Over the last three seasons as the Tennessee Titans quarterback, Ryan Tannehill has led Tennessee to a 30-13 record and three playoff appearances. However, after a disappointing 19-16 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, fans and analysts are calling for the end of the Tannehill era in Tennessee.

For the third straight season, the Tennessee Titans missed on an opportunity to play for the Super Bowl, facing elimination yet again – this time in the AFC Divisional Playoff round. Yet again, quarterback Ryan Tannehill faces the majority of the blame from fans and analysts across the country for the loss.

Over the last three seasons, the Titans are 2-3 in the playoffs, including losses to the Kansas City Chiefs in 2019 in the AFC Championship and the Baltimore Ravens in 2020 at home in the AFC Wild Card. They have been to every level of the AFC playoffs and lost in each one without ever pushing their way into a Super Bowl appearance.

Ryan Tannehill himself finds entering his tenth NFL season, his fourth with the Titans, at 34 years old when the 2022 season starts. He’s beginning to hit the later portion of his career and the question has to be how long can he maintain his play at the high level he has performed at. While most people can make the argument that just about any quarterback can produce the way Tannehill has with Derrick Henry in the backfield, I think it’s inaccurate to say. He’s been a big factor to why teams don’t load the box and focus on stopping Derrick Henry.

I got into game film of the playoff loss to study what Tannehill did well and what he didn’t. The results were surprising. Let’s get into it.

Ryan Tannehill’s first interception and why it wasn’t his fault

On the first play, Tannehill threw a horrible interception that really crippled the Titans throughout the game. The error put the Bengals in position to score, and they cashed in with their first field goal to take a 3-0 lead. Watching the game live, it wasn’t clear exactly what happened on the first play other than a big mistake was made. However, the coaches film shows an accurate picture of what exactly happened that stalled the Titans momentum and set the tone for the game.

Everyone and their brother knew that Derrick Henry was back on the field and it made all the sense in the world to hand him the ball on the first play. The Bengals were betting on it, settling into a one-high look with eight defenders in the box. The Titans went with a play action fake – drawing the defense into the box to defend against Henry.

The Titans ran a “Seattle” style route combination, bringing the inside receiver, AJ Brown, on a wheel route down the sideline with the outside receiver, Julio Jones, attacking the middle of the field. The play action fake brought the safety, Jessie Bates, downhill to defend against the run. If the Titans had run goes, Julio Jones would have been open without a defender anywhere near him. The Titans stopped their routes – curling back, and Bates was in perfect position to make the play.

This is a play-calling error. The Titans thought they’d have a wide open Julio and the led the safety right to the throw with the play action.

Over-complicating play-calling on the field

When the Titans kept things simple throughout the game, it worked well. Running the football, making simple reads, etc, did the job well for the Titans throughout the game. However, at this point of the drive, a first and goal from the ten, the Titans called a wide receiver screen into the boundary.

The issue with this play call right here is that the Titans had run the ball very successfully the first several runs – four runs for 64 yards, to be precise, including a 45-yard romp by D’Onta Foreman.

When Tannehill made the pre-snap ready for this play, he thought he was looking at a cover-four zone/prevent coverage. The slot corner, Mike Hilton, was playing press coverage. When Tannehill looked away and started his cadence, Hilton cheated inside and showed that he was blitzing. Tannehill didn’t see it and proceeded with the play as called. If he had seen it, he would have probably checked out of it or adjusted his throw. He had no idea Hilton was coming.

Hilton indeed made an overly impressive play on the football.

Ryan Tannehill keeping the Tennessee Titans in the game

When Ryan Tannehill needed to make a play, he did so. Coming off the turnover, the Titans struck with a 33-yard touchdown pass to AJ Brown. Tannehill stepped up to the plate, making this throw and placing it in the only spot AJ Brown could make the catch.

This throw took advantage of the double move that AJ Brown used to create the separation even though the cornerback was playing off coverage and the safety was lurking to assist. Then, to throw it into the pocket of Brown so well from so deep just shows what Tannehill has been doing so well while in Nashville.

Surrendering the chance for a Tennessee Titans win

The Titans elected to play the end of the half aggressively and wanted to take away the chances that the Bengals had of winning the game in overtime. With little time to spare, the Titans took to driving into field goal range and giving their kicker, Randy Bullock, a chance to make a big play.

In this concept, the Titans found the soft spot in the Bengals zone, sending Nick Westbrook-Ikhine into a deep curl route that would have put Tennessee close to field goal range. Tannehill delivered an impressively accurate ball, in fact the throw was made before Westbrook-Ikhine was out of his break. The analytics pointed to this being a good play, as Westbrook-Ikhine suffered just two drops in 57 targets this past season, becoming one of the Titans more reliable receivers following the injuries to Brown and Jones this season.

Tannehill can’t help the fact that his accurate throw couldn’t be secured. He did his job. He put the Titans into a position to succeed and his receiver failed.

Ryan Tannehill is still playing at an incredibly high level

People don’t realize how well Ryan Tannehill is playing right now and what a high level he is performing at. When comparing Tannehill to some of the best quarterbacks in the league, his numbers really aren’t terrible. In fact, compared to the five other quarterbacks on the board below, between 2019-2021, Tannehill ranks third in passer rating (102.0) and is the most accurate passer (67.3% completion percentage).

Totals Table
PassPassPassPassPassPassPassPassPassPassPassPass
Rk Player G Cmp Att Cmp% Yds TD Rate Lng Int Sk Yds Y/A AY/A
1Josh Allen491076167964.1120409395.46134905607.27.37
2Tom Brady491259194264.81400610797.76232704727.27.57
3Patrick Mahomes461145173066.213610101103.78324674207.98.41
4Aaron Rodgers481091162667.112416111109.27813866547.68.64
5Matthew Stafford41930142065.51146986101.17932866348.18.27
6Ryan Tannehill45873129867.31029576102.091271027127.98.17
Provided by Stathead.com: View Stathead Tool Used
Generated 1/27/2022.

In the last three seasons, Tannehill has completed 67.3% of his passes and compiled a 102.0 passer rating. His PFF grade is still above 80.0, this season finishing at 83.5. His last two season prior to that, with a healthy Derrick Henry, were both in the 90’s. He’s still one of the best in the league off the play action.

It’s very difficult to find a quarterback who has done what Tannehill has with the Titans, especially in our modern day era of football. Not only would it be unethical to move Tannehill at this point, armed with the information that we are, but imprudent as well.

Why people who say Ryan Tannehill needs to go don’t understand football or the Tennessee Titans well enough

So many analysts and fans are calling for the Titans to move on from Ryan Tannehill. I didn’t come into this piece looking to defend him, either, I thought there would be more problems than what was displayed. That being said, the tape doesn’t lie.

When you watch the tape, it’s very clear that all of these turnovers were not on the quarterback, who has played exceptionally well over the last few weeks leading up to the playoffs. In fact, it was Tannehill’s performance that led to the Titans to this moment. He continued with his high-level play, for the most part, but the coaching staff, the play calling, and his teammates let him down.

If anything, this game should reenforce how the Titans feel about their signal caller. The coaching staff needs to look at themselves in the mirror and reevaluate what they think is important for their next big game. Keep things simple and don’t try to over do anything. If they do that, the Titans will be a force next season – yet again.

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By John Vogel

NFL Draft Analyst. Dad.

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