Titans vs Chargers: Week 7 Primer

Well, it happened. Marcus Mariota is no longer the starting quarterback of the Tennessee Titans. At least for now.

After being shut out by the Denver Broncos for two and a half quarters on Sunday, head coach Mike Vrabel made the call to pull the fifth-year quarterback for Ryan Tannehill, who will start this Sunday against the Chargers.

Mariota finished Sunday’s game in Denver with 7/18 passing for 63 yards, 0 TDs, 2 INTs, and was sacked three times. Not great. And what’s worse, the offense looked uninterested. When asked why he ultimately made the move to Tannehill, Vrabel said his offense needed a spark, something they haven’t had often this season. Of course, the Titans’ struggles don’t all fall on the shoulders of Mariota. The offensive line play has been bad, receivers aren’t separating consistently, and the run game hasn’t lived up to the hype. But unfortunately, when the offense is struggling, the quarterback is typically the sacrificial lamb. Will Ryan Tannehill completely turn around this offense and lead the Titans back into the playoff picture? Doubtful. But through six games, it was clear this offense needed some sort of change. It just so happens that change begins at quarterback.

With Mariota’s contract expiring after this season, there’s a chance Sunday was the last time he suits up as the Titans’ starting quarterback. Now, I’ve never really been the fiercest Mariota supporter, but I’m not going to act like he wasn’t responsible for a majority of the memorable Titans’ moments over the last five seasons. From his four-touchdown debut, to stiff-arming the Jaguars’ Barry Church to vault the Titans into the playoffs in 2017, to his touchdown pass to himself against the Chiefs in the 2017 playoff win.

I agree with Vrabel and I think it was time for a change. But I don’t blame the portion of Titans’ fans passionately defending Mariota this week. We could absolutely see Mariota under center again this season, and with Tannehill’s injury history, it might even be likely, but Sunday did feel like the turning of a page for this franchise.

Or I could be dead wrong, and Maritoa could get his job back and lead the Titans to three Super Bowls over the next 10 years. Because football is crazy.

Game Info:

Los Angeles Chargers @ Tennessee Titans (-2.5)

Game Time: 3:05 CDT

Location: Nashville, Tennessee (Nissan Stadium)

TV: CBS

TV Broadcast Crew: Ian Eagle, Dan Fouts, Evan Washburn

Radio: Titans Radio, 104-5 The Zone

Radio Broadcast Crew: Mike Keith, Dave McGinnis, Amie Wells, Jonathan Hutton, Rhett Bryan

Over/ Under: 41

Stat Corner with Matt:

QB

Comp. %

Career TD High

Career INT High

Yards/Att

Yards/Gm

QB Rating

Sack %

Mariota

62.9

26 (2016)

15 (2017)

7.5

212.6

89.6

8.1

Tannehill

62.9

27 (2014)

17 (2013)

7.0

228.6

87.0

7.9

*career stats

This week in Stat Corner, I wanted to see how Tannehill’s numbers stacked up against Mariota’s. After watching the 2018 season slip away in Week 17 behind a Blaine Gabbert-led Titans team, the front office knew they needed to sign a viable backup for their often-injured starting quarterback. Tannehill fit that bill.

Tannehill spent seven years in Miami, where he went 42-46 under the leadership of three different head coaches and five offensive coordinators. Not exactly an ideal situation for the 8th overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. But Tannehill still put up decent numbers despite the inconsistencies within the coaching staff, up until he tore his ACL in August of 2017, causing him to miss the entire season. He returned to the Dolphins last season, throwing for 17 TDs and 11 INTs in 11 games.

One of the main reasons the Titans’ brought in Tannehill was his similarities to Mariota, mainly their mobility. Tannehill ran a 4.58s 40-yard dash at his pro day, compared to Mariota’s 4.52s. Unfortunately, the similarities extend to both quarterback’s weaknesses. One of the main knocks against Mariota, especially this year, is holding on to the ball too long and taking unnecessary sacks. Per Pro Football Focus, Mariota led the NFL in 2018 in percentage of pressured drop backs becoming sacks at 29.8 percent. Basically, whenever Mariota was pressured, he took a sack close to 30 percent of the time. Tannehill wasn’t too far behind, finishing No. 2 on that list at 29.2 percent. This season, that number has jumped up for Mariota, taking a sack 35.2 percent of his pressured drop backs. That number trails only the Jets’ Luke Falk.

With the Titans’ defense playing like it is, it won’t take much offensively for this team to start winning games. Vrabel is hoping Tannehill is just enough of an improvement over Mariota to help this team climb back into the AFC Playoff picture. Based on the numbers, it’s going to be a close call.

3 Things to Watch For:

-Titans Pass Rush: Last week was supposed to be a big week for the Titans’ pass rush. They were facing an offensive line that was beat up and a quarterback that doesn’t move well. And they ended up with one sack. Against a line that just gave up eight sacks against the Chiefs on Thursday night. The Titans’ pass rush will now face an offensive line that is missing their left tackle and their Pro Bowl center. We need to see interior pressure from Tennessee this week, which leads me to my next thing to watch.

-Jeffery Simmons: After suffering a torn ACL in February, the Titans’ first-round draft pick Jeffery Simmons has been activated for Sunday’s game. Many people thought when the Titans’ drafted Simmons with the No. 19 overall pick in this year’s draft, it was a pick they wouldn’t see on the field until 2020. But here we are, 8 months later and it seems like Simmons will see some snaps on Sunday. Simmons was one of the most physically gifted prospects in this year’s, but fell to the Titans due to the injury. Over his final two years at Mississippi State, Simmons had 30 tackles for loss and seven sacks from his defensive tackle position. Playing next to Jurrell Casey in this Titans’ defense should be beneficial for both players, so look for more production from the interior defensive line that we haven’t really seen thus far.

-More Three-and-Outs, please: This one is more of a plea to the defense to keep playing well. The best friend to a quarterback making his first start of the season is a defense who keeps giving him the ball back quickly. The Titans are ranked third in the NFL in 3 & Out percentage (28 percent), behind only the Bills (36.7 percent) and the 49ers (28.8 percent).

Prediction: TEN 20 LAC 17

In no way am I expecting the offense to look fluid in Ryan Tannehill’s first start. But on paper, the Titans have better roster talent on offense than Tannehill ever had in Miami. I expect Vrabel and Arthur Smith to try and get the ball out of Tannehill’s hands quickly to protect him and get him in a rhythm, and then rely on the run game and play-action game in the second half. The Titans’ defense should be fine against a depleted Chargers offense and a makeshift offensive line.

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