Ravens not underestimating efficiency of Ryan Tannehill

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Andrew Gillis
·4 min read
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Ravens not underestimating efficiency of Ryan Tannehill originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

Former Ravens safety Earl Thomas said last year that, were the Titans to try and pass on the Ravens in their Divisional Round playoff game in Baltimore, he didn’t think it would go very well for Tennessee.

In a way, he was right.

Quarterback Ryan Tannehill completed just seven of 14 passes for 88 yards with two touchdowns and wasn't much of a factor all night. The problem for the Ravens, and Thomas, was that they couldn’t slow down Derrick Henry as he rushed for 195 yards in a 28-12 win over the Ravens. But that was last year. 

This year, with Henry stealing most of the attention from opposing defenses, Tannehill has taken another step forward as the Titans’ offense has become one of the most potent in the league. Their play-action pass is a deadly threat combined with Henry’s rushes, and that’s allowed the passing attack to thrive. 

Simply put, Tannehill won’t complete just seven passes for 88 yards on Sunday against the Ravens.

“I think that their passing game marries well with their run game, and play-action, analytically, is the best way to go in our league,” Ravens defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale said. “Play-action passes are where you get most of those chunk plays. The biggest thing is, I’ve been talking about it all week with our guys, is just go play the next play. Play the next play. The most important play is that play. They’re going to make plays – you know that going into it.”

This year, Tannehill has had the most efficient season of his eight-year NFL career. 

He’s thrown for 3,819 yards and completed 65.5 percent of his passes. He’s also thrown for 33 touchdowns and just seven interceptions — which marks the lowest interception percentage of his career and the most touchdowns of his career.

According to Ben Baldwin of The Athletic, Tannehill was second in the league this year in terms of Expected Points Added/play (0.33), which measures the raw efficiency of plays a quarterback was involved in. By that metric, Tannehill’s dropbacks were massively more effective for the Titans than Henry carries were. 

Tannehill’s EPA/play was just off the pace of Aaron Rodgers (0.37) and better than Patrick Mahomes (0.32) and Josh Allen (0.28). 

Tannehill did that with one of the worst pass blocking offensive lines in the sport and a defense that didn’t put them in many opportune positions throughout the season. 

Still, the mere threat of Henry is enough to make their play-action attack difficult to decipher for opposing defenses. Specifically, it’s tough to dial up pressure on Tannehill throughout the game.

“I think that it’s real difficult on first and second down,” Martindale said. “You need to be disciplined when you’re rushing the passer, and you need to be violent when you’re rushing the passer. There are going to be times that if he does get out, that you have to staple people to the ground if they do catch it, and you have to plaster him while he’s scrambling. That’s a tough task, but there are going to be those plays that the effort by us to get him down is going to be paramount in this game.”

The Ravens have boosted their defensive line over the offseason, partly with the hopes of slowing down Henry and teams like the Titans, but one of the underrated matchups heading into Sunday is the Ravens cornerbacks against the physical Titans pass-catchers. 

A.J. Brown and Corey Davis tallied 1,075 and 984 yards this season, both in 14 games. Those two make up the majority of the Titans’ passing attack, one that certainly isn’t devoid of playmakers. 

Even with the Titans’ 5-0 start and 6-5 end to the regular season, the offense wasn’t the problem. In those final 11 games, they averaged 29.7 points per game — down from their fourth-ranked 30.7 points spread out over 16 games. 

The play-action pass, at least from a statistical standpoint, is one of the most efficient plays in an offensive coordinator’s arsenal. Tannehill and the Titans have mastered that this season. 

So while the focus is easily drawn to Henry and his massive 247-pound frame, it’s Tannehill that’s quietly been one of the best quarterbacks in the sport in the 2020 season.

“Ultimately, it starts with Derrick Henry,” cornerback Marcus Peters said. “With a back like him, what he’s been doing over these past years is amazing, man. He’s rushed for 2,000 yards, and only a few backs have done that in the league. So, you put him up there and it stands by itself, and then you just add on to everything else that they do with the dynamic plays they have with the receivers. We just have to just do our part and we’ll be alright.”