Welcome to another edition of ‘The Super Bowl Race In The Perspective of Chase’, a close to daily NFL article previewing your favorite teams season! A lot has changed for Tennessee football over the past six seasons. Six years ago, they were just a mediocre team that could never be good enough to compete, or bad enough to receive a top draft pick. But then a three year window with Derrick Henry, new quarterback Ryan Tannehill and A.J. Brown saw a three year span with an AFC Championship appearance, a division title, and the AFC’s number one seed! A sudden drop-off last season and the rise of young teams in the South like the Jaguars, and the Titans are back to square one, just looking for a way to compete in an AFC owned by one of the most dominant quarterbacks in NFL history.
But can the Titans go back to the great team that they were? What if they can finally get healthy again; could they finally make a deep playoff run again? What if DeAndre Hopkins is a Super Bowl caliber number one receiver again? What if Ryan Tannehill (or whoever is starting at quarterback), brings the Titans back to their glory? This is everything to think about for the Tennessee Titans going into the 2023 season!
It has to be answered: Should Ryan Tannehill’s time as the Titans play-caller come to an end?
Last season was the legitimate worst case scenario for the Tennessee Titans. In 2021, the Titans were GOOD. Tannehill was showing no signs of regression. They had a receiving core led by stars A.J. Brown and Julio Jones. Even Derrick Henry–a 2,000 yard rusher the season before who missed the final nine games of the regular season–physically couldn’t play for the rest of the regular season and the Titans still won an AFC best 12 games. But the system was bound to fail, as even with Henry, the young and mighty (now old and mighty) Bengals took them down on their home turf. Ever since that point, it has been an epic downfall.
Julio Jones no longer was showing value to Tennessee, so he left in free agency. A draft night that happened to be revolutionary for the 2022 NFL season was the exact opposite for Tennessee, as they traded away A.J. Brown to the Eagles. Now, we all saw how that went. Brown and Jalen Hurts became one of the most dynamic duo’s in football, as the Eagles won a franchise high 14 games and came a field goal and holding call away from the franchise’s second Super Bowl.
For Tennessee, that was also the night where they drafted Malik Willis in the second round, showing they were at least slightly intrigued by the idea of letting Tannehill’s reign as the starting quarterback come to and end. So Tennessee suddenly had a very little receiving core and a race between a second round unproven passing rookie and their veteran for the starting job. Remember, this is all one offseason after being a field goal away form a second AFC Championship in three seasons.
And things just became a bigger mess. Henry luckily stayed healthy and had over 1500 yards and 13 touchdowns, ranking as one of the best seasons of his entire career. But Tannehill only started 12 games due to injury, and Willis and Joshua Dobbs could not come to the plate. Willis, in three stars, threw for zero touchdowns and three interceptions, never completing more than 61% of his passes and threw for UNDER 100 yards in every game he started. And for Doubs, he was 0-2 in a Titans uniform and threw a check-down on a 4th&13 with their season on the line!
And so the Titans, who despite seeing very little contributions from new wide receivers Treylon Burks and Robert Woods, had a 7-3 record, and it looked like the AFC South was their’s to lose…and it was. Tennessee lost their last SEVEN games, ending the season 7-10 with no postseason birth, as a 3-7 Jaguars team emerged from the dead and won the division. And that’s how we get here, where the Titans are, well, stuck!
This whole Tannehill-Henry thing just doesn’t seem to be working anymore. However, Tennessee seems to still be giving it one last shot. Obviously they made the big move of their offense by signing DeAndre Hopkins, and it is quite interesting. Because Hopkins is very similar to the Titans. In 2019 and 2020, they were amazing. But then injuries and issues have set them back from becoming the ones we used to know of them. However, they’re trying to see if they can resurge back to their old selves one last time. Hopkins was amazing two years ago. But between injuries and suspensions, we just haven’t seen a large enough sample size to determine whether Hopkins is still capable of becoming a No. 1 receiver on a team with championship aspirations.
In the draft, they drafted one of the better offensive lineman in the class, Peter Skoronski, to hopefully give the play-caller and Henry some more time in the backfield, and then took ‘Mr. Mayonnaise In Coffee’ himself, Will Levis, in the second round. And they didn’t make any flashy picks in the later rounds of the draft. The only thing that was interesting was Tennessee’s inability to take a receiver in the earlier rounds to add to what is a receiving core with VERY little depth. However, it’s safe to say the Levis pick was interesting.
Now, I understand trying to find another security plan for a 35 year old Tannehill. However, it is showing incompetence in the organization. This time one year ago, they also drafted a quarterback in the second round who probably should have been a first round pick. The fact that this whole Willis thing is failing this horribly is truly explaining that something has to change. But at the same time, Levis should be a good pickup. He’s one of the most NFL-ready quarterbacks in the draft, and was projected to be a top five pick. Now, why did he fall out of the first round(?), that is our question to scouts and front offices. But the talent is absolutely there, and I think he is an NFL-ready enough quarterback to step in if they finally decide to move on from Tannehill.
And that is a great segue into our question of the article: should Ryan Tannehill still be the starting quarterback for the Titans? And that is a tough question. Again, he’s 35 years old. And regression has been identified. He seems slower, which puts more pressure on a slowly regressing offensive line. He can’t throw the deep ball as well as he could in previous years. But he’s not that much worse. He is throwing touchdowns less frequently, but is also throwing interceptions less frequently. In fact, Tannehill just had a career low in interception percentage. His completion percentage has gone down a tiny bit; not much. He can definitely not make as many big plays as he used to. But a lot of times with regression, teams finally move on once the quarterback starts being a negative in the turnover category. I still think Tannehill is a safe option in that category. And that and winning are the only two things, I think, that are holding Tennessee back from changing the play-caller.
And you may be confused on what I meant by winning. He’s only made one AFC championship, and has only made the playoffs in his stint with Tennessee. But at the same time, Tannehill is 10th among active quarterbacks in career winning percentage, with a minimum of 70 career games played. He’s only had two losing seasons, and both were with the Dolphins. He’s won close to 55% of his games and he’s played the majority of his career in Miami! Even though he’s not flashy, and has really never brought a significant amount to the table, the guy has won. And for an organization that was SO close with him, it must be tough for them to move on.
Here’s what I would do. The team is definitely worse. There is no denying that. Jeffery Simmons, Harold Landry, and a worse Kevin Byard are the only pieces standing from the defense that shut down Tom Brady and Lamar Jackson in back-to-back weeks in the playoffs. They added Sean Murphy-Bunting, but that’s about it. And the offense really only has Tannehill and Henry left. I would give it ONE more shot. Try seeing if Tannehill can find some chemistry with Hopkins, who maybe finds his groove again. Try seeing if Derrick Henry is at least 90% of his old self (like last season). And if the defense can just play average football, the Titans may be able to stay competitive.
But I still don’t think it will be enough. The AFC is so competitive and loaded with talent. Kansas City, Buffalo, Cincinnati, Jacksonville, Baltimore, Los Angeles, New York, Miami, Pittsburgh, Cleveland and then I guess Tennessee. Even if all of those things go the way I just imagined, I still don’t know if that is good enough to sneak into the postseason. Because even though they have a relatively easier schedule, this is Jacksonville’s division. And unless someone on the Jags goes down, there is no shot they are losing that division. Even if everything goes right, I still don’t know if a playoff berth is even in the cards for Tennessee.
It’s crazy that we are talking like this. But we are. I think eventually, once Tennessee is seeing how competitive the AFC is, I do think they will hand over the torch to Will Levis, who will look to bring some youth to this team, and maybe make Treylon Burks the receiver Titans fans are hoping he will be; which will show signs of possibly a future young core offensively. But I do think the Titans reign of the AFC South and consistent time being a contender in the AFC is coming to an end. Unless D-HOP goes crazy, Tannehill goes back to his 2019 self, and Derrick Henry keeps being Derrick Henry and some more, maybe this won’t happen. But, we have to be realistic. We just have to wait and see if Tennessee has one more Cinderella story to tell!
Prediction: Titans finish with around a .500 record and miss the postseason, with Titans fans more excited about the future combination of Will Levis and Treylon Burks going into 2024!
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Twitter: Chase Coburn (@coolsportskid)
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