In January of 2019, as Matt LaFleur left the Tennessee Titans for Green Bay to partner with Aaron Rodgers and the Packers, it left the Titans with a vacancy at offensive coordinator. When they decided to hire within house and promote Arthur Smith, it was met with criticism by the Tennessee fan base. The former tight end coach was given a short leash from being called a lazy hire to fat Nicolas Cage. Since then, the Titans have had one of the NFL’s best offenses and are off to their first 4-0 start in 12 years to start the 2020 season.
While the offense struggled to begin the 2019 season with Smith calling plays for the first time, there was no way to predict how well Ryan Tannehill would do with Tennessee’s new offense after taking the reigns. With Tannehill and Derrick Henry evolving into a lethal duo, Smith has proven to be the right guy at his position.
Not only did the Titans lead the league in yards per rush and per pass on the back half of the season, but Tennessee also averaged 30.4 points per game in weeks 7-17. That was almost double of what they were putting on the scoreboard in weeks 1-6. As Smith was learning on the job, some drives stalled out, but as he developed, the Titans would eventually lead the league in red-zone efficiency as they scored touchdowns over 70% of the time. It became clear that Smith wasn’t the problem with their early-season struggles, but it was the former number one over pick, Marcus Mariota. (We’ll come back to him.)
While the numbers for this offense have been impressive since the change at QB, Derrick Henry may be the primary beneficiary of the change in the scenery around him. With some decent stats before 2019, the King still struggled with inconsistency issues and the ability to run like a proper bell-cow back. So much so, there were talks of him being on the trading block in 2018.
After a Come-To-Jesus meeting with Titans legend Eddie George and a revised offense that gave him the ability to take over a game, Henry has arguably been the best running back in the game. Averaging over 5 yards a carry in 2019, Henry won his first rushing title and achieved superstar status in the playoffs. Who’s to say Henry accomplishes any of that with a stagnant offense without a play-caller that uses him correctly and a QB that has perfected the play-action pass.
With the offense going nowhere and Mariota struggling to release himself from the gloom of a broken leg in December of 2016, it became clear to everyone that it was time to make the change that many Titans fans were reluctant to make. A list of nagging injuries and a lack of self-confidence was the downfall for Mariota in Tennessee. Without the backing of the front office, the cord may have been pulled much earlier.
As rumors swirled of the coaching staff wanting to start Ryan Tannehill to begin the 2019 season, their reasons became evident when the former Miami Dolphin took the field. While Adam Gase gave his best efforts to hinder Tannehill’s ability, Arthur Smith has made the most of him. After it seemed like Tannehill’s best years were behind him, Smith has allowed the 32-year-old veteran to earn his spot as the franchise QB for the Tennessee Titans.
While the Titans are off to a hot start to begin the 2020 season, Tannehill has been one of the best QBs in football over his last 17 starts. After regressing year-by-year in Miami, #17 is in the top 5 of almost every statistical category for his position. Going 13-4 since taking the starting job in Tennessee, he has passed for 3,971 yards with 36 touchdowns to only seven interceptions. Also, his six rushing touchdowns don’t place him far behind reigning MVP Lamar Jackson when it comes to running the ball. If you want to toss his QBR and completion percentage in there, he’s right up there with that one guy in Kansas City.
Soon to be a Head Coach
Arthur Smith has been a part of the Titans franchise for many years, but that may not be the case for much longer. After this season, teams around the league will be looking for a new head coach. Much like Eric Bieniemy in Kansas City, he’s an offensive mind that a struggling team needs to steer the ship in the correct direction. As his dad casually founded the multi-billion dollar company FedEx, Smith will attempt to build his empire in the coming years.