Gil Brandt, the former vice president of player personnel for the Dallas Cowboys, who revolutionized scouting in the NFL and rightly achieved his place in the Pro Football Hall of Fame a year ago, wrote a column for the official NFL website before the season in which he detailed the league’s most and least enviable quarterback situations in 2019.
To the surprise of many, he listed the Tennessee Titans as the team with the MOST enviable situation. Yup, they were ranked right above the Patriots, Saints, Giants and Chiefs.
It wasn’t because they had the best quarterback in the league, although he admitted that he DID like Marcus Mariota very much. It was because they had the best BACKUP quarterback.
I’m sure he didn’t know how right he was going to be.
Right now that backup is having a year of historic proportions, and he is bringing the Titans into the AFC Divisional Round of the playoffs, where they will face the Baltimore Ravens on Saturday at 8:15 PM ET at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore.
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Of course, Brandt was talking about Ryan Tannehill, who has literally come forward and rescued this team from the doldrums. After a two-game stretch in which his team had put together just seven points, head coach Mike Vrabel installed Tannehill as the starting QB and then the magic began to happen. Suddenly the Titans became a force going down the field, something that hadn’t been the case in recent years. They set free an explosive rookie, AJ Brown, who averaged 20.2 yards per catch. And Derrick Henry also came alive, with over 1000 yards in his last seven games.
After an upset of the New England Patriots last weekend, the league is on notice that these guys are for real.
In the NFL playoff odds that have been posted on this game, the Titans are catching a lot of points:
Baltimore Ravens -9.5
Tennessee Titans +9.5
Over 47 points -110
Under 47 points -110
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In his story, Brandt wrote…..
Ideally, the presence of Tannehill will help bring out the best in Mariota. But if Mariota should falter — notably, he has yet to play a full 16-game season — Tennessee could turn to the best backup quarterback in the NFL, a former first-round pick in his own right who showed in Miami he has what it takes to carry a team to the playoffs. (Though he missed the 2016 postseason with a torn ACL, Tannehill started 13 games for the Dolphins that season.)
When he was in Miami, there was a time under head coach Joe Philbin and offensive coordinator Bill Lazor that Tannehill wasn’t even allowed to call audibles (changes in the play) at the line of scrimmage. But then Philbin got fired, and eventually interim coach Dan Campbell fired Lazor, after which the new offensive coordinator, Zac Taylor (now head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals) gave him more latitude.
Tannehill’s dilemma was a little different when Adam Gase came into the picture. Gase loves his quarterbacks, so he had a tendency to coddle Tannehill, immunizing him from some of the scathing criticism he directed at the rest of the team. This brought resentment from players, some of whom told Miami Herald reporters on the condition of anonymity that they didn’t want to be around another season if Tannehill was coming back.
So in other words, the change of scenery wasn’t a bad thing.
To say that Mariota (still with the Titans, obviously) is a distant memory isn’t really all that unkind. That’s because Tannehill has fashioned a season (or a little less than two-thirds of one) that has placed him in some rarefied air.
Here are some of the bullet points as to what he’s done:
* Led the league in QB rating, in the process compiling the fifth highest of all-time.
* Led the NFL in yards per attempt by a full yard over Matthew Stafford.
* Led the NFL in yards per completion.
* Finished third in the league in completion percentage.
* Averaged 14.3 yards per attempt on play-action passes, which looms as a dangerous thing because in Derrick Henry, he has the hottest running back in the league.
* Averaged eleven yards per scramble, tying for the league lead with Saturday’s counterpart, Lamar Jackson.
* Beat blitzes to the tune of 69.6% accuracy and a 120.3 QB rating.
* Finished third in the NFL in Intended Air Yards per pass attempt. In other words, he gets the ball down the field.
And perhaps most astonishingly….
* He has led the Titans to touchdowns on 87% of their red zone trips under his direction.
We realize that Baltimore possesses some fundamental edges in this matchup, and that includes the way they DEFEND in the red zone. But these numbers alone give Tennessee a fighting chance here, especially as we get the impression the Ravens might be taking Tannehill somewhat lightly.
Give us the points with this second half team (Titans first in the NFL with 15.4 second half ppg) and we’re happy.
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