Colts prep for different Titans’ threat with Ryan Tannehill at QB

CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA - NOVEMBER 03: Ryan Tannehill #17 of the Tennessee Titans throws the ball in the second quarter during their game against the Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium on November 03, 2019 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – The switch was made when it absolutely had to be made, and the Tennessee Titans haven’t been the same since.

See ya, Marcus Mariota.

Welcome, Ryan Tannehill.

You’re up next, Matt Eberflus.

If the Indianapolis Colts are going to resuscitate their playoff push – they’ve dropped three of four after a 5-2 start – and maintain their mastery of the Titans with another seasonal sweep Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium, Eberflus’ defense will have to deal with a much more efficient and productive offense than they faced in week 2 in Nashville.

No longer are the Titans following the lead of Mariota, their erstwhile franchise quarterback who’s probably headed for a relocation in the offseason. The tipping point: a 16-0 loss at Denver in week 6 during which Mariota suffered two interceptions and posted a 9.5 passer rating before being yanked for Tannehill.

“I believe whenever you have a change at quarterback – a guy that can push the ball down the field, make things happen and create the way that he has done over the last five games – it certainly creates a different offense and a different way to move the ball down the field,’’ Eberflus said. “Hats off to them. They’ve done a good job with him.’’

Statistics can be massaged to support any narrative, but there’s no question the Titans have been a more potent offense with Tannehill under center. They’re 4-1 since the QB switch, and the increased production has been dramatic:

  • 29.4 points per game in Tannehill’s five starts — 16.3 in Mariota’s six
  • 384.4 yards per game and 6.8 yards per play with Tannehill — 290.3 yards per game and 4.8 yards per play with Mariota
  • 256.2 passing yards per game and 9.3 per attempt with Tannehill — 187.7 per game and 7.4 per attempt with Mariota
  • Tannehill is completing 72.1 percent of his passes and has a 111.4 rating, which ranks fourth in the league; Mariota completed 59.1 percent of his passes and had a 91.7 rating before being benched.

“I believe they are in the top five in pretty much every category – red zone TDs, passer rating, completion percentage,’’ Eberflus. “They’re in the top-5 since he’s taken over. He’s done an outstanding job, and their coaches have done a great job working with him in terms of what he does well.

“It’s going to be a great challenge for our defense.’’

Tannehill was a spectator in week 2 when the Colts ventured into Nissan Stadium and exited with a 19-17 victory. Mariota’s end was just beginning as he passed for 154 yards and his offense managed a modest 242 yards.

Indy’s win was its third straight against Tennessee, 14th in the last 17 meetings and 27th in the last 33 in the series since 2003.

But again, the Titans haven’t been the same Titans under Tannehill’s direction.

What’s been Tannehill’s role in the team’s late surge?

“Just operating, playing quarterback, having a good understanding of what we are trying to get done with a play and where we want to try and go with it,’’ Titans coach Mike Vrabel said. “A way of being decisive I think is the biggest thing, and I think guys around him have helped out, too.’’

Tannehill’s impact has been twofold: making plays with his right arm and his legs. He has 22 completions that have gained at least 20 yards and rushed 26 times for 123 yards and three TDs.

And here’s a stat that’s downright ridiculous: Tannehill has three rushes for at least 20 yards; Dallas’ Ezekiel Elliott has one.

“He was a receiver back at Texas A&M,’’ Eberflus noted. “He has really good athletic ability, good vision and is able to tuck it and go.’’

Tannehill’s mobility complements the very real threat of Derrick Henry.

“He’s a downhill runner and has a great ability to capture the edge,’’ Eberflus said. “He also has the ability to cut back. He’s hard to get down, and he creates a challenge.’’

Henry is 6-3, 247 pounds and possesses breakaway speed. Since 2017, he leads the NFL with seven touchdowns of at least 65 yards (five rushing, two receiving). He got loose for a 75-yard receiving TD in this season’s opener at Cleveland, broke off a 68-yard TD run against Kansas City two weeks ago and followed that up with a 74-yarder against Jacksonville.

Henry needs 9 yards to post his second straight 1,000-yard season. He gashed the Chiefs for 188 yards and the Jaguars for 159. He’s never rushed for at least 100 yards in three straight games and faces a Colts’ defense that hasn’t allowed a 100-yard rusher in 29 consecutive games, the NFL’s second-longest active streak.

“With Derrick Henry, you want to make sure you get his feet stopped early because once he gets going . . . he’s a big guy, he’s a fast guy, so you don’t want that train to get going,’’ said linebacker Darius Leonard. “It’s definitely going to be 11-on-1, so we definitely have to make him stop his feet early and gang-tackle him.’’

You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51

And be sure to catch the Colts Blue Zone Podcast:

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