Why the Tennessee Titans believe Ryan Tannehill is their answer to improved quarterback play

Ben Arthur
Nashville Tennessean
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INDIANAPOLIS – The Tennessee Titans know their quarterback play needs to improve. They’re also committed to Ryan Tannehill for 2022. Unlike many team observers, the Titans believe they can have both. 

How, you say? 

By being great around Tannehill. 

In doubling down on their backing of him at the NFL Scouting Combine, Titans coach Mike Vrabel and general manager Jon Robinson explained Wednesday that moving past the turnover issues of 2021 will take an emphasis on everything that played into Tannehill’s interceptions – from the receivers to the pass protection and the coaching. 

Tannehill threw 14 picks last season, one more than in 2019 and 2020 combined. But he was also sacked 47 times, just seven fewer than in the previous two years combined. Tennessee’s two best receivers, A.J. Brown and Julio Jones, missed four and seven games, respectively. The Titans didn't have a 1,000-yard receiver in 2021. Star running back Derrick Henry also missed nine games. The Titans also lacked a true No. 1 tight end all year. 

“I think what that entails is that everybody has an expectation,” Vrabel said of being stronger around Tannehill. “There’s an expectation for the linemen to protect inside out, not get beat inside. Making sure that we’re firm in the middle of the pocket and that we run the edge rushers by. Every offensive lineman, we try to teach them their responsibility for ball security. And when we’re running routes, (making sure) they’re running the right routes. And when we catch the ball, we catch it with the technique in which we teach it, which is out in front of our body with our hands.

“Yeah, we threw (14) interceptions. But there was a quarterback mistake, there was a protection mistake, we bounced (balls) off our shoulder pads. That all goes into offensive football. That has to be better. It starts with me, it starts with our coaching staff and also it falls on our players to understand why things happen.”

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None of this means that Tannehill doesn’t need to play better.

“Any quarterback has to be able to have a relationship with guys and get us in the right play and be decisive with the football," Vrabel said. "Stand in the pocket, deliver it under duress, be accurate, make decisions. Those are always things that we’ll ask of Ryan or whoever is back there.”

But Tennessee has seen him play at a high level. 

Tennessee Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill (17) passes the ball during the second quarter of an AFC divisional playoff game at Nissan Stadium Saturday, Jan. 22, 2022 in Nashville, Tenn.

In 2019, when he was named to his first Pro Bowl and won Comeback Player of the Year, he led the league in passer rating and yards gained per pass play. In 2020, he set a single-season franchise record with 40 total touchdowns (33 passing, seven rushing). 

“I think we’ve seen that in years past and we’ve got to get back to that,” Robinson said. “And we saw it some last year, some plays that he made. He made a couple throws and was able to get out of trouble. The run he made in the San Francisco game to get us down there and in position to win that football game, those are plays that get lost (with a bad turnover).

“Once you get into the one-game season, you can’t have those slipups. Or you’ve got to play at a higher level if you have a slipup to overcome where you messed up earlier.”

While he didn't commit to drafting a quarterback in April, Robinson said it's time to start considering an eventual successor to the 34-year-old Tannehill. 

For now, though, the Titans believe Tannehill is their guy – even if some fans don't agree. 

“Ryan has won too many games for us, been a part of too many huge victories for us, done too much for us, to (view that he’s not our guy),” Vrabel said. “We have to be better. That’s unacceptable. Ryan knows that. He’ll tell you that. You can’t make some of those mistakes. 

“But he’s also not the only person out there making mistakes. It will never be about one person because we know how critical the quarterback is to the success of the team.” 

Ben Arthur covers the Tennessee Titans for The USA TODAY Network. Contact him at barthur@gannett.com and follow him on Twitter at @benyarthur.

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