NASHVILLE, Tenn. — “You’ve just got to see it clearly and make a quick decision,” said Tennessee Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill following his team’s 23-20 win over the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday. “That’s playing quarterback.”
Seeing things clearly and making quick decisions is exactly what the Titans weren’t getting from QB Marcus Mariota, whose six starts to begin the 2019 season yielded very few positive results.
So, they switched to Tannehill, who spent the season’s first six weeks as a backup, in hopes that he could get things turned around.
In his first game, he delivered. Tannehill threw for 312 yards and two touchdowns in a crucial Titans victory, guiding the offense to 23 points just one week after a brutal shutout.
“You can tell he’s run a huddle before,” said LT Taylor Lewan. “It’s not like this was that guy’s first game or anything like that. He came in and he knew exactly what he was doing. He was smart, diligent and he knew where he was going with the ball.”
Taylor Lewan on playing with new QB Ryan Tannehill. pic.twitter.com/illSqGTavr
— AtoZSports Nashville (@AtoZSports) October 21, 2019
Two plays, in particular, that Tannehill made illustrated the difference in what the Titans offense can do with him at the helm versus Mariota. Both were throws to WR Corey Davis.
The first was an 8-yard touchdown pass with 23 seconds left in the first half. Davis ran to the goal line and stopped in between two Chargers linebackers who were closing in on him.
Tannehill saw Davis was open, made a quick choice to deliver him a strike and he completed it for the score.
The second play came with 9:35 left in the game when Tannehill threw Davis a rocket over the middle of the field into an extremely tight window. Davis caught the pass, then turned upfield for a 38-yard catch and run.
Tannehill was able to complete the throw because he made his decision quick enough, and he trusted that he had enough gas in his arm to get the ball between the two defenders.
“They had been passing off those underneath routes all day,” Tannehill said. “I knew it was going to be a tight window with outside leverage on Corey, so I just tried to hold the player as much as I could, then I came back and ripped it to him.”
“That was huge.”
“I am really proud of that guy,” Davis said of Tannehill. “He came out here, he operated great. He led the boys, he did a good job.”
The common thread between those two plays? On each of them, Tannehill saw things clearly and made a quick decision.
He had several other plays that fit those parameters, as well, such as WR A.J. Brown’s numerous third-down conversions that were a result of quarterback decisiveness.
Derrick Henry on how Ryan Tannehill commands the huddle. pic.twitter.com/buzUeDO4Gn
— AtoZSports Nashville (@AtoZSports) October 20, 2019
Titans head coach Mike Vrabel, who characterized Tannehill’s first start as “efficient,” said on Wednesday that he decided in favor of a quarterback change to give the Titans offense a spark.
Thanks to Tannehill’s decisiveness, they got just that.
Mariota’s superb athleticism gives him the ability to make an occasional “wow” play. But his overall lack of fundamentals and poor technique, such as not throwing with proper footwork and frequently drifting into pressure, stagnated the offense.
With Tannehill making quick, correct decisions and trusting his receivers, they got back on track.
There was certainly a chance when Vrabel made the QB change that there would be no drastic improvement for the offense, but he took a chance anyway.
It was a chance he had to take. Continuing to go with Mariota had the potential to border on being a death sentence for the Titans offense.
At least on Sunday, that chance was rewarded.
Cover image: Jim Brown/USA Today