Earlier this season I compared this Titans team to a roller coaster after their week 4 win over the Falcons. I didn’t think this team could get more inconsistent than they showed the first four weeks of the season.
And that’s when I learned to never underestimate this team. They can always be MORE confusing.
Since Ryan Tannehill took over at quarterback, the roller coaster has been headed upwards for the most part. Other than a little bit of a stumble against a good Panthers’ team, the Titans have played well enough to get back into the AFC playoff picture. They currently have a 16 percent chance to make the playoffs according to FiveThirtyEight (No. 4 in the AFC South), but finish the season with four divisional games that could dramatically help their odds.
But we aren’t here to talk about the future. We’re here to reminisce on the first 10 games of the season and give out some awards. Some will be serious. Some will be my attempt at humor. All are very coveted, and I promise I won’t play the “get off the stage” music during your acceptance speech.
Unexpected Contributor Award: Ryan Tannehill
Honorable Mention: Jonnu Smith, Jeffrey Simmons
Coming into this season, I wouldn’t have said it was “unexpected” if Tannehill came into a few games in relief of an injured Marcus Mariota and played well and maybe even won a couple games. I can’t say I expected a healthy Mariota to get benched after five-and-a-half games and for the Tannehill-led offense to average 10 more points per game than the Mariota-led offense. But here we are, at the bye week, and that’s exactly what happened.
Tannehill hasn’t been unstoppable, but this team didn’t need a quarterback that was unstoppable. The Chiefs need Patrick Mahomes to put up 40 points per game because their defense is, much like the Pope, very holy. This Titans defense is top-10 in many key categories, so all they needed was an offense who didn’t actively lose games. And that’s what happened in at least three of the Titans’ losses under Mariota.
Tannehill has come in and given a sense of rhythm to the offense and is completing a career high 71.3 percent of his passes. The Titans have also become one of the best teams in the Red Zone, converting their Red Zone trips into touchdowns 72 percent of the time. If not for Tannehill’s contribution so far this season, Titans’ fans may already be looking forward to the 2020 NFL Draft instead of the final AFC Wild Card spot.
The Hugh Jackson Coaching Award for Most Head Scratching Coaching Decision of the Year: Allowing Cairo Santos to attempt another FG after missing three already in game against Bills
Honorable Mention: Fake FG in Bucs game, Going for 2pt conversion in Falcons game
Let me start this by saying I think Mike Vrabel is a good coach. I think he’s a great players’ coach and will always put his faith in players over analytics and numbers, to a fault at times. He’s shown the ability to scheme around his team’s weaknesses (see last year’s first game against Houston) and his hands-on approach seems to be popular among his players.
But he’s also made some decisions in-game this season that have left fans scratching their heads, and that was never more evident than in the 14-7 loss against the Bills in week 5.
Kicker Cairo Santos had already missed his first three field goal attempts on the day from 50 yards, 36 yards, and 33 yards. In the fourth quarter, the Titans get the ball back down seven points with 10 minutes left. Marcus Mariota leads a drive that stalls at the Bills 35 yard line with 6:35 left in the game. Instead of going for it on 4th-and-4, Vrabel decides to bring on Santos to try a 53-yard field goal to pull within four points. Santos then misses his fourth kick of the day and the Titans never get within scoring range again.
I’m not quite sure what sort of analytics chart he was looking at or who he was listening to when he sent out Santos to attempt the field goal, but it definitely led to some second-guessing and pointed questions in the post-game press conference.
The “I Always Knew You Were This Good” Award: Logan Ryan
Honorable Mention: Harold Landry, Derrick Henry
When the Titans signed Logan Ryan as a free agent before the 2017 season, he was brought in to be the playmaker he’d been in New England (13 INTs in four years). He’s been a solid nickel cornerback for the Titans in his first two seasons, but he’s reverted back to his difference maker days in New England this season for the Titans. Ryan leads the Titans in passes defensed (15), forced fumbles (3), is tied for the lead in interceptions (3), and is No. 2 on the team in tackles (74). Ryan has flashed in his third season with the Titans and I think we all knew deep down that this level of play was possible.
The “…Why?” Award: Taylor Lewan’s 2019 Season
Honorable Mention: Cairo Santos Missing 4 FGs, Jamil Douglas Getting Embarrassed by Calais Campbell
This award could also be called the “Facepalm” Award. It’s for a player who, at some point this season, made you put your head in your hands and simply ask yourself, “why?” Or, in the case of our winner, it may be the entire first half of the season.
It’s been a rough year so far for the fifth-year man out of Michigan. Since coming back from his four-game suspension, Lewan has seen more laundry thrown his way than a Motel 6 maid. Lewan leads the Titans in penalties with nine, even though he missed the first four games of the season. In both of the Titans last two games, Lewan has committed back-to-back penalties, completely killing both drives. He took ownership of his frustrating play after the Chiefs game, but that didn’t stop Titans’ fans from asking the simple question, “why Taylor?”