Welcome to the 4th ever edition of ‘The Super Bowl Race in the perspective of Chase’, an almost daily article on your favorite NFL team. Our last article was about what the Minnesota Vikings could do this season, and it was predicated around if Kirk Cousins is a good enough quarterback for the Vikings to truly contend. A similar talk here for Ryan Tannehill? Let’s get into this!
By the way I am doing something very similar to this for the NBA on the Cool Sports Newsletter and we just wrote about the Philadelphia 76ers if you want to check that out.
The Tennessee Titans have a very good team over the past half decade, with the last four of those seasons being under Mike Vrabel. They’ve made the playoffs the past three seasons and have done a decent job putting themselves in a position to succeed. The Titans new that Marcus Mariota wasn’t the kind of player that they could win under after they started the 2019 season 2-4, sot they put in backup quarterback Ryan Tannehill instead. Tannehill played so well in his 10 games he started to end the season and Titans also played well. They had a 7-3 record under Tannehill’s, 22 touchdowns and 6 interceptions with a 70.3% completion percentage. That would translate to 37 touchdowns and 10 interceptions if he kept that pace over a 16 game season! Tannehill ended up ranking as the #68 player in the NFL’s Top 100 in 2020, which would put him as the 10th best quarterback in the NFL and won the AP Comeback Player of the Year Award for his unbelievable season!
Tennessee made the playoffs as the 6th seed and Derrick Henry, who led the NFL in rushing yards that season with 1,540 yards, steamrolled the Patriots defense to send them to the divisional round. It was the 4th time Tom Brady had lost at home in his career. Henry and Tennessee continued this dominance over the #1 seeded, 14-2 Ravens and beat them 28-12 on their home turf. Tennessee did lose the AFC Championship to Kansas City, but is was a big year for a team that was 2-4 with a question mark at quarterback earlier in that same season.
The Titans continued their success the next season, especially Derrick Henry. The Titans started 5-0, mainly due to their 32.8 points per game that were averaging during this time. Henry ended the season with over 2,000 rushing yards, putting him 5th in rushing yards in one season in NFL history and 11th in rushing yards per game in a season of all time! The Titans finished as the 4th seed, despite falling short to the Baltimore Ravens in the Wild Card round, after a little rivalry Baltimore was assembling with Tennessee. In that season, Tannehill had 33 touchdowns and 7 interceptions but was much less accurate and wasn’t the same player.
This season, Tennessee started the year 8-2, even though Henry went down with a regular season ending injury in the Week 8. However, it was still Tennessee’s running game that led the way. D’Onta Foreman rushed for 566 yards and 3 touchdowns in 9 games and Dontrell Hilliard rushed for 350 yards and 2 touchdowns. The Titans finished the season 12-5, good enough for the #1 seed and the only bye in the AFC! However, even with a healthy (at least playable) Henry in the playoffs, Tennessee fell to the eventual AFC Champion Cincinnati Bengals on a game winning field goal from Evan McPherson! Tannehill played terrible in the game, throwing three interceptions to just one touchdown and one of those interceptions put Cincinnati in a manageable position to get them in field goal range, where they ended up ending the game.
Going into the offseason, a bunch of questions surrounded Tennessee? Were they going to keep Julio Jones after playing just 10 games with Tennessee due to injury? Was A.J. Brown going to get traded? Who would they select in the draft? Was Ryan Tannehill going to get replaced? Well, all of those questions have been answered this offseason. Julio Jones was cut after Tennessee didn’t want to keep his salary on the books, considering he is a 33 year old injury prone wide receiver. He is still a free agent currently. A.J. Brown was traded on a crazy draft night, in exchange for the #18 overall pick in the NFL draft and 3rd round pick in that draft as well. That 1st round pick was used to select WR Treylon Burks out of Arkansas to (try to) replace Brown. They also used the 86th overall pick to select quarterback Malik Willis out of Liberty to become the backup to Tannehill.
However, while not being a replacement, it gives Tannehill some competition at the quarterback spot. When asked about if he’s going to help Willis grow into the player he can be, Tannehill responded with, “I don’t think it’s my job to mentor him”. However, in a different interview he had a few weeks later, he responded to those comments saying:
“I meant no disrespect to Malik or anything close to that. He’s a good person. He’s a talented player. He’s coming off a great college career. We’re happy to have him in the room. Really just kind of disappointed in how things got spun and twisted a little bit. I pride myself on being a great teammate. I have my whole career. Going back to the time I was a kid playing youth sports, it’s been something that’s been important to me from the beginning and will always be important to me. It’s something I’ll try to instill in my kids as they start playing youth sports is being a great teammate”.
Tannehill also stated, “Another thing that I think was blown out of proportion was when I said the word ‘compete.’ I compete every time I set foot on that football field. I compete against myself and the player I was the day before, the lessons I learned, the little things that I picked up off the tape. I’m competing against the defense if we’re going against the defense. If we’re doing QB drills, then I’m competing with whoever else is out there. That’s just how I’m wired. We’re going to continue to push each other, to learn from each other in the QB room, encourage each other as this thing goes forward. We’re all here for one goal. My primary focus is to win football games as everyone in this (Tennessee Titans) building.
So as you can see, while not meaning it personally, Tannehill did feel some disrespect from the Titans taking Willis. But that may give him motivation to go back to the player he was in 2019. Tennessee did give him some more receiving help with Burks. They signed Rams WR Robert Woods to a 4 year, $65 million deal. Woods played 9 games for the Super Bowl winning Rams before getting injured for the season. He had 556 receiving yards at the time, which meant he was on pace for 1,050 receiving yards over a 17 game season. However, he was also the #2 receiver behind Cooper Kupp, meaning he got less attention than a WR 1 which he will be getting this season.
They also signed TE Austin Hooper to become their starting tight end over Anthony Firkser after losing Jonu Smith last offseason. But that was pretty much it this offseason for the Tennessee Titans. But what is my verdict on Ryan Tannehill? He’s a better version of a current Kirk Cousins in my opinion. Kirk puts up better stats but Tannehill has won a lot more. Sure Vrabel is a good coach, but he wasn’t winning a lot in Tennessee before Tannehill was starting. Tannehill has the 6th best winning percentage for any quarterback since 2019 (if they’ve played a reasonable amount of games, no offense Sam Ehlinger), just behind Aaron Rodgers, Patrick Mahomes, Tom Brady, Lamar Jackson and Josh Allen who are all some of the best quarterbacks in the game.
However, Tannehill has been with a very good offense, defense, offensive line and coaching staff for the past three seasons as well. If you put even Matt Ryan or Carson Wentz in this kind of system, I bet they have a very similar winning percentage. He doesn’t elevate the Titans like other quarterbacks elevate their teams. When there’s one and half minutes left in a football game, down by at least a field goal, you need to have a very good quarterback to win. And those scenarios happen in the playoffs. Tannehill has now blown those drives, even if it’s tied, by throwing an interceptions in Tennessee’s last two playoff games on their final offensive drive. That’s why it’s very rare to see a team like the Baltimore Ravens win in 2000 since they had Trent Dilfer starting at quarterback. And this was after Dilfer’s prime (which was one Pro Bowl appearance in 1997 with Buccaneers). It’s rare. And it won’t happen in today’s NFL. Tannehill, very similarly to Kirk Cousins, is just the weakest link to this team from winning a Super Bowl.
My prediction: Tennessee wins their division, considering two teams in that division are fighting not to get last place, but only get the 4th seed and get knocked out in their first playoff game for the third straight season!
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