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Front Page - Friday, December 18, 2020

Titans bringing balance to QB-dominated NFL

Approching numbers not seen since 2006

Wide receivers Corey Davis, above, and A.J. Brown are teaming with running back Derrick Henry and quarterback Ryan Tannehill to keep NFL defenses guessing. - Photo by Wade Payne | AP

There was a time when offensive balance was a trendy thing in the NFL. It was the way you built a team to operate with equal parts run and pass, and using them to complement each other.

That was before the league became focused on passing first with quarterbacks like Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes. Then there was the influx of dual-threat quarterbacks who can be just as dangerous with their legs as their arms – or in the case of Lamar Jackson and Kyler Murray – perhaps even more so.

Consider the 2020 Tennessee Titans a throwback to those days of offensive balance.

The Titans are poised to become the first team in 14 years to have a running back rush for 1,500 yards and have two wide receivers exceed 1,000 yards each.

With three games to play, Derrick Henry already has 1,532 yards rushing and is on pace to lead the league for a second consecutive year. Wide receivers A.J. Brown (837 yards) and Corey Davis (836) need to average just over 54 yards each in the final three weeks of the regular season for the Titans to become the first team since the 2006 Rams to reach such a plateau.

For about a 12-year stretch, it was how some of the NFL’s most dynamic offenses operated and won games.

This feat had never been accomplished before the Detroit Lions – with Hall of Fame running back Barry Sanders, quarterback Scot Mitchell and receivers Herman Moore and Brett Perriman of the Lions – did it in 1995.

The Lions started a trend by doing so in three consecutive years, 1995-97. But lest you think that only non-contenders – those years were actually some high-water marks for the Lions – are in this exclusive club, quite a few strong teams loaded with Hall of Fame players have accomplished the feat.

Both the Denver Broncos, led by John Elway and Terrell Davis, and the Atlanta Falcons, who played against each other in Super Bowl XXXIII after the 1998 season, turned the trick.

Also on the list are teams that include Peyton Manning’s Indianapolis Colts (twice), a 49ers team with Jerry Rice and Terrell Owens and a Vikings team featuring Randy Moss and Cris Carter.

That the Titans offense is within range to join such an exclusive list is quite remarkable, especially when you consider how offensively challenged the franchise has been for much of its time in Tennessee.

Obviously, much of the Titans offensive success flows through Henry, allowing quarterback Ryan Tannehill the opportunity to pull the trigger and get the football to his weapons on the outside. But don’t underestimate the quarterback’s contribution to this offensive success.

Remember, this is essentially the same offense that sputtered in 2019 when Marcus Mariota regressed to the point of being benched.

But with the nice balance that comes with threats in both the run and the pass, the Titans can keep the pressure on their opponents and exploit matchups whenever possible.

“We’ve had guys step up all over the offense and make plays consistently for us. Teams can’t really key in on one thing,” Tannehill says. “If they want to throw the kitchen sink at stopping Derrick, then we’ve got guys on the outside that can make plays. If they want to sit back and try to cover, obviously Derrick can make them pay on the inside. Having that combination across the offense is good for us.”

While the numbers are nice, Brown says they are secondary to team success.

“To be honest, it don’t really mean anything at this point. We’re trying to get wins, we’re trying to go to the playoffs,” says Brown, who also had 1,000 yards as a rookie last season. “I’m just trying to answer the call when my number gets called to make plays. You get all these stats and stuff, they don’t matter. That’s my mindset about it.”

Still, the milestone isn’t completely lost on the players and what that accomplishment could mean in terms of signifying their all-around success.

“It would mean a lot,’’ Davis says. “It’s definitely one of my goals, to reach 1,000 yards. It’s been one of my goals ever since I’ve been playing receiver. I want to get 1,000 yards every year, so it would mean a lot.

“It would say a lot about (Brown), about me and this entire team. We’ve got a lot of weapons and to be able to spread the ball out like we do, I know it would mean a lot to both of us.”