After each of the Titans’ wins over the Chargers and Buccaneers, I took a deep dive into the efficiency statistics produced by the offense. The team followed up one of their most efficient outings of the season in Week 7 with their most disastrous in Week 8 in terms of drive success rate, yards per drive, and more.
Let’s add in the results from Week 9 to get a clearer picture of how this offense is performing through 3 games with Tannehill at quarterback versus the 6 with Mariota. Spoiler alert: it’s only marginally better.
Yes, Tannehill is scoring points at a more successful rate than Mariota, no question about it. And at times, the offense looks smoother, and we are seeing more explosive gains in the passing game on a per-attempt basis.
It’s not like the offense is completely devoid of well-designed plays or timely play-calls, but those moments are simply too few and far between and mixed in with too many instances of predictability that allows defenses to know what’s coming.
Opposing defenders have to know that Titan's WRs are going to be making their break at the 1st down marker. pic.twitter.com/TXCyU36h5M— Titans Tape (@TitansTape) November 5, 2019
There are situational tendencies the Titans are guilty of repeating, such as the poorly-spaced “all curls” concept on third and long, as illustrated above by Josh Hong (@TitansTape).
Combine that with drive-destroying penalties, ill-timed sacks, and costly turnovers, and you get the result we saw on Sunday. Admittedly, those sacks, penalties, and turnovers can make the overall plan of attack and the per-play offensive output appear worse than they actually are with the offense consistently setting itself back.
So let’s get into the numbers (including last week’s report repeated for comparison) to see just how well the offense performed overall.
*Note: all of these numbers exclude “kneel-down” end-of-half drives.
Drive Success Rate
Drive success rate measures the percentage of 4-down series resulting in either a first down or a touchdown. Here are the Titans success rates broken out:
- First 6 Weeks: 65.1% (would currently rank 28th overall)
- Week 7: 76.9% (would currently rank 3rd amongst season-long averages)
- Week 8: 60.8% (would currently rank 32nd amongst season-long averages)
- Week 9: 70.96% (would currently rank 18th amongst season-long averages)
- Weeks 7-9 average: 70% (would currently rank 19th amongst season-long averages)
Last weekend, the team was successful on 22 of 31 down series, good for a 70.96% success rate. Sure, some of that came in garbage time and with the defense playing softer coverage to invite the offense to run time off the clock, but overall that is a more efficient day than I would’ve expected from watching the game live.
Ultimately, three successive penalties like we saw on the Titans’ 2nd possession only goes down as 0/1 in the drive success rate calculations, so this stat isn’t meant to be an end-all-be-all in terms of measuring success. But without all the penalties and turnovers, the offense was actually not terrible on Sunday.
Looking at the three-game average since Tannehill took over isn’t incredibly encouraging, still checking in at just 19th amongst the rest of the league.
Yards Per Drive
Here are the Titans’ average yards gained on each drive, broken out:
- First 6 Weeks: 24.88 yards per drive (would currently rank 30th amongst season-long averages)
- Week 7: 50.4 yards per drive (would currently rank 1st amongst season-long averages)
- Week 8: 20.67 yards per drive (would currently rank 32nd amongst season-long averages)
- Week 9: 35.91 yards per drive (would currently rank 11th amongst season-long averages)
- Weeks 7-9 average: 33.84 yards per drive (would currently rank 15th amongst season-long averages)
The Titans had an above average day in the yards-per-drive department. Not to take away from their production, but field position can help boost this stat, and the Titans’ best starting field position in 12 drives came at their own 39-yard line (in contrast to the previous week when they started two drives inside the opponent’s 10-yard line).
Touchdown drives of 67, 94, and 61 yards help offset drives of 1 yard and -5 yards.
Three drives ended in missed field goals, so gaining yards wasn’t the problem in this game. The Titans actually set a season high with 431 yards of offense in this game. Given that three other drives ended in turnovers, the numbers indicate that the Titans actually moved the ball pretty well.
Again, the story in Week 9 seems to be more about self-inflicted wounds than inefficiency.
Comparing Tannehill’s three-game sample size to Mariota’s six, we see a fairly substantial jump up the rankings, but that’s still only around league average in yards-per-drive.
Three and Outs
Three and outs have plagued this offense for much of the season. Here’s the three-and-outs per drive broken out:
- First 6 games: Titans averaged a three-and-out once every 3.45 drives (20 three-and-outs on 69 drives), or 0.29 three-and-outs per drive (would currently rank 31st amongst season-long averages)
- Week 7: Titans had 0 three-and-outs on 8 drives (would currently rank 1st amongst season-long averages)
- Week 8: Titans had 4 three-and-outs on 12 drives, an average of one three-and-out every 3 drives, or .33 three-and-outs per drive (would currently rank 32nd amongst season-long averages)
- Week 9: Titans had 3 three-and-outs on 12 drives, an average of one three and out ever 4 drives, or .25 three-and-outs per drive (would currently rank 26th amongst season-long averages)
- Weeks 7-9 average: .219 three-and-outs per drive, would currently rank 21st amongst season-long averages.
Week 7 continues to look more and more like an outlier in all statistics. While three three-and-outs over the course of a full game doesn’t sound like a lot, when you compare it to the average rate across the league, it’s too many, especially in a game where you turn it over three times and miss three field goals. Only three drives out of twelve ended in points for the Titans.
The three-week average of .219 three-and-outs per drive over the past three weeks isn’t all that much better than the .290 three-and-outs per drive seen in the first six games.
Red Zone Performance
Here’s how the Titans red zone touchdown rate breaks down:
- First 6 games: 8 touchdowns on 15 red zone trips for 53.3% (would currently rank 19th amongst season-long averages)
- Weeks 7-8: 6 touchdowns on 6 red zone trips for 100% (would currently rank 1st amongst season-long averages)
- Week 9: 2 touchdowns on 2 red zone trips for 100% (would currently rank 1st amongst season-long averages)
Since converting just 53.3% of trips over the first six games, the Titans have been perfect in the red zone, corresponding with the change at the quarterback position. They have raised their overall ranking up to 2nd in the NFL for a total red zone touchdown rate of 69.57%.
This is the single biggest statistical difference between Mariota’s time at quarterback and Tannehill’s. But I caution people to find too much meaning in this stat, as red zone performance has often proven to be a fluky and unsustainable statistic over the long term.
Tight Window Throws
In Tannehill’s first start, his completion percentage-above-expectation according to Next Gen Stats was bonkers at +22.1%, which was always going to be unsustainably high.
In Week 8, Tannehill was just +1.7% over expectation, lowering his season average to +11.9%, which was actually the league leader entering Week 9.
Against the Panthers, Tannehill’s completion percentage was +4.6% above expectation, and so he continues to lead the league in this statistic, down now to +9.5% overall on the season. Russell Wilson and Dak Prescott aren’t too far behind at +7.3% and +7.2%, respectively.
I would be shocked if we see another game from Tannehill anywhere close to that +22.1% number from Week 7.
In terms of aggressiveness, Tannehill checked in at 16th in the league in Week 9 with a 12.8% aggressiveness percentage, which measures the percent of pass attempts to a receiver with one yard of separation or less at the time the ball arrives. He’s now 4th in the league overall at 21.4% aggressiveness on the season after sitting at 25.6% before the Panthers game.
So his numbers in both categories are dropping, which again was always to be expected. As I said above, the Week 7 performance continues to look like an outlier in virtually every statistic the further and further removed from that game we get.
Points Per Game
The Titans defense hadn’t given up more than 20 points in a game until Week 8’s win over Tampa Bay. Unfortunately, the offense didn’t do much to help... let’s see how the scoring averages break out:
First 6 games: 16.3 points per game (would currently rank 29th amongst season-long averages) (and that includes Malcolm Butler’s pick-6 in week one in order to fairly compare this number to season-long averages)
Weeks 7-9: 23.3 points per game (would currently rank 16th amongst season-long averages)
I included this statistic, which is a pretty basic stat and not really an “advanced” one, to show the improvement in scoring that happens to coincide with Ryan Tannehill taking over as the starting quarterback. The Mariota-led offense was able to score 91 points in 6 games. Tannehill’s group has scored 70 in 3 games.
However, the overall improvement isn’t that much to write home about, as the team is still very average in terms of scoring compared to the rest of the league despite a noticeable improvement. That’s a clear indication that the problems go deeper than quarterback.
The Titans were leading the league in negative plays from scrimmage entering this game. Derrick Henry had a particularly rough outing in Week 8 with six carries that went for negative yardage.
Perhaps surprisingly, the Titans only negative rush attempt in this game was the 3rd and 1 toss to Dion Lewis when he was stopped for a loss of 2. The Titans went on to convert the 4th and 3 that followed. Derrick Henry wasn’t stopped behind the line once.
Unfortunately, too many penalties and sacks provided plenty of negative plays for this offense without the need for negative rush attempts.
This isn’t exactly a “statistic” but it was perhaps the biggest difference in the outcome of this game...
The Titans entered Week 9 with confidence in Ryan Succop despite some previous field goal woes on the season, having just activated Succop from IR. Succop of course missed all three of his field goal attempts, from distances of 43, 56, and 44 yards. He did make both of his extra point tries.
Making any one of three field goals may have changed the way things played out down the stretch. It’s worth noting that the 56-yard attempt came on the heels of back-to-back plays resulting in -9 yards. Without those losses, Succop might have made a 47-yard kick as the 56-yard try was very much on target (just short).
Tennessee entered this game with the 7th-most penalty yards per game at 67.2 on an average of just 6.5 penalties per game (9th fewest).
Against the Panthers, they committed 11 penalties for 99 yards, and that doesn’t count a handful plays where they committed multiple penalties (like on the interception that bounced out of AJ Brown’s hands) or the Nate Davis hands-to-the-face that negated a defensive pass interference.
The Titans went five weeks without a turnover on offense (qualifying it as “on offense” negates Adoree’ Jackson’s muffed punt) before the dam broke in Denver with three team turnovers. In their two wins over Los Angeles and Tampa Bay, the Titans turned it over once each.
Against the Panthers, they coughed it up three times in three uniquely awful ways: the backup running back had it ripped out of his arms on the team’s third possession; a pass was ever-so-slightly deflected at the line of scrimmage and then sent up for grabs off the hands of a promising rookie receiver, and then the quarterback overshot his 5th-string receiver with the safety crashing down for a comeback-ending interception.
The real story of this team’s performance on offense was unforced errors. Speaking objectively, that’s a player failure more than a coaching failure.
Speaking as a fan who has watched a frustratingly boring brand of football for far too long, it’s a coaching failure to see these same mistakes crop up again and again, but I’m not sure how fair a criticism that is for this particular game. It’s not like the coaches are out there taking bad sacks, missing field goals and grabbing facemasks.
Regardless of who’s to blame for the latest disappointment, it is the coaches’ job to get things fixed. The product on the field is simply not good enough. James and I talked about the game and where the team can go from here in our latest podcast, recorded on Monday evening. You can listen to that below.
Note: I spent the first 12 minutes or so recapping how the game unfolded, so if you’ve seen it already and/or don’t want to listen through it again, I recommend skipping past all that.