How worried should Tennessee Titans be about Ryan Tannehill's regression? | Estes

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Whatever you choose to see in Ryan Tannehill’s game, you’re probably not wrong. The Tennessee Titans have an ink-blot quarterback if there ever was one.

Some would insist he’s criminally underrated. They’ll cite his 28-14 record as Titans’ starter as proof of how he's lifted his franchise since taking over for Marcus Mariota. They’d rate the Titans as better because of Tannehill, not the other way around.

Others would groan about this season’s declining production and rising interception rate as alarming for a 33-year-old quarterback who’s overly dependent on his run game, well into the back-nine of his playing career, and who had a spotty track record in Miami and looks increasingly unlikely to take his current franchise from perennial contender to champion. They’d rate Tannehill – much like the Titans themselves – as pretty good, but not Super Bowl good.

I still side with the glass-half-full people. Tannehill's win percentage in Tennessee is why, and even I had no other reason, that’d still be reason enough. We know the Titans are capable of winning with him, because they've won two-thirds of the time.

But that’s not why I called you here.

Conversely, I figure it’s time to explore the half-empty view and start to acknowledge and address a question that simply hasn’t come up much the past couple of years: How concerned should the Titans be about Tannehill?

Because they’re going to be stuck with him for the immediate future.

Tennessee Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill (17) calls a play to his team as the face the Patriots during the second quarter at Gillette Stadium Sunday, Nov. 28, 2021 in Foxborough, Mass.
Tennessee Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill (17) calls a play to his team as the face the Patriots during the second quarter at Gillette Stadium Sunday, Nov. 28, 2021 in Foxborough, Mass.

Like it or not, this isn’t a question of job security and won’t be anytime soon. The Titans already doubled down on Tannehill by restructuring his contract at a greater cost in the future. He’s not going anywhere, and there is no scenario other than serious injury in which Logan Woodside would ever start games ahead of him.

Thus the Titans – no matter what happens on the field – are sure to continue to fervently support Tannehill. Teammates and coaches will keep pointing to intangibles like offensive coordinator Todd Downing did a couple of weeks ago when I asked him about Tannehill.

“The shame of it is Ryan’s stats aren’t telling the story of Ryan’s season,” Downing said. “He is having a much better season than statistical rankings. He’s extremely tough, not just physically, but his mindset. He’s consistent. … When the guys step into the huddle and see his face, they know we’ve got a chance.”

Then he went out and threw four interceptions and the banged-up Titans lost at home to maybe the NFL’s worst team in the Houston Texans.

The grumbles grew, and you understood why.

Tannehill has 13 interceptions in 12 games. Joe Burrow (14), Lamar Jackson (13), Patrick Mahomes (12) and Justin Herbert (11) are similar, but that’s still too many INTs for Tannehill. He only threw 13 the previous two seasons combined. He also had the NFL’s best QB rating in 2019. This year, his rating is on pace to be his worst since 2013, his second NFL season.

I asked Mike Vrabel on Monday how best to evaluate Tannehill’s regression given the obvious challenges of the injuries on offense around him.

“The time for evaluation is not now,” Vrabel replied.

Fair enough. Long way to go. The Titans are exiting a bye week in a two-game slide and at a pivotal point in their once-promising season. In a crowded AFC, every game from here carries weight, and the Titans will need better play from their quarterback.

With Tannehill, hope for that is reasonable. He’s so many of the things the Titans claim. He is a good leader. He’s good in clutch moments. Teammates believe in him. He is a legitimate NFL starter who should be viewed in the top half of the NFL.

What we’re learning, however, is that he’s not – and this is not necessarily Tannehill’s fault – a transcendent talent capable of putting an entire team on his back and doing it alone. Like 99% of the quarterbacks who've played in the NFL, Tannehill needs help. And he's not had as much of it this season.

Pass protection has been an issue much of the season. But the Titans’ real problem has been a chronic and widespread inability to stay healthy. Nearly every important skill position player on offense other than Tannehill has missed multiple games. And even that might have been OK had one of those players not been Derrick Henry.

Without Henry, though, the Titans offense is still learning how to walk again – while progressively losing its top receivers, too. This offense is being pieced together with practice-squad players and desperation free-agent signings, and it lacks a reliable identity. Tannehill threw it 52 times against Houston … but only 21 times against New England. The Titans lost both games.

Tannehill is not the Titans’ problem.

He just isn’t proving good enough to be the solution.

Trouble is, he might have to be this season.

Whether a failure to do that represents his own shortcomings or those of the bruised team around him, that’ll be in the eye of the beholder.

Reach Gentry Estes at gestes@tennessean.com and on Twitter @Gentry_Estes.

This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: How worried should Tennessee Titans be about Ryan Tannehill's regression?