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The Analytics Of The Titans' Upset In Miami

By JAKE DOWNARD

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.

For a glossary of the metrics and terms used in this post, please see this earlier file.

The Miami Dolphins have the best offense in the NFL. This season, they rank first in total yards of offense, first in yards per game, first in passing yards, and second in rushing yards. Tua Tagovailoa is right in the thick of the MVP race, Tyreek Hill is on pace to break the single-season record for receiving yards, their offensive line has graded out as a top-10 unit throughout the season, and the duo of De’Von Achane and Raheem Mostert have been tremendous running the ball. 

 

Tennessee Titans running back Tyjae Spears (32) catches a pass over Miami Dolphins linebacker Bradley Chubb (2) during the second half of an NFL game at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Dec. 11, 2023.
Tyjae Spears/ © Jim Rassol / USA TODAY NETWORK

The Titans’ defense, on the other hand, has struggled mightily as of late. They dealt Kevin Byard to the Philadelphia Eagles in late October, allowed over 300 passing yards to Gardner Minshew and the Indianapolis Colts last week, and were without Jeffery Simmons Monday night. The Dolphins were undefeated at home, and the Titans were winless on the road. The sportsbooks, the Titans’ fanbase, and the vast majority of the NFL media expected the Dolphins offense to do unspeakable things to the Titans in Miami. 

Unfortunately for Mike McDaniel and the Miami Dolphins, that is exactly where Mike Vrabel thrives. 

In one of the most unlikely comebacks in NFL history (no, seriously), the Titans found a way. After trailing by 14 points as the game clock crept under three minutes, Vrabel and company walked out of Hard Rock Stadium with a much-needed win. Entering Monday Night, no team in NFL history had overcome a 14-point deficit with less than three minutes remaining and won in regulation. 

Let’s dive into the numbers. 

We know that Will Levis has leaned heavily on DeAndre Hopkins since he took over as the starting quarterback. Since the Falcons game on Oct. 29, Hopkins ranks eighth in the league in receiving yards and second in receiving touchdowns. The connection was on full display in Miami with Hopkins racking up team-highs in targets (12) and receiving yards (124). Hopkins also caught the lone receiving touchdown of the night (by either team, believe it or not). Here’s how Will Levis spread out his 36 targets in Miami:

  • DeAndre Hopkins: 12 targets (33.3%)
  • Tyjae Spears: 8 targets (22.2%)
  • Chig Okonkwo: 6 targets (16.7%)
  • Nick Westbrook-Ikhine: 4 targets (11.1%)
  • Treylon Burks: 3 targets (9.1%)
  • Derrick Henry: 2 targets (6.1%)
  • Chris Moore 1 target (2.7%)

Tyjae Spears was instrumental in the receiving game, racking up a season-high 89 yards. That number is good for the most by a rookie RB in a single game this season and the 13th most by a rookie running back in the last decade. 

Let’s look at how the Titans' offense fared in some of our favorite advanced metrics. Here’s how they ranked among the 30 teams that played in Week 14: 

  • EPA/Play: 0.032 (8th)
  • Success Rate: 43.5% (10th)
  • Dropback EPA: 0.252 (3rd)
  • Dropback Success Rate: 57.1% (2nd)
  • Rush EPA: -0.309 (30th)
  • Rush Success Rate: 22.2% (28th)

The idea of the Tennessee Titans beating the No. 1 offense in the NFL on the road with Derrick Henry averaging 2.0 yards per carry and the rushing attack, as a whole, ranking dead last in efficiency seems almost impossible. Quarterback play must be outstanding to make up for such an inefficient effort on the ground. Fortunately for the Titans, that was the case in the second half. Here’s how Levis graded out in some of the most noteworthy metrics after halftime in Miami as he led the improbable comeback: 

  • EPA/Play: 0.168 (7th of 30)
  • CPOE: +9.7% (8th)
  • EPA+CPOE: 0.180 (6th)
  • Success Rate: 54.2% (4th)
  • Air Yards / Attempt: 10.1 (7th)

A common theme of the Titans offense under Tim Kelly has been the concerted effort to push the ball downfield, which has led to Levis leading the league in Air Yards / Attempt this season. Levis’ second-quarter completion to Hopkins to put the Titans in field goal range was his sixth completion of 50+ air yards this season, tied for the most in the NFL. 

When Levis is pushing the ball downfield with accuracy and efficiency, the Tim Kelly offense is at its finest. This was on full display in the second half, as the Titans overcame a poor effort on the ground to pick up a huge win. 

The Dolphins entered Monday Night ranked third in the NFL with 41 sacks on the season. They finished the game with just one sack. It was not always pretty, and the offensive line certainly allowed their fair share of pressures, but they got the job done against a tough Miami front. Run blocking as a whole was poor. Here’s how PFF graded each offensive lineman in pass-blocking, and how many pressures were attributed to each player: 

  • Jaelyn Duncan: 50.5 PBLK (5 pressures)
  • Peter Skoronski: 49.6 PBLK (5 pressures)
  • Aaron Brewer: 61.4 PBLK (4 pressures)
  • Daniel Brunskill: 84.2 PBLK (0 pressures)
  • Calvin Throckmorton: 74.7 PBLK (2 pressures)
  • Dillon Radunz: 62.1 PBLK (3 pressures)

While pressures are usually a fair indicator of how an offensive line is performing, all pressures are not created equal. Upon rewatch, I felt like the offensive line held up fairly well against a great Dolphins’ front, and I thought they were situationally serviceable. They seemed to hold up just long enough in key moments, and it proved to be enough for Levis to make things happen time and time again. 

Typically I focus solely on the offense in these game reviews, but I cannot, in good faith, send this over to Paul without mentioning Harold Landry III, who got off to a visibly slow start this season while coming off the ACL injury. Oftentimes, Landry has looked uncomfortable, out-of-rhythm, and just a step behind a sack, tackle-for-loss, or third-down stop. Since Week 10, Landry has looked much more like the guy that the Titans signed to a massive 5-year, $87.5 million extension. 

In that span, Landry ranks 11th in the NFL in pressures, tied-sixth in the NFL in sacks, and first in the NFL in QB hits, per Pro Football Focus. Landry playing up to his contract is going to be key in restoring the best of Mike Vrabel’s defense.

While this season may be lost, Titans fans have a lot to feel good about. The two highest-paid pieces of your front four are in the middle of their primes and under contract until the new stadium opens up, the QB of the present and future has an average annual salary of $2.39 million, the new GM added six guys in the 2023 NFL Draft who are contributing in some capacity as rookies, and the team has the most cap space in the NFL heading into the offseason.

This offseason is going to be extremely important. And I do not want to overreact, but after Monday night, I am convinced that this team could become really competitive, really quickly

 

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