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NASHVILLE – In describing the ideal make-up of a good red-zone target, Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator Todd Downing earlier this year mentioned the importance of physical and mental skills.

It helps to be over six feet tall and have a broad-shouldered, long-armed frame. But those traits alone won’t guarantee success.

A good red-zone target has to have plenty of on-field smarts as well. He must know how to use rubs to get open, for instance, and understand that spacing near the goal line is different because of the lack of vertical distance.

“Guys that understand that have an innate ability or a feeling, a sense of timing of when to get open for the quarterback,” Downing said. “Those guys that have that (understanding) seem to excel and get a lot of red-zone targets.”

If Downing needs a video clip to accompany those kinds of descriptions, he might consider A.J. Brown’s 18-yard touchdown reception from Ryan Tannehill in the fourth quarter of the Titans’ win over San Francisco last week.

The 6-foot-1, 226-pound Brown sped the line of scrimmage and effectively increased his separation with back-pedaling cornerback Josh Norman. The real key came at the goal line, when Brown feinted left and cut right. In so doing, the third-year wide receiver positioned himself between Norman and the football, while also making sure 49ers safety Jaquiski Tartt didn’t have enough time to come help.

The other notable element of the play, of course, was Ryan Tannehill’s perfectly timed throw, which arrived just as Brown turned to look for the football.

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“A.J. is a heck of a player,” Tannehill said. “I have so much fun throwing the ball to him. He finds a way to get open. He is big, he is physical, he’s good with the ball in his hands and he makes plays on the ball. He is everything you look for in a wide receiver and I have a ton of confidence throwing him the football.”

The red-zone connection between those two players has been something Titans fans have become accustomed to ever since Tannehill took over as the team’s starter in Week 7 of Brown’s rookie season.

Brown has caught 13 red-zone touchdown passes from Tannehill during that stretch. His total is more than Jonnu Smith (10), MyCole Pruitt (five), Corey Davis (five), Geoff Swaim (three), Nick Westbrook-Ikhine (three), Tajae Sharpe (three) or any other pass-catcher Tannehill’s thrown to with the Titans.

More red-zone connections between Tannehill and Brown for the remainder of this season, however, would be a welcome relief for Titans fans.

In part because Brown has played in only 11 of the Titans’ 15 games in 2021, he and Tannehill haven’t displayed the usual inside-the-20 yard line synergy they enjoyed in previous seasons.

A year ago, for instance, Brown caught nine of Tannehill’s 12 passes to him in the red zone and scored seven touchdowns in the process. But Brown’s red-zone touchdown against San Francisco was just his second of the year – the first since the Titans’ season opener against Arizona. He has been targeted 10 times by Tannehill in the red zone this season but has caught only four passes.

The dip in red-zone connections between the two is one reason – along with Derrick Henry’s absence – that the Titans’ overall red-zone offense hasn’t been as successful as it was the past two years. Heading into Sunday’s games, the Titans were 12th in the league in red-zone success at 61.1 percent – pretty good, but not as impressive as last season’s 77.4 percent (first in the league) success rate or the 74.7 percent (second in the league) of 2020.

Now that Brown has returned, though, and is apparently at the top of his game, it’s fair to expect the red-zone results – for both the wide receiver and the team overall – to look a little more rosy.

“We do have that good connection,” Brown said. “We missed some throws (against the 49ers), that’s just because I have been out. But we do have a good connection. I am excited to fill the void for (Tannehill), and take a load off him.”