For nearly fifteen years, the Tennessee Titans’ offense has been suffering from an identity crisis. Not since the formidable quarterback/running-back duo of Steve McNair and Eddie George has this team possessed consistent play from both positions at the same time. As a result, the team has made only three playoff appearances (2007, 2008, 2017) in that timespan. Now, with the emergence of veteran back-up Quarterback Ryan Tannehill and seasoned Running-back Derrick Henry, the team’s red-hot offense ranks near the top of the National Football League and seems poised to make a run at the playoffs.
Since the departure of McNair, the Titans’ front office has repeatedly dropped the ball in its attempts to find a successor to the famed quarterback. Missed picks at the position in the annual NFL Draft have included Vince Young, Jake Locker, and Marcus Mariota.
Mariota, 26, has perhaps been the most disappointing. Before being selected second overall in 2015 from the University of Oregon, the three-year Ducks starter was the first Hawaii-born player to win the Heisman Trophy. However, his weak arm and lack of a supporting cast has resulted in below-average performances that relegated the Honolulu native to a clipboard holding, headset wearing bench role earlier this season.
At that point, all hope seemed to have been lost for the Titans who were headed for yet another reset at the position. Instead, General Manager Jon Robinson and second-year Head Coach Mike Vrabel implemented their backup plan in Tannehill.
So far, the gamble is paying off for Titans after taking a waiver on the former Miami Dolphins signal-caller, who was an enigma and battled health-concerns during his tenure in South Beach after being selected in the first round (eighth overall) back in 2012.
Robinson looks like a genius “Rainman” at the casino in Vegas after working out a deal for Tannehill that resulted in a salary obligation where the Titans are only paying $2 million of the Texas A&M draftee’s $20 million salary-cap hit. Meanwhile, the Dolphins have been cutting him checks all season long to the tune of $18 Million while receiving no production after opting to move on from their once “franchise” quarterback.
Since Vrabel made the move to replace Mariota nearly two months ago in Week 7, Tannehill has led the Titans to a 6-1 record. Averaging 31.4 points per game and scoring 27 touchdowns, the team currently ranks 2nd in the NFL in both categories over that span and currently sit at 8-5. As of now, Tennessee is on the outside-looking-in while pursuing a playoff berth by way of the final AFC Wild Card spot trailing the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Tannehill’s impact has been instrumental in the turnaround. Per ESPN’s Dianna Russini, the Titans have been impressed by his leadership skills and on-field performance, and are internally discussing a new contract for the quarterback that will make him the future starting quarterback for the foreseeable future; a deal to be signed following this season. For the season, he carries a passer rating of 118.5, which is a product of his 1,993 passing yards and a 15:5 touchdown/interception ratio.
Despite Tannehill’s contributions, it’s important to understand that the Titans’ success is no one-man-act. Henry’s breakout campaign as the team’s primary offensive weapon has provided the unit with balance all season long.
The Titans have won four games straight after beating the Oakland Raiders 42-21 Sunday, due in large part to Henry’s reliability in the ground-attack. During the streak, the Alabama product has eclipsed 100-yards rushing in each contest en route to 599 yards on the ground in just 86 carries, which is good for an impressive 6.96 yards per attempt to go along with seven rushing touchdowns.
During this 2019-2020 campaign, Henry has amassed 1,243 yards on 250 carries. His 5.0 average yards per carry and 13 touchdowns suggest the Titans should seriously consider signing the ball carrier to an extension. Currently, he is playing out the final year of his rookie deal while earning $1.1 million this season.
According to ESPN’s NFL Insider Adam Schefter, Henry and the Titans haven’t discussed a contract extension yet, despite the fact the running-back currently ranks second in the NFL in rushing yards.
Both Tannehill and Henry are in line for contract extensions to be negotiated after this season, as the Titans are notorious for opting to not renegotiate player deals while in season. With games remaining against Houston (12/15 and 12/29) and New Orleans (12/22), the organization will surely keep close tabs on how each player performs against their playoff-contending opponents, with hopes of keeping their playoff aspirations alive.