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VOL. 44 | NO. 39 | Friday, September 25, 2020

Talented Tannehill lets Titans flip the script

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Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill congratulates tight end Jonnu Smith after the two connected for a 13-yard touchdown pass on the third offensive play of the Titans’33-30 win .

-- Photo By Mark Zaleski | Ap

There is no doubt that Derrick Henry commands the attention of opposing defenses. On Sunday, the Jacksonville Jaguars were determined not to let Henry run roughshod over them the way he had so many times in the past, making them his personal highlight reel. Mission accomplished on that end for the Jacksonville defense that held the Titans star running back to 82 yards on 24 rushes.

But what the Jaguars probably didn’t figure Sunday was that Ryan Tannehill would come out firing to the tune of four touchdown passes while completing 18 of 24 throws for 239 yards.

Sure, Tannehill had a remarkable 2019 in his 10 starts, plus three more in the postseason, but the Titans have mostly been a run-to-pass team since Arthur Smith took over as offensive coordinator and made Henry the feature of the offense.

But in Sunday’s win, the Titans pulled a George Costanza – they did the opposite.

Knowing the run might not be there early, they used play-action on the first play of the game, and Tannehill hit Jonnu Smith for 63 yards. It set up a 13-yard touchdown pass to Smith two plays later.

Moving forward, the Titans might best be able to take the next step as a true contender in the AFC only if they can continue to be balanced on offense and keep defenses off balance in the process.

Using the pass to set up the run proved to be a good formula Sunday, and it might very well be necessary throughout the course of the 2020 season for a team that no doubt will see an eight-man box and even saw some nine-man boxes on certain plays Sunday.

Titans running back Derrick Henry didn’t get to 100 yards Sunday against the Jaguars, but he did run hard enough to provide balance to Tennessee’s offensive attack.

-- Photo By Mark Zaleski | Ap

In those cases, the Titans now have the satisfaction of knowing that Tannehill and the receivers can be trusted to make plays down the field, which not only produces points, but eventually loosens the defense enough to give Henry rushing room. A true win-win for the offense.

Even without receiver A.J. Brown, who missed the Jaguars game with a knee injury (“bone bruise”), players like Smith, Corey Davis and Adam Humphries are part of the puzzle that should keep defenses honest when playing the Titans. And Tannehill professes full confidence in the group to make a play for him when called upon.

“I see them make it in practice, and that builds the confidence, the trust, and then when they make them in games it only deepens that trust,” Tannehill says. “I know in tight coverage if I put the ball in a good spot, then I have a strong belief our guys will go make a play on it. They did it (against Jacksonville), and I expect them to keep doing it.”

Going forward, Tannehill and the Titans no doubt want to prove that their new-found passing success is not just a one-off performance from 2019. And no one seems happier about the emergence of the Titans’ passing attack than Henry himself, who will see residual benefits if this type of play continues.

“I’m just happy for those guys,” Henry says. “I see them working in camp, all those things are paying off. Those guys have been doing that all in camp, and it translates to the game.

“Those guys are playmakers, and they’ll be making big plays, and hope it continues. I know it will continue by the way they work.’’

The other aspect of this suddenly well-rounded Titans offense is that Tannehill is spreading the football around liberally. Nine different Titans have caught at least one pass in the first two weeks of the season.

That type of diversity should be another weapon as the Titans move forward on offense.

“Ryan is always confident and trusts our guys,’’ tight end Anthony Firkser adds. “We work all the time in practice getting everyone involved, and that’s our goal in the game – getting everyone touches and have threats all over the field.’’

The Titans now head into a tough stretch over the next month, beginning with a road game against a surprisingly 0-2 Vikings team before returning home to face the Steelers, Bills and Texans.

Tannehill and the offense will be put to the test by some of the best defenses in the league during that stretch.

“I know I’m going to do everything to make plays for this football team and go out and execute and try to win,’’ Tannehill says. “Hopefully, I can influence these guys and show them my toughness and the confidence that I play with, so hopefully that transfers over to them.

“But at the end of the day, I try to do my best to go out and execute and make plays.’’

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