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The Titans are at an Inflection Point

Updated: Oct 23, 2023

Last week's loss to the Ravens was more than just a blemish on the Titans' worsening record.

Ryan Tannehill suffered an ankle injury which eerily resembles the one which kept him out of 5 games in 2022 and forced him to injured reserve for the final 2 weeks of the season.

Exactly 4 years after Ryan Tannehill became the Titans starting Quarterback, his future in Tennessee is now very much in the balance.

Already trending in the wrong direction since 2021, this could signal a new area in Tennessee for better or worse.

The Titans concern regarding Tannehill has been no secret. Since 2021's playoff loss to Cincinnati in which Tanehill threw 3 interceptions and ended the Titans playoff hopes, Tennessee has used 2nd and 3rd round picks on Quarterbacks.

Now, with Tannehill's ankle in question, it could open an opportunity.

While trust in Tannehill has seemed to waiver as of late, so has confidence in Malik Willis. The 2nd year QB has made 8 appearances in Tannehill's absence over the last two seasons.

In his 3 starts last season, the team trusted him to attempt just 49 passes.

While Mike Vrabel admitted Willis made a noticeable jump from 2022 to 2023, things remain uncertain.

In his snaps against Baltimore, he initially did well to evade pressure and make quick reads but ultimately held onto the ball for far too long.

With his 4 sacks on Sunday, he has now been sacked on 17.5% of career dropbacks, the second highest rate among Quarterbacks with at least 50 pass attempts over the last 30 seasons.

If Vrabel truly trusted Willis, the change at QB would not have required a Tannehill injury.

Likewise, Vrabel opted for Tannehill to play most of a quarter on an immobilizing ankle injury rather then move to Willis.

Dating back to draft night in 2022, when Jon Robinson selected Willis in the 3rd round, Willis has not been someone Vrabel is very high on.

Josh Dobbs is a prime example of Vrabel's distrust in Willis. Just 8 days after Tennessee signed him, Dobbs started a Week 17 Thursday night game against Dallas and then a win-and-in game against the Jaguars a week later.

While an extended absence from Tannehill would be a major concern, it has not been all bad for Malik Willis. In the preaseason, he showed off his mobility and averaged an improved 161 passing yards per game.

Coming out of college, it was obvious that Willis would require time to adjust from FBS football to the NFL.

While he has not done well in his initial NFL tests, he has started too few games to make a concrete determination on his future.

Vrabel said that this was an open QB competition heading into the BYE week between Willis and rookie Will Levis. Given there are few stats to back up either Quarterback at this point in their career, it will be a very subjective process and one that will be determined in large part from the quality of practice reps.

Levis is a complete unknown which excites some fans. His experience with high-level football in the SEC as well as his strong stature and confidence could make for some interesting outcomes.

He resembles Tannehill in many ways with his underrated speed and toughness. His ball security, which was already in an issue in college, though, is likely to be a noticeable problem during his first NFL games.

If Tennessee does opt to go with Willis, all it will take is one slip up to move onto to Levis. While Levis is likely just as unprepared for NFL football as Willis, he is a Vrabel guy.

While Willis deserves some more time, I would not mind seeing Levis at some point should Tannehill miss extended time. He obviously has some skills that translate to the NFL and an impressive arm.

The Week 6, 2019 move from Marcus Mariota to Ryan Tannehill included similar issues to the current transition. The offensive line was off to a horrendous start to the season and the playcalling was poor. Despite this, the very choice to change Quarterbacks led to huge improvements and ripples throughout the team.

Regardless of the route Tennessee takes, it is farfetched to suggest the Titans will be a better team in the short term without Tannehill. The countless fans that called for his benching fail to consider the various reasons the team is struggling.

The complete lack of complimentary football has made for a poorly balanced offense, inconsistent run game, and unexpectedly porous defense. While it would be very excitng to see a potential QB of the future step up, it is likely to be a volatile viewing experience.

Despite various issues, the Titans should still be a .500 football team. If it were not for some lapses against New Orleans or a couple big mistakes in London, things could feel a lot different.

The Athletic's Dianna Russini suggested that the Titans are likely to be sellers ahead of the upcoming October 31st NFL trade deadline.

Reports that the Titans are looking to trade players like Derrick Henry or DeAndre Hopkins are likely false, however.

While the era of Titans football that saw them as the AFC #1 seed and Derrick Henry in MVP conversations may be waning, Mike Vrabel will ensure the door is never fully shut.

Rather than continuing to play the same way despite changing personnell, great teams can stay nimble and adjust. If the Titans are able to work toward Malik Willis or Will Levis' skillsets and regain their hard-nosed playstyle, things could improve.

The Titans upcoming schedule is a prime opportunity to get back on track, too, playing the Falcons, Steelers, Buccaneers, Jaguars, Panther, and Colts.

The Titans can win and step up when you least expect it. While Tannehill has been central to the Titans offense for years, DeAndre Hopkins and Derrick Henry can help in a smooth transition for whichever young QB the Titans opt for.

While there are a few directions this could go, including Ryan Tannehill playing through injury, this is an inflection point for the Titans offense.

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