan and Jones both returned to play. Saffold’s progress through the concussion protocol will be a story line to watch this week, but if he can get a clean bill of health by Sunday, the Titans will have a chance to continue taking steps forward on the offensive line.
Logan Ryan is on pace to produce a very rare stat line
If you had to pick an MVP for the first half of the season, I think it’s got to be Logan Ryan. The slot corner is tied for the team lead with 3 interceptions, leads the team with 11 passes defensed, leads the team with 3 forced fumbles, is second on the team with 51 tackles, and is second on the team with 3.5 sacks.
Only one player in the history of the NFL has ever finished with 6 interceptions and 7 sacks — the pace Ryan is currently on — over the course of a season: Dave Duerson for the 1986 Bears. Only five players in NFL history have ever finished with 5 interceptions, 5 sacks, and 100 tackles.
Ryan should be getting legitimate Defensive Player of the Year consideration through the first half of the season.
The AFC South has a lot of good teams, but no great team
The AFC South is the only division in the NFL that doesn’t have a single team below .500. They’re also the only division with no teams with a negative point differential. It’s a very competitive division, but there also isn’t truly a dominant team here.
The 5-2 Colts lead the way, but they have the worst point differential in the division at just +7 having won each of their five games by a touchdown or less. Indianapolis had to hold on late at home against what we now know to be a terrible Falcons team and needed a 51-yard field goal from Adam Vinatieri to escape the Broncos at Lucas Oil Field yesterday. Don’t get me wrong, Indy is a well-coached team who has a great road win over the Chiefs on their resume — they deserve some respect — but it’s not like they’re playing like a squad that’s going to run away with the division right now.
The Texans sit at 5-3, and with Deshaun Watson at quarterback, they have the most explosive offense in the division. However, they just lost J.J. Watt for the season with a torn pectoral and with no Jadeveon Clowney around to help replace his production, that’s suddenly a very suspect defense in Houston.
The Titans still have four division games left, two against the Texans, home against the Jaguars, and on the road against the Colts. All four of those games come after Tennessee’s Week 11 bye. There is ground that needs to be made up, but the Titans have put themselves in a position to have a say in the division down the stretch with these last two wins.