Quantifying the Titans' Identity Crisis: An Analytics Perspective


Jake Downard is a law student who creates NFL and NBA content focused on analytics on Twitter as @JakeAndBall. He also works with fanspo.com. A glossary of the analytics terms he uses is at the bottom of the piece.

If I had told you that the duo of Derrick Henry and Tyjae Spears would run for 89 yards and a TD, DeAndre Hopkins would catch eight of his 11 targets for 140 yards, Ryan Tannehill would complete 67% of his passes for 264 yards, and the offensive line would only allow one sack, would you have guessed that the Titans would lose by a touchdown in Indianapolis? Me neither.

Oct 8, 2023; Indianapolis, Indiana, USA; Tennessee Titans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins (10) catches a pass and looks toward the end zone during the second half against the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports
  DeAndre Hopkins vs. The Colts/ © Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

The Titans are currently in the midst of an identity crisis. [Unlocked]

I wish I could get on here and tell you who the Titans are offensively and defensively, but I do not know. Mike Vrabel, Tim Kelly, Shane Bowen, and Ran Carthon do not know either. The team is consistently inconsistent, and I have absolutely no idea what to expect from it each week. It would be easy to make false equivalencies and tie it all together by saying “they cannot win on the road,” but each road loss has come in an entirely different fashion. 

In Week One, the defense was the Titans’ defense that we expected to see in 2023. Sure, they gave up a few X plays, but as a whole, they were effective in New Orleans, and the primary ingredient in that loss was the quarterback throwing three interceptions. In Week Three, the offensive line was completely manhandled by the Cleveland front and the offense generated a whopping 94 yards. In Week Five, the offensive line, QB play, and RB play were relatively effective, but the Titans’ defense had no answer for Gardner Minshew and Zack Moss. 

Let’s start by looking at how Ryan Tannehill performed on Sunday. As far as his basic counting stats, here is how the Titans QB finished in Indianapolis: 

     23/34, 264 Passing Yards, 7.8 YPA, 0 TD, 1 INT, 1 sack

And here is who Tannehill targeted on those 34 passing attempts:  

  • DeAndre Hopkins: 10 targets (32.4%)
  • Chig Okonkwo: 9 targets (26.5%)
  • Tyjae Spears: 5 targets (14.7%)
  • Derrick Henry: 3 targets (8.8%)
  • Nick Westbrook-Ikhine: 3 targets (8.8%)
  • Trevon Wesco: 1 target (2.9%)
  • Josh Whyle: 1 target (2.9%)
  • Kyle Philips: 1 target (2.9%)

In recent weeks, we’ve seen the Titans distribute targets pretty uniformly and evenly throughout the group of pass-catchers and running backs. The massive 32.4% target share that Hopkins finished the game with still feels too low. With rookie QB Julius Brents on Hopkins for the majority of the game, it felt like he was open on every play. When targeting Hopkins, Tannehill was a blistering eight of 10 for 140 yards.

Despite receiving nearly a third of the targets, the number feels low because Hopkins wasn’t targeted once by Ryan Tannehill in the red zone. The lone pass attempt that came his way from inside the 20 was from Derrick Henry, a slight overthrow on a 13-yard attempt in the first quarter.

From an efficiency standpoint, the Titans were slightly above average as a unit. Here’s how the advanced analytics shaped out on Sunday in Indy, and where these numbers ranked the Titans in comparison to the 26 teams that have already taken the field this week: 

  • EPA/Play: 0.094 (10th in the NFL)
  • Dropback EPA: 0.239 (seventh)
  • Rush EPA: -0.170 (14th)
  • Dropback SR: 47.4% (11th)
  • Rush SR: 38.1% (12th)

Each metric demonstrates steady, efficient offensive play as a unit. Hopkins was tremendous, Tyjae Spears averaged 6.3 yards a touch, Ryan Tannehill was accurate (+3.0 CPOE) and the offensive line was much more formidable. So…what exactly was the issue? Why did the Titans only put up 16 points if they operated so efficiently as a collective? 

Here is every single offensive play the Titans ran in the redzone (inside Indianapolis’s 20-yard line):

  • Henry incomplete to Hopkins 
  • Tannehill 4-yard pass to Henry
  • Tannehill incomplete to Okonkwo
  • Spears 19-yard TD run
  • Tannehill 2-yard pass to Okonkwo
  • Henry 2-yard run
  • Tannehill 5-yard pass to Spears
  • Derrick Henry 0-yard run (turnover on downs)

Aside from the Spears TD run on the reverse, the Titans were abysmal deep in Indianapolis territory. Hopkins, who got open at will, did not get a single target from Tannehill on any of the eight plays inside the Indianapolis 20-yard line.

Aside from the kneel at the end of the first half, the Titans only possessed the ball six times on Sunday, largely due to their inability to stop the Indianapolis offense. In a game like that, red-zone efficiency is of the utmost importance, and the Titans simply did not have success deep in Indy territory. 

Here is how the Titans defense shaped out in Week Five compared to the 26 teams that played through Sunday night: 

  • EPA/Play: 0.209 (23rd in the NFL)
  • Dropback EPA: 0.331 (23rd)
  • Rush EPA: 0.091 (20th)
  • Dropback SR: 46.9% (15th)
  • Rush SR: 36.4% (13th)

Despite checking in around league average in defensive success rate, the Titans finished bottom five in EPA, and dropback EPA, and seventh to last in rush EPA. This is due in large part to the high number of chunk plays allowed by the Titans’ defense. Here is every play that went for more than 15 yards: 

  •  Anthony Richardson 15-yard pass to Josh Downs
  •  Zach Moss 56-yard TD run
  •  Richardson 38-yard pass to Downs
  •  Minshew 25-yard pass to Downs
  •  Minshew 17-yard pass to Mo Alie-Cox
  •  Minshew 27-yard pass to Michael Pittman Jr.
  •  Minshew 16-yard pass to Jonathan Taylor
  •  Minshew 26-yard pass to Moss

Add each of these chunk plays to the fact that the Colts averaged nearly 6 yards per carry and you have a recipe for disaster on the defensive side of the ball. The Titans defense was objectively poor on Sunday. It seemed like every time they were in a position to get a stop and give the offense another chance to score, someone was beaten in Kuharsky megaphgonecoverage, the defensive line got walled up or they committed a silly penalty downfield. 

Vrabel-coached Titans teams have made a living off of being good in key situations. They are historically efficient in the red zone on offense. They are good defensively in late-game situations, they pressure the quarterback and they are good in the red zone on that end as well. 

Through five weeks, this 2023 Titans team has shown flashes of this traditional Vrabel identity. They’ve shown flashes of an impressive downfield passing attack under Tim Kelly and they’ve looked like the worst offense in the NFL. As we creep towards the halfway point of the season, the Titans are soul-searching. With the AFC South looking better than anticipated, the Titans need to find an identity quickly or this season will be lost sooner than later. 


EPA/ Expected Points Added: Per Pro Football Focus, EPA is “the difference in Expected Points before and after each play. Expected Points is an estimate of how many points a team will score on a drive, given the current situation (down, distance, time remaining, etc.).” In other words, if a team has a big punt return and starts its drive on the opponent’s 20-yard line, its Expected Points on that drive are higher than they would be if the opposing punter pinned it inside its own 5-yard line. Put succinctly, a positive EPA means a player is contributing to putting points on the board.

EPA/play: Expected Points Added per play.

CPOE: Completion Percentage Over Expected. This metric factors in the air yardage, coverage, routes, and more to create an expected benchmark completion percentage. Obviously, the higher your completion percentage is, the better. ut CPOE creates a benchmark, and in turn, gives more credit to passes completed 40 yards downfield than check-downs to an open RB at the line of scrimmage. If a quarterback’s CPOE is +5.5%, that quarterback completed 5.5% more passes than expected.

Success Rate: A metric that grades each individual play based on the situation. For example, a 2-yard carry on fourth-and-1 may be deemed a successful play whereas the same 2-yard run on third-and-13 would be deemed an unsuccessful play.

Air Yards: An average of the distance a quarterback’s passes travel beyond the line of scrimmage, in the air.

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