Listen, it was as strange for me to type that headline as it was for you to read it.
That’s the 2019 Tennessee Titans though. Unlike any other version of this team since the franchise moved to Nashville over 20 years ago, these Titans are a threat to score from anywhere on the field at any time.
Since Ryan Tannehill took over as the starter in Week 7, the Titans rank 2nd in explosive run rate, generating 10 yards or more on 16% of their rush attempts per Sharp Football Stats. They also lead the NFL in explosive pass rate with 14% of Tannehill’s dropbacks resulting in completions of 15 yards or more during that time frame. They’re the only team in the league to rank in the top five in both categories.
Tannehill’s favorite target, rookie phenom A.J. Brown, leads the NFL in receptions of at least 40 yards with eight. Brown finished with 1,051 yards and 8 touchdowns (plus another 49 yards and a touchdown on the ground), the best season for a rookie wide receiver since Michael Thomas in 2016.
He’s done his best work when it’s mattered the most. Since the Titans came off their Week 11 bye, Brown leads the entire NFL in receiving with 605 yards and 5 touchdowns. He also threw in a 49-yard rushing touchdown during that span for good measure.
His 20.2 yards per reception are the second most in the NFL this season and it’s no fluke. Brown has forced a missed tackle on over a third of his touches this season, one of the best rates in the league and he’s not alone among Titans skill position players in that regard.
Football Outsiders broken tackles per touch metric shows exactly how tough Tennessee’s receivers and tight ends are to bring down once they get their hands on the ball. Among non-running backs with at least 30 touches this season, these are the top six players in the league in broken tackles per touch rate (Week 17 results not included):
- Jonnu Smith (44.7%)
- Corey Davis (43.6%)
- Albert Wilson (39.5%)
- Gerald Everett (36.8%)
- Deebo Samuel (35.9%)
- A.J. Brown (35.3%)
As a team, the Titans lead the NFL in percentage of snaps with at least one broken tackle at 14.9%.
We haven’t even mentioned the NFL’s 2019 rushing title holder yet. Derrick Henry’s 1,540 rushing yards and 16 rushing touchdowns both led the league. He also leads all backs with at least 150 carries with 4.18 yards after contact per carry per PFF, a stat that he’s finished no lower than 2nd in over the last three years.
The duo of Derrick Henry and A.J. Brown tied each other for the league lead in touchdowns of over 50 yards with four each.
When you look at the Titans roster, it becomes clear that GM Jon Robinson set out to build a big, physical football team and he’s certainly succeeded in doing just that. We all know about Derrick Henry’s unique size at 6’-3” and 247 pounds with outstanding breakaway speed, but Tennessee’s top three pass catchers are all big, physical presences as well. A.J. Brown goes 6’-0” and 226 pounds, Corey Davis is 6’-3” and 209 pounds, Jonnu Smith is 6’-3” and 248 pounds. All three are among the league leaders in broken tackle rate and all three have enough speed to take it to the house any time they touch the ball.
That group operates behind an offensive line that has steadily improved over the course of the season. Taylor Lewan has settled back into form after initially struggling upon his return from a four game suspension at the start of the year. Rodger Saffold has emerged as exactly the type of difference maker in the run game that the Titans hoped he would be when they signed him. Ben Jones had his best season as a pro, grading out as PFF’s third highest rated center. Nate Davis struggled mightily early on, but has begun to settle in at right guard, producing three of his best games of the season over the last three weeks. Jack Conklin has bounced back to his pre-knee injury status as one of the best right tackles in the NFL. He graded out as the 11th best tackle overall per PFF and the 6th best among just right tackles.
That group helped clear the way for Henry’s rushing title and gave Ryan Tannehill time to become the first quarterback since Joe Montana in 1989 to complete over 70% of his passes in a season while also averaging at least 9.0 yards per attempt. He’s also just the fourth quarterback in NFL history to have six games with a passer rating over 130 in the same season, joining 2011 Aaron Rodgers, 2014 Tony Romo, and 2019 Russell Wilson with that distinction. Tannehill is the only one to do it in just ten starts.
Since making the change at quarterback, the Titans offense has averaged 30.4 points per game — the third best figure in the NFL over that ten week span behind just the Ravens and Saints — and has still yet to fall short of 20 points in a game since Week 6. Tennessee’s streak of ten straight games with at least 20 points ties the 1988 Oilers for the longest streaks reaching that total in franchise history.
The Titans also finished this season as the league’s best red zone offense, scoring touchdowns on 75.6% of their trips inside the 20 yard line, more than 8 points better than the second place Ravens who scored on 67.2% of their red zone visits.
It’s been a truly remarkable run for this team and it’s not over. This Titans team is going to be a chore to play in the playoffs no matter who the opponent is. They play a physical brand of football and the idea of tackling Henry, Brown, Davis, and Smith in cold temperatures after a long 16 game season is not something I think any team is looking forward to.
The offense makes this Titans team extremely dangerous in the postseason. They’re capable of breaking a long touchdown at any time and have erupted for 35 points or more five times this season, including four times in the final seven games of the season. No team is more equipped to blow up the status quo and live up to the name “wildcard” in the 2019 NFL Playoffs.