After years of the three yards and a cloud of dust approach, the Tennessee Titans have suddenly been transformed over the course of 2019 into one of the NFL’s most explosive offenses.
For a franchise that for years embraced the 16-13 game and set the NFL record with eight field goals in a game, this sudden offensive prowess is uncharted territory.
It took hitting rock bottom – a shutout loss at Denver, which led to the Titans handing the quarterback reins to Ryan Tannehill – but the Titans are suddenly a dangerous team that is a threat to score anytime the offense has the football.
The numbers bear it out, whether it is newly crowned rushing champion Derrick Henry, who has four TD runs of 50 yards or more this season on his way to 1,540 yards, or the stats put up by rookie receiver A.J. Brown, who also has four touchdowns this season from more than 50 yards away, including a 91-yarder earlier this season.
Tannehill has been a revelation at quarterback. The Miami Dolphins castoff led the league in passer rating at 117.5, while completing 70.3 percent of his passes to go with a gaudy 9.6 yards per attempt ratio
But those numbers are more than just what that trio has done. Consider this: 12 different Titans players have at least one reception of 24 yards or more this season. Three different players have run of 49 yards or better too.
So how did the Titans go from moribund to magnficent offensively? The transformation goes deeper than just a switch a quarterback.
Coach Mike Vrabel said Monday that when the Titans played the Los Angeles Chargers earlier this season, the focus was put on the players to finish blocks and make a concerted effort to get the ball carrier or receiver to the second level to give them a chance to make a big play. Combine that with the blocking of the offensive line, Henry’s ability to find the hole and Tannehill’s knack for putting the ball into tight windows where his receiver can make plays, and it has made the Titans offense something to actually be feared.
“I can remember playing the Chargers and watched how Pittsburgh played them and our guys kind of took it as a challenge,” Vrabel said. “And I think we continued to take that mindset of run physical with the ball in our hands, guys blocking at the second level. Corey (Davis) is leading that pack. Maybe he doesn’t have the ball in his hands, but he’s looking to finish, making great decisions.
“You break some tackles and you get some help from guys down the field, it gives you an opportunity to hit some bigger ones,” Vrabel said Monday.
Vrabel also spoke about how physical that Henry, Brown and Jonnu Smith have become when carrying the football.
“They have a really good skill set for catching or running at the second level. They’re not afraid of contact. We, like a lot of other people, are looking to get them to the second level and give them a chance to do something with the football,” Vrabel said.
Another part of that equation is how the Titans have worn teams down as the game goes along – especially Henry. The Titans are the NFL’s highest-scoring second half team, something that has served them well in the turnaround, especially considering that Sunday’s opening-drive TD was the first one they had scored all year on a first series.
“Running the football in this league isn’t just a once in a while thing. You have to commit to it and watch the toll that it takes throughout the course of the game.,” Vrabel said. “It could be some four and five yard runs that don’t look real pretty, but you hope that those add up over the course of a game, and I think they did yesterday.”
The Titans will likely need all of that explosiveness Saturday night when they head to Foxboro, Mass., to challenge the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots in the AFC Wild-Card Playoffs.
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