They Avoided Statistical Regression in 2020; Can They Do It Again?
The 2020 Tennessee Titans defied basic mathematical expectations in many ways. It wasn't likely for an offense that came from out of nowhere like the Titans did in 2019 to continue to ascend. But they did. It wasn't likely for the Titans to return to the playoffs with a defense that fell to the bottom five in DVOA. But they did. It wasn't likely that they would avoid injuries two years in a row, or shred opponents with play-action passes two years in a row, but they did, once again finishing near the top of the leaderboards in both categories.
Quarterbacks that played as great as Ryan Tannehill did in 2019, with no history of elite play, are not supposed to stick around and remain great. Not only did Tannehill remain great but he improved on his 2019 season, posting a 19.6% DVOA in a bigger sample of games, remaining a deadly play-action passer despite offensive line injuries, and leading the Titans to an NFL-high six game-winning drives. Those are the situations that Derrick Henry isn't supposed to help out with, because you can't run the ball as often with time dwindling. Somebody forgot to let Tannehill know about that. He got Corey Davis more involved in this offense than ever before, and even garnered some fringe MVP buzz from People Who Just Want To Recognize Great Seasons (as opposed to serious analysis).
To find a quarterback who improved as much as Tannehill did with a similar sample size—and then kept most of the gains—you have to go back to Matt Schaub and Eli Manning's ascension from adequate to good in the late-aughts. There's some sort of Tannehill hybrid lurking between those two players: the arm and the draft status of Manning, and the play-action-focused dominance of Schaub's years in the Gary Kubiak offense. There have been plenty of out-of-nowhere success stories and plenty of wild improvements—including some we can't fully explain yet such as Josh Allen—but Tannehill will now become the standard example for a quarterback improving in new surroundings, mentioned whenever any team makes a...