In an article published earlier this week, ESPN.com's Turron Davenport took us back to Week 6. The Titans were coming off two losses in which the offense scored a total of seven points. Through the first six weeks of the season, the Titans' red zone offense was ranked 19th in the NFL
after scoring touchdowns on 53 percent of its trips inside the opponent's 20-yard line.
Things changed after the Titans named Ryan Tannehill
the starting quarterback for Week 7.
Four games later, Tannehill has led the Titans to the top spot in the league in red zone offense, scoring touchdowns on all 10 red zone trips. For the season, the Titans have scored touchdowns on 72 percent of their red zone trips.
Part of their recent success can be chalked up to greater confidence.
"Just that belief that we are going to get into the end zone," Tannehill said after Tennessee's 27-23 win over the Buccaneers on Oct. 27. "When we get down there, we believe that we are going to get into the end zone."
Added Titans quarterbacks coach Pat O'Hara, "Ryan has an undying belief that we are going to score every time we get down there, and he should. Every quarterback should. We started working hard on our red zone efficiency in the spring. It's paying dividends now."
Titans coach Mike Vrabel acknowledged the team's red zone confidence and said it's the quarterback's job to "raise everybody's level of performance."
In the first six weeks, the offense was settling for field goals when it reached the red zone. In Marcus Mariota
's six starts, the Titans averaged 1.3 touchdowns in 2.5 red zone visits per game. Mariota's red zone QBR was 17.0, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
In the past four games under Tannehill, Tennessee has averaged 1.8 touchdowns in the same amount of visits. Tannehill's red zone QBR is 97.1. Additionally, Tannehill's completion percentage in the red zone is 70.6 percent, compared to Mariota's 46.2 percent.
Other factors Vrabel cited as contributing to the team's success include improved pass protection and Tannehill's quicker release. Defenses have not been able to get as much pressure on Tannehill in the red zone. He has been under pressure on only 19 percent of his dropbacks, whereas Mariota was under pressure on an NFL-high 58.8 percent of his dropbacks.
As Davenport went on to explain, the windows in the red zone open and close more quickly. Quarterbacks need to anticipate the window opening and pull the trigger in enough time to fit the ball in. Tannehill's pass to Adam Humphries
in the end zone against the Chiefs for a 23-yard touchdown on Nov. 10 is an example of an on-time, tight-window throw.
Although the pass came from the 23-yard line, just outside the red zone, Tannehill trusted Humphries to beat his man and get to the spot against the two-man coverage the Chiefs' defense was playing.
Being a reliable option for the quarterback is why the Titans made Humphries a priority in free agency.
The connection between Tannehill and Humphries has heated up recently. Humphries has caught 12 of 15 targets from Tannehill for 152 yards. His only touchdown this season was the winner against the Chiefs. Given Humphries' short-area quickness, he should be a key player for the Titans, especially in the red zone, where the field is condensed.
The Titans are 3-1 since Tannehill took over as the starter, and their playoff hopes might rest on keeping their red-zone progress going in the season's final six games, when they play four games against AFC South opponents, including the Texans twice.
"Hopefully, we can get down there more and continue to score, but that’s been something that’s been really positive for us," Vrabel said.
Of course, Derrick Henry
's work near the goal-line has helped out as well.
But can fantasy owners continue to depend on that?
As ESPN's Mike Clay notes Henry entered the Week 11 bye as fantasy's No. 5 scoring running bac after posting five top-nine fantasy weeks, as well as three additional top-25 weeks.
But Clay believes a closer look at Henry's workload shows a strong possibility of incoming touchdown regression to the mean.
Henry has scored 10 touchdowns.
He has scored on all five of his carries from the opponent's 1-yard line and has zero additional carries inside the 5. Henry is one of the game's most-effective rushers and is averaging 18.7 carries per game, but a limited role as a receiver (1.9 targets per game) and a slower scoring pace lock him in as a fringe top-10 weekly play.
All that said, ESPN's Al Zeidenfeld, while conceding all the above points, believes the matchup with Jacksonville is very solid as the Jaguars allow the sixth-most rushing yards per game in the league, They have also allowed over 200 rushing yards three separate times this season.
So season-long owners shouldn't be dialing back on Henry.
And finally. ... The Titans had Delanie Walker
(ankle) and Corey Davis
(hip) back once again for practice Thursday. Davis worked fully on Wednesday
and seems all but certain to play, but I'll have more on both after Friday's practice.