BOSTON — Ryan Tannehill plays his first career postseason game Saturday. Wild Card Weekend facing a New England Patriots (12-4) team backed against the wall is a tough place to start.
Tannehill, though, possesses an under-discussed ability that could help give the visiting Tennessee Titans (9-7) their second postseason win in three years.
Tennessee built the foundation of their offense on the ability to run the football, but that game plan involves more than just 2019 NFL Rushing Champion Derrick Henry. Tannehill’s athleticism gave coordinator Arthur Smith’s offense one of the more underreported weapons in the 2019 arsenal. The Titans will need every advantage they can find in New England.
— Tennessee Titans (@Titans) November 24, 2019
For the Patriots’ defense, Tannehill’s legs give the Titans hidden yardage potential. The eight-year vet does not use running in the same way that back-up Marcus Mariota did; Tannehill does not personally look to generate offense on the ground. Opposing coordinators rarely spy Tannehill for that reason, allowing him to find openings to run for crucial third-down conversions or scores.
Tannehill has scored on the ground four times in his 10 starts at quarterback for Tennessee and averaged 4.3 yards per attempt during the regular season when he felt the need to go. The success of Titans’ boot action plays that get the quarterback on the move play into this strength. Respect must be paid to Henry as the opposition but, when defenders swarm to the All-Pro running back, Tannehill finds green grass for chunk plays.
How will that fair against New England?
No one can predict what Bill Belichick will do Saturday night but even the mighty Patriots have tendencies. Per Mark Schofield of Inside The Pylon, New England featured man coverage on about 60% of their defensive snaps. Not all schemes are created equal but Belichick and Co. like to match zone with man principles that skew the percentage. When defenders play man, they often have their back turned to the quarterback in the effort to stick with their man.
Turned heads open running lanes for a savvy, able signal-caller.
“(Tannehill) throws a good deep ball,” Belichick told Boston media this week. “He throws a lot of intermediate routes. They have a lot of catch-and-run plays, too. So, I mean a lot of their big plays are not 80-yard bombs. But, he’s thrown the ball very accurately and is making great decisions.”
Belichick knows Tannehill can make plays through the air but a multi-faceted ground game can give the Titans a unique advantage.