By JASON MARTIN (@JMartZone – December 1, 2019)
Ryan Tannehill found a way again, as did his football team. Just like they blew the doors off Jacksonville last week in the second half, it happened in Indy, victimizing the Colts. The AFC South is very much in Tennessee’s grasp, but some huge games are yet to be played. Finally, however, Indy goes down. Here are my Big 6 Takeaways from the two touchdown dub in Indianapolis.
Last week against the Jags, the third quarter was enormous for the Titans offense, with Derrick Henry busting out another one of “those” runs and the early miscues replaced with smooth, solid football. At the half against Indy, it was 10-7, then the Colts would add a touchdown to the mix to go up by ten, and then the Tennessee Titans said, “ENOUGH.”
24 unanswered points as Henry ran it well, with Tannehill throwing accurately again, but most notably, it was the defense taking the fight to the Colts. The Titans were the healthier football team, at least in terms of the most important contributors, and this was a game they both needed to and should have won over a battered Indianapolis team on the road. While it wasn’t always pretty and at times was flat out ugly, it improved each quarter and ended exactly as they wanted it to.
17 BY THE NUMBERS
And here we go again with Ryan Tannehill. He only throws five incompletions in the game, only attempting 22, but connects for two touchdowns and no interceptions. He hasn’t thrown a pick since November 3 in Carolina, which not coincidentally is the one game he’s lost since taking the starting job. Let’s look at these numbers, including 17-22 against Indy. Last week he was 14/18, against Kansas City he was 13/19, and even against the Panthers, he was 27/39. It does seem like the less attempts he has, the better it is for Tennessee, but not because he’s prone to mistakes.
When he’s only throwing in the 20-25 range, it means something else is happening at a successful clip…
HENRY KEEPS GOING OFF
And that’s the “something else.” Derrick Henry carried it 26 times for 149 yards and a touchdown at Lucas Oil Stadium. When he’s the focal point of the offense, it means the Titans are controlling the clock or staying ahead of the down and distance. He’s now over 1,000 yards on the season, eclipsing the mark for the second consecutive campaign, and his stats match up with any other back in the sport.
He benefited from good blocking on Sunday, and generally the Titans offensive line has done a good job in that area over this stretch of games, but unfortunately, that’s only half of their responsibility. The other half? Well…that’s a bit trickier.
PASS PRO IS PATHETIC
Ryan Tannehill may have had a faulty internal clock once on Sunday, but the OL’s inability to protect him in the first half was extremely frustrating to watch. Tennessee’s quarterback was dropped six times in the game, most in that first half, where it looked like the Titans couldn’t block a soul in a white jersey. Tannehill fumbled on another Colts pressure, courtesy of Darius Leonard, and that one was entirely on the failures in the trenches.
We know Tannehill isn’t going to run it unless he absolutely, positively has to. Last week, we saw him do so effectively, but here, he had no chance to pull it down and run, instead just having to absorb those sacks and live to fight another down. Against the Raiders, Saints, and Texans, that has flat out got to be better. If you can’t protect Tannehill, a defense is going to make Henry’s day much tougher, and too many of these wins have been close this season for this not to bite them at some point.
NOT SO SPECIAL TEAMS
This isn’t about the Titans, it’s about the Colts. Goodness…even though 53 and 55 are long kicks, Adam Vinatieri probably should have hung ’em up after that Week 2 game in Nashville. I also question Frank Reich though, for even attempting them in the first place. It wasn’t exactly no-man’s land in football parlance, and the Titans have been lethal as of late on short fields, often walking away with touchdowns.
The Titans, on the other hand, took full advantage of the third Vinatieri miss, but this one had nothing to do with him. You won’t see a cleaner, more blatant field goal block in your life than the one Dane Cruikshank pulled off in the fourth quarter of this game. It was a thing of beauty, where he got both hands on the ball while standing up in front of the holder, and Tye Smith did the rest. Smith had a whale of a game, but that play loomed more than just a little bit large.
Special teams often tells the story, just ask Nick Saban. On Sunday, that block, plus Vinatieri’s aged leg, might have been the difference.
HOUSTON, WE HAVE A PROBLEM
Texans and Titans meet twice in the final three weeks of the season, and stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but Week 17 might be for a trip to the postseason and an AFC South Championship. We saw it happen last year, and we may see it again this year. The Titans have evened their division record at 2-2, still a game behind the Texans, but Houston may have the same 7-5 record in a few hours after playing New England.
Either way, the Titans do in many ways hold their own destiny in their hands. They can beat the Raiders next week and effectively finish them out of the Wildcard spot, then if they were to go 2-0 against Houston, a tall order, they’d win the South and be postseason bound.
It’s all in front of them, which in Denver seemed like a near-impossibility. Tannehill’s emergence and the relentless usage of Henry in these last few weeks has changed everything, and now the Two Toned Blue has a lot to play for…everything as a matter of fact.