NASHVILLE – One of the biggest bye-week benefits for the Tennessee Titans will be time to heal. It is an open week the team hopes will help trim an injured reserve list that currently sits at 17.
The time off also will provide an opportunity for coaches and players to self-evaluate the first 12 weeks of their season in hopes of making improvements for the five-game stretch run that begins Dec. 12 against Jacksonville.
Among the many who must be better are quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who enters the bye week leading the NFL with 13 interceptions, the same number he threw in his first two Titans seasons combined. Tannehill has thrown 10 of those interceptions over the past seven weeks, and five over the past two weeks – four against Houston and one against New England.
“(The interceptions) really all have their own story,” Titans quarterbacks coach Pat O’Hara said. “Some of the stories are shorter than others. Some you know right away, and there’s an explanation of why certain ones happen.
“But at the end of the day, it’s our job to protect (the ball). We have to protect the ball. Ryan knows that, and he’s really done an excellent job of that in his time here. We’ve had some turnovers here in the interim. We’re certainly going to work on that. This is a great week to kind of self-scout what we’ve been doing, who we’ve been doing it with, strengths and weaknesses.”
There are plenty of legitimate reasons to help explain why Tannehill’s numbers so far in 2021 look far different than they did in his first two years here, when he threw for a combined 55 touchdowns and 13 interceptions and posted a quarterback rating of 117.5 in 2019 and 106.5 in 2020. This season, Tannehill has thrown 14 touchdowns to go with his 13 interceptions, and his quarterback rating of 84.7 ranks 23rd among quarterbacks who’ve played in at least eight games this season.
Among those reasons: the myriad of significant injures to Titans receivers, especially A.J. Brown and Julio Jones; the loss of running back Derrick Henry; the at-times shaky protection of the offensive line; and a higher percentage of dropped passes than in previous seasons.
But Titans coach Mike Vrabel said Monday that Tannehill has to take some of the blame – along with the rest of the offense.
“I think Ryan has to be better,” Vrabel said. “I think everybody has to be better around him. We have to be better (blocking) in the middle of the pocket, we have to be better on the edges, get open quicker, be decisive and then ball placements and decision making from the quarterback. That is what it is.
“We do need to be better throwing the football with whoever we are throwing it with. It starts with protection. It starts with getting open and then the quarterback having the trust to throw to the guys and just like that.”
How, O’Hara was asked Monday, can coaches help Tannehill turn this season’s numbers back in the direction of the last two years?
“That’s part of what this week is great for is to self-scout,” O’Hara said. “OK, `X’ is happening, and this is the outcome. So how can we help? And by recognizing skillsets and putting players in the best position possible to succeed.
“Again, we talk about the run game, and how it takes all 11. It takes all 11 in the passing game, too. So, we all collectively, as coaches and players, need to self-reflect, get back to work.”
Until recently, Tannehill had never graded out below 60.0 in back-to-back weeks during his Titans tenure, according to Pro Football Focus. But that’s changed, as Tannehill graded out below 60.0 in each of the past three weeks, per PFF -- 58.9 against the Saints, 44.4 against the Texans and 54.8 against the Patriots.
Henry wasn’t available for any of those contests. Nor was Jones. Brown played the entire game against the Saints but left the Houston contest early in the second half and missed Sunday’s game in New England.
Jones will be eligible to return when in the Titans’ next game, against Jacksonville, Brown will be eligible Dec. 23 against San Francisco and Henry is eligible to return at any point. There is no guarantee, of course, that players will be healthy enough to return to the lineup just because they’re eligible to do so – after sitting out a minimum of three games.
But the return of Tannehill’s weapons would certainly make it much easier to evaluate the veteran quarterback’s play in full context.
“We try not to foreshadow what will happen (when players return),” O’Hara said. “But having a healthy team to decide from who’s going to play and who’s not going to play … That can help anybody, and certainly we’re no different.”