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VOL. 44 | NO. 43 | Friday, October 23, 2020

Titans have never reached these heights on offense

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Ryan Tannehill is leading perhaps the most prolific offense in franchise history. The Titans are averaging 422 yards per game, second in the NFL, and 32 points per game.

-- Photo By Wade Payne | Ap

The Tennessee Titans offense we have seen under Arthur Smith and Ryan Tannehill is unlike almost anything we have ever seen from this franchise.

For most of the two-plus decades the team has been on Tennessee soil, the Titans’ calling card has been defense. Keep the game close, let the defense keep you in it and then, maybe, kick a field goal at the end to win.

That was the mantra throughout the Jeff Fisher era. It also seemed ingrained in the team’s DNA long after Fisher’s departure in January 2011.

A good number of the team’s stars and impact players – Jevon Kearse, Albert Haynesworth, Keith Bullock, Kyle Vanden Bosch, etc. ­– came from the defensive side of the ball. And with a few notable exceptions here and there, even the team’s biggest offensive stars were running backs Eddie George and Chris Johnson, who were key in the Titans’ grind-it-out, keep-it-close style of play.

Winning games 16-13 seemed to be not only the norm, but the hope at times for a franchise that struggled for years to consistently score points and keep up with teams like Peyton Manning’s high-powered Indianapolis Colts.

Part of the problem in that time, of course, was the quarterback play – or lack thereof.

Once Steve McNair left the Titans after the 2005 season, the Titans wandered in the wilderness of quarterback mediocrity for more than a decade – watching first-round draft picks Vince Young, Jake Locker and Marcus Mariota all fail to be franchise quarterbacks.

Then, almost by happenstance, it finally happened.

Enter Tannehill, tossed aside by the Dolphins and brought to the Titans as a backup, and Smith, who had labored on the Titans staff through four head coaches before getting his first chance to be an offensive coordinator. But such an oddly arranged marriage between quarterback and coordinator has worked almost to perfection to transform a once-moribund franchise into one of the NFL’s most exciting teams.

Whatever the reason for it, there is no denying that there has been a sea change in the Titans franchise. For the first time in forever, the Tennessee Titans are an offensive-minded football team, and they will go as far as Smith, Tannehill, Derrick Henry & Company can take them.

Sunday, Tennessee put up 601 yards of total offense against the Texans. What in the name of the Big 12 is going on?

In their unique way of building around Henry and using the play-action it generates, the Titans are suddenly embracing 21st century offensive football via using a familiar formula.

Yes, defense used to win championships, but not in today’s NFL.

Now, that’s not to say that the Titans don’t have plenty they can fix on defense. After all, some good defensive play would be welcome right now for the Titans, especially when it comes to third down conversions and pass rush.

But unlike the old days of Titans football, this team relies on offense for success or failure.

And even when the offense falters, as it did twice Sunday, once on a strip sack and fumble by J.J. Watt that the Texans recovered at the 3-yard line and again on a Tannehill interception, this Titans offense was unfazed and expected to win in the end.

“If we have the ball in our hands, we feel comfortable with our offense, our two-minute operation to go down there and get points, and that’s how it should be,” Titans wide receiver Adam Humphries says. “The amount of work we put into that – we feel confident in it.”

Sunday’s comeback win in overtime against the Texans pushed the Titans to 5-0 and marked the fourth time in those five wins that the offense had to win a game with a late score.

It started when they overcame Stephen Gostkowski’s meltdown in the opener, and continued right through Sunday when they let an 11-point halftime lead slip away and needed last-second heroics in regulation and a fortunate coin flip in overtime just to have another chance to win.

“We’ve been in that situation a lot of times,’’ Tannehill says. “I think ultimately it comes down to preparation and belief in the guys around you.

“(I’ve got a) ton of confidence that we have the guys to get it done. Art (Smith) does a great job mixing the calls and keeping the defense on their heels. Really any call that comes in I feel like we’re going to have a good spot to go with the football.

“When you have that kind of belief in the guys around you, the O-line is protecting, guys outside are making plays, there is nothing to be hesitant about. It’s just go make the plays,” he adds.

That philosophy will be tested again Sunday, perhaps with the biggest challenge yet, as the unbeaten Pittsburgh Steelers come to town and bring with them the NFL’s stingiest defense, allowing just 94 points in five games.

But with the Titans’ sudden knack for finding a way to win via the offense, a new day might have dawned in Tennessee.

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