NASHVILLE — Coordinator Arthur Smith finished the 2019 season at the helm of a Tennessee Titans offense that re-defined the franchise. The unit literally carried the team to an AFC Title game.
In 2020, the expectations will be raised.
“We want to be the most explosive unit we can,” Smith told media on Wednesday. “That’s something we’ll definitely strive for, that’s not going to change. Hopefully, we can do better on third down to stay on the field and have more possessions and more plays. But we certainly don’t want to regress on the explosive part.”
The Titans ran 1,110 offensive plays last year (566 pass, 544 run). Of those, 12% (137 total, 64 pass, 73 run) were considered “explosive,” defined as a play that goes for a gain of 20+ yards. Tennessee offenses have finished 14th and 24th in that category each of the last two years. 2019’s efforts garnered them the title of the third most explosive group in football behind the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers (both at 13%), per Sharp Football Stats.
The last time a Tennessee offense ranked this high was in 2016 (3rd) when running back DeMarco Murray led the AFC in rushing.
For the Titans, Smith maintained that last year was a “statistical anomaly” rather than prowess. To improve on third down leads to more plays, more offense and, in theory, more points. The argument could be made, though, that Smith’s unit was on the field plenty. Only Baltimore (1,154), Green Bay (1,137), Houston (1,158), Kansas City (1,172), New England (1,150), Philadelphia (1,163), Seattle (1,162) and San Francisco (1,185) spent more time on the field as an offense.
Any more would be borderline gluttony.
Smith will be able to lean on familiarity in an offseason where every NFL franchise is dealing with uncertain circumstances. The team signed quarterback Ryan Tannehill to a four-year, $118 million deal and placed a franchise tag on running back Derrick Henry this offseason. Tannehill was one of the statistically best at his position in 2019 while Henry led the league in rushing and went on to break NFL records for yardage in the postseason. Smith discussed the importance of evolving the offense further and expressed high hopes for receivers Corey Davis and A.J. Brown.
“I feel like we’ve got a lot of guys that can take it to the house,” said Smith. “We’re trying to get more creative, make sure that these different guys get touches and use their strengths. You want to enhance those strengths and we certainly are going to continue to try and build off that.”
Tennessee will go as far as running back Derrick Henry can take them. How Smith and Co. can prevent an offensive fizzle in 2020 after riding so high in his first year remains to be seen. The Titans offensive coordinator believes in the parts at his disposal.
In sports, as in life, the expectation is evolution over complacency.
Featured Image: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports.