The Analytics On The Titans' Offense And Will Levis


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.

I am naturally optimistic. If you watched the first six games this season, you understand that it is easy to latch onto the positives, even if they were few and far between. In my Ravens review, I discussed the similarities between Kentucky’s Titans Winoffense and the offense that Tim Kelly is working to implement in Nashville. Will Levis’ time to throw, average depth of target, and completion percentage in 2021 were very similar to that of Ryan Tannehill this season. My conclusion was: why not give the young guy a shot against Arthur Smith and the Atlanta Falcons? 


Here is a fun question to get things started: how many quarterbacks have thrown for 230 passing yards, 4 touchdowns, and no interceptions in their NFL debut in the Super Bowl Era? The correct answer is one quarterback. His name is William Donovan Levis, he is the quarterback of the Tennessee Titans for the foreseeable future, and he boat-raced expectations against a very good Falcons defense on Sunday. The only other quarterback in the history of the NFL to put up those numbers or better in a debut was Fran Tarkenton way back in 1961. [Unlocked]

Here’s another non-rookie-specific question: How many quarterbacks have thrown three touchdowns, each over 50 air yards, in a single game since the NFL began tracking Next Gen Stats in 2016? Think carefully here. This is arguably the most impressive era of quarterback play in NFL history. Since 2016, we’ve seen gunslingers like Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, Justin Herbert, and Joe Burrow take the league by storm along with the final years of legendary quarterbacks like Tom Brady, Drew Brees, and Aaron Rodgers. Got your answer? The correct answer is once again, one quarterback. Once again, Levis.

Let us now get into the numbers of the fever dream that took place on Sunday. Here are Levis’ basic counting stats on Sunday:

  •       19/29 (65.5 Cmp%)
  •       238 Passing Yards
  •       4 Passing TD’s
  •       0 Interceptions
  •       130.5 Passer Rating

And here is how the rookie quarterback spread around those targets:

  •       DeAndre Hopkins: 6 targets (22.22%)
  •       Chig Okonkwo: 6 targets (22.22%)
  •       Derrick Henry: 4 targets (14.8%)
  •       Tyjae Spears: 4 targets (14.8%)
  •       Kyle Philips: 3 targets (11.11%)
  •       Nick Westbrook-Ikhine: 2 targets (7.4%)
  •       Treylon Burks: 2 targets (7.4%)

The rookie quarterback did what rookie quarterbacks do. He leaned on his tight end, his running backs leaking out of the backfield, and his elite veteran wide receiver.

Here is where the Titans' rushing offense stands through the Sunday Night Football matchup in several key advanced analytical metrics:

  •       0.040 EPA/play (13th of 30)
  •       -0.052 Rush EPA (12th)
  •       53.1% Rush Success Rate (3rd) 

The Titans were effective and efficient running the ball, and the advanced analytics support that notion. Henry and Spears were quietly stellar on the ground (totaling 128 yards on 25 carries), Levis and Okonkwo each picked up first downs in 3rd-and-1 situations on the ground, and the team, as a whole, finished with just under 150 yards rushing.

Here is where the Titans’ passing attack stands through the Sunday Night Football matchup in some additional advanced metrics:

  •       0.040 EPA/play (13th of 30)
  •       0.127 Dropback EPA (8th)
  •       29.4% Dropback Success Rate (29th)
  •       +8.9% CPOE (6th)
  •       12.5 Air Yards / Attempt (1st)

The lower Dropback Success Rate suggests the Titans offense still was not consistently effective dropping back, but that number is fairly standard for an offense that led the league in Air Yards. A passing attack that finishes Top 10 in Dropback EPA and first in Air Yards paired with a rushing attack that finishes in the top half of the league in Rush EPA and third in Rush Success Rate is exactly what Tim Kelly has been looking for this season.

Will LevisAfter the Saints game, I mentioned that there was a clear uptick in Air Yards, but it was too early to make a real conclusion that the Titans were going to prioritize the deep shots. We are now at the halfway point of the season. Levis and Ryan Tannehill rank second and fourth in Air Yards Per Attempt among 43 qualifying quarterbacks with at least 35 snaps.

Kelly clearly wants to push the ball down the field and make defenses pay for stacking the box to stop the run.  When teams begin to respect the play-action deep passing attack, the Titans run the ball effectively as a result of the increased space in the box, much like they did in against the Chargers, the Bengals and the Falcons.

Arguably the most impressive combination of advanced analytics in Levis’ debut was the fact that he threw the ball further downfield than any quarterback in the league this week while completing 8.9% more passes than expected. This does not even factor in two beautiful balls on opposite sidelines to Burks, one on a go-route and one on a deep cross, and a drop by Okonkwo late in the first half that, while slightly underthrown, would have certainly gone for 30+ yards. Levis was wildly accurate, advanced through his progressions, stayed calm in the pocket, and routinely delivered on-target passes deep downfield.

There are a few plays that may go unnoticed that I also want to touch on.

On first-and-10 with 13:42 left in the second quarter, the Titans had the ball on their own 27. The snap was slightly high, but Levis fielded it. He was met with immediate pressure, he recognized it, tucked the ball, and ran straight forward, turning a loss of 8 or 9 yards into a 2-yard sack.

Early in the third quarter, Levis again was in the shotgun with Kyle Philips in motion for an apparent jet sweep, when he received a high snap. Again, Levis did not panic. He simply tucked the ball and ran forward for 3 yards, setting up a Treylon Burks conversion on fourth-and-3 that was waived off due to OPI against Hopkins.

On the Titans’ final series, they looked to dump the ball off on third-and-4. The Falcons defense played it conservatively, the screen was covered up, and Levis tucked the ball and took the sack, forcing Atlanta to take its final timeout.

What can you take away from the performance of Levis if you are a Titans’ fan? Unfortunately, a great debut does not mean that Levis will be an All-Pro quarterback for the next decade. Additionally, he is not a surefire Hall of Famer after one great game. However, I do believe that there are some very encouraging things you can take home after his first start.

  • Levis has all the tools to be an elite quarterback in the NFL.
  • Levis is capable of playing a clean game with minimal mistakes.
  • Levis has a very good understanding of the playbook for a rookie quarterback.
  • Levis objectively had one of the greatest debuts in NFL history.
  • He is capable of success against a good defense. The Falcons were the third-best overall defense and seventh-best pass defense in the NFL entering Week 8.

Levis looked like he was in control throughout the entire game on Sunday. His execution of the playbook was tremendous. He sold pump fakes like a veteran, he was vocal at the line of scrimmage and he directed traffic leaving the huddle multiple times. Call it an overreaction, but he performed like a player who studied and game-planned like hell during the bye week.

Kuharsky magaphoneThe events that transpired in Nissan Stadium on Sunday were not a flash in the pan. The performance of Levis was not a product of targets dominating after the catch. The deep shots were not prayers. This is what Kelly’s offense is designed to look like.

The Titans travel to Pittsburgh this Thursday on a short week.

Do not be surprised if Levis struggles.

Despite what we saw against Atlanta, he is a rookie quarterback with very limited NFL experience going up against one of the best defensive coaches in modern NFL history on a short week. There will be ups and downs, but Levis showed this Titans fan base what things could look like for the next decade. He should be the Titans' quarterback for the remainder of the season.

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

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