Tennessee Titans 2021 Team Study

Part 18 of my 32-part series breaking down every team’s performance in 2021. Check out part 17 here: Indianapolis Colts. Part 19 now available: Jacksonville Jaguars.

Offense

Eff. Rating Adj. Rating Rank
5.04 +0.07 14th


Offensive Eff. Rating (blue) v. opponent average allowed (grey).

Pass EPA Rush EPA Adj. Pass Rate
14th 13th 32nd


The Titans offense overcame several significant injuries in 2021. They once again concentrated their offense around Derrick Henry, with the league’s highest adjusted run rate and sets that frequently involved just 1 or 2 wide receivers. A.J. Brown is a stud, and their offense typically featured three focal points. They were hoping Julio Jones could replace Corey Davis as the third, but age and injury caught up with Julio. It often came down to just Henry and Brown.

Unfortunately, both suffered injuries as well. It was a messy season, with a well-coached team trying to overcome injuries that went to the core of what they want to do: run the ball, wear you out, force at least 8 men in the box, and capitalize on play-action with explosive plays to stud receivers. When defenses saw D’Onta Foreman lining up behind Tannehill, they didn’t need to overcommit to stop the run. And with the cornerbacks on the outside facing off against Chester Rogers and Nick Westbrook-Ikhine, they lacked the big-play ability to capitalize anyway. This disrupted their offense.

But looking only at the games in which everyone was healthy, this offense still worked to the tune of a +0.31 Adj. Eff. Rating, which would put them comfortably in the top 10 and a slight nudge ahead of where they were in 2020. They opened the year 6-1 when healthy (outside of a loss to the Jets in which both Brown and Julio were unavailable), racking up impressive wins against the Bills, Chiefs, and Colts twice. Despite lower rushing efficiency in the wake of Arthur Smith's departure, the offense looked just fine early on.

Some will highlight Henry’s drop-off to 4.3 yards per carry (from 5.4 in 2020) even before he got hurt and his underwhelming performance in the playoffs. But despite the lower yards per carry, his role within the offense facilitated overall success. He racked up a ton of carries that occupied the defense and helped take the pressure off an explosive passing game that led to big wins against the Bills and Chiefs. Playing into single coverage off play action, Tannehill delivered the 5th-best on-target percentage in the NFL. It was a tried and true formula, and Henry’s lower efficiency did not kill the offense as a whole when everyone was healthy. He's not a particularly versatile player, which caps the team's offensive upside. But the strength was there because he did what he did extremely well.

Henry is still the engine that drives this offense. This raises the concerning question about how long a running back can take the kind of workload Henry has had and still be effective. The injury in 2021 felt inevitable for anyone looking at the numbers. And running backs famously start to decline once they reach around 1,500 rushing attempts in their career. Henry is there and coming off injury. Granted, he is built different. We saw Adrian Peterson dominate after an ACL tear, so it can happen. But the harsh reality for this offense is that running backs rarely continue to dominate with the kind of workload Henry has had, especially coming off an injury.

If he has lost a step, this offense will suffer. Tannehill is far less effective when he has to create the yards and when defenses are playing back into coverage. We saw this in the latter part of the year, when the Titans offense struggled down the stretch without Henry. Yes, Foreman matched Henry’s production in terms of yards per carry, but he did this because the defenses played the Titans softer up front. The overall offensive result was mediocre for the Titans.

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