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How the Titans utilized play action to get QB Ryan Tannehill back on track

Ryan Tannehill was absolutely surgical on play-action attempts, according to the advanced metrics

Los Angeles Chargers v Tennessee Titans Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

The Tennessee Titans defeated the Los Angeles Chargers 27-24 in an overtime thriller on Sunday. Starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill was extremely efficient throughout the victory. Tannehill completed 20-of-24 passing attempts for 246 yards and one touchdown. Tannehill’s 83.3 percent completion percentage was the highest single-game mark of his career (minimum qualifier, 20 attempts). Tannehill’s passer rating improved from 28.2 in Week 1 to 123.3 on Sunday.

Tannehill and the Titans especially found success via play-action attempts. Tannehill completed 7-of-9 passing attempts for 168 yards on play action, according to Next Gen Stats. Tannehill has averaged 11.8 yards per play-action attempt since 2022. That’s 1.6 yards higher per attempt than any other quarterback in the league, according to their data.

Play-action was the catalyst of Tannehill’s 70-yard bomb to sophmore wide receiver Treylon Burks. That attempt traveled 62.2 yards in the air, per Next Gen Stats. It qualifies as the longest pass of the 2023 campaign through nearly two completed weeks. The Titans were down 11-0 midway through the second quarter when the much-needed explosive completion occurred.

It wasn’t Tennessee’s lone explosive passing play that occurred partially thanks to their effective utilization of play action. The Chargers had to respect the Titans run game with Derrick Henry and Tyjae Spears being productive. Trailing 21-17 with 6:00 remaining in the fourth quarter, the Titans leaned on play-action to search for another game-changing completion. This time, Tannehill found a streaking Chris Moore for a 49-yard completion, which eventually led to a Titans go-ahead touchdown in the dying moments.

It was wonderful to see offensive coordinator Tim Kelly rely on play-action to provide the passing attack with a much-needed jolt in the arm. Play action was at the center of Tennessee’s offensive success in 2019 and 2020 under Arthur Smith. Former offensive coordinator Todd Downing got away from play action too often. Kelly has been impressive as a play-caller through two weeks, even if the players’ execution hasn’t always been perfect.