NFL Films/ESPN legend — and one of the best talent evaluators in the business — Greg Cosell has gone through a metric ton of 2020 tape to provide insights on some interesting players headed into the 2021 NFL season. Here, he brings you his raw notes and observations from those tape sessions.
It’s a chance to get inside the mind of one of the greats of the industry.
Today, let’s take a look at Ryan Tannehill as he heads into his third season with the Titans with a new play-caller (Todd Downing) and a new star wide receiver (Julio Jones).
RYAN TANNEHILL – FIRST- AND SECOND-DOWN EXPLOSIVE PLAYS
Tannehill had his best statistics on second down with a 69.4 completion percentage, 9.7 YPA, 13 TDs, and only one interception. He also had his most attempts, completions, and yards on second down.
A staple of the Titans’ play action passing game was outside-zone run action out of I-formation. They also featured iso lead with fullback Khari Blasingame.
The Titans did an excellent job with misdirection and counter route concepts off of outside-zone play action, which had the look of boot. That look dictated boot rules by second- and third-level defenders and opened voids in zone coverage.
They also featured bang play action off of both zone and power run action with Tannehill taking three-step and quick five-step drops and throwing slant, glance, and run-to-daylight routes.
The Titans’ first-down passing game featured 12, 21, 22, and 13 personnel and multiple formation looks. They used conventional run/play action and shotgun spread featuring 2x2, 3x1, and empty formations.
The Titans showed both closed to the field/twins to the boundary and closed to the boundary/twins to the field formations. They ran different two-man route concepts to the twins side.
A.J. Brown almost always ran the slant and glance routes off off bang play action, and the other wide receiver ran multiple routes that worked off five-step drop timing to give Tannehill a clean progression read.
Brown was predominantly the boundary X on the back side of trips in 11 personnel, 3x1 sets. Will that still be the case with Julio Jones added or will Julio get significant snaps at boundary X with Brown aligned at #2 and #3 to trips (Brown was predominantly a slot receiver at Ole Miss)?
The Titans featured the post-cross combination out of 12 personnel with outside-zone play action. It’s a good two-man route concept against both Cover 3 and Cover 4.
The Titans featured multiple play action concepts with Tannehill under center in base personnel and 11 personnel. There were six- and seven-man pass protection concepts out of base personnel and six-man protection concepts out of 11 personnel.
The Titans produced explosive plays out of base personnel (predominantly 12) with maximum pass protection and two-man route concepts. The Titans lined up in 12 personnel on 33% of their offensive snaps, which was the highest percentage in the AFC and the second-highest percentage in the NFL behind the Eagles.
What consistently stood with the Titans’ play action pass game was the impact run action had on second-level defenders, and Derrick Henry didn’t have to be on the field. Second-level defenders attacked the run action hard and they were more often than not late to their underneath zone coverage responsibilities.
Tannehill was consistently efficient and quick with his elimination and isolation within the context of the Titans’ passing game. He read coverage and threw to the right receiver at the right time with the right kind of throw.
You can see watching Tannehill that he was well coached in the pass game concepts and the progression reads. He eliminated and isolated at a consistently high level.
Anthony Firkser has the speed to work the vertical seams and he produced some big plays on seam routes versus Cover 2.
You can put a lot of pressure on base personnel defenses if you have a back and TE who can detach from the formation in 12 and 21 personnel groupings. Will Darryton Evans be a factor for the Titans based on that?
RYAN TANNEHILL – ALL THIRD-DOWN AND 6+ PLAYS
What stood out immediately was the use of 3x1 sets out of 11 personnel and the effective three-man route concepts to the field, which defined throws for Tannehill.
The Titans featured 1x3 sets out of 11 personnel with Anthony Firkser as the boundary X receiver on the backside of trips. Firkser had multiple splits as the boundary X.
The Titans had significant snaps of 12 personnel on third-and-long with Firkser and Jonnu Smith on the field. Both TEs have intermediate and vertical seam route-running traits.
The Titans predominantly used 3x1 and 1x3 sets out of 11 personnel on third-and-long. In 3x1 sets, A.J. Brown was the boundary X while in 1x3 sets Brown aligned at all 3 receiver locations to the trips side.
The Titans consistently used TE chips in both 3x1 and 2x2 sets to help LTs Ty Sambrailo and David Quessenberry once Taylor Lewan went out early in the season. That limited route concepts and combinations to that side of the field. There were also significant snaps in which TE and backs were used to chip to help RT Dennis Kelly.
The tackle position was clearly a concern for the coaching staff without Lewan. You feel comfortable helping one tackle at times but when you help both tackles on third-and-long that presents some meaningful limitations to route concepts and combinations.
Defenses with sub fronts and pressure looks and concepts out of man coverage forced backs to stay in and pass protect and then green dogged to add in another pressure component. The Titans saw that quite a bit and at times struggled with it.
One thing that stood out was Tannehill was tough in the pocket. He delivered some outstanding throws knowing he was going to take a shot. Tannehill did not fall away from those throws maintaining his balance with a strong base.
The Titans ran a lot of sit routes and curl routes to the trips side in 3x1 and 1x3 sets. Those were individual routes that did not put zone defenders in conflict.
The Titans saw a lot of pressure concepts and man coverage on third-and-long in 2020 and were not particularly effective executing versus either.
A big question for the Titans in 2021 is who will be the 3rd down back? Jeremy McNichols played significant snaps in that role in 2020 and had to pass protect a lot with mixed results. Will the back again be demanded to pass protect on third downs with Lewan back but a question at RT?