Benching Marcus Mariota for Ryan Tannehill was key to Titans’ turnaround

Michael David Smith

The Titans could own a share of first place in the AFC South on Sunday. That would have seemed impossible six weeks ago.

That’s because Tennessee got off to a 2-4 start this season behind starting quarterback Marcus Mariota. Only when they benched Mariota for Tannehill did the season start to turn around.

The difference between the Titans’ numbers with Mariota starting and with Tannehill starting are remarkable. Here are a few of them.

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The Titans are 2-4 in Mariota’s starts and 4-1 in Tannehill’s starts.

The Titans averaged 16 points a game in Mariota’s starts and 29 points a game in Tannehill’s starts.

The Titans averaged 291 yards a game in Mariota’s starts and 384 yards a game in Tannehill’s starts.

The Titans averaged 188 passing yards a game in Mariota’s starts and 238 passing yards in Tannehill’s starts.

Mariota averaged 7.4 yards per pass and had a 59.1 percent completion rate. Tannehill averages 9.2 yards per pass and has a 72.1 percent completion rate.

The Titans’ 4-1 run has them within striking distance in the division. They’re now tied for second with the 6-5 Colts, a game behind the 7-4 Texans. If the Titans beat the Colts on Sunday and the Texans lose to the Patriots, Tennessee will move into a tie for the division lead. The Texans and Titans play each other in Tennessee in Week 15 and then in Houston in Week 17, so this division race remains wide open.

If the Titans win the AFC South, Mike Vrabel will deserve some credit for changing quarterbacks when he did. But it’s also fair to wonder what took him so long. Tannehill was far better than Mariota in the preseason, and some of us asked at the time whether the Titans should bench Mariota for Tannehill. Waiting until six games into the season may end up costing the Titans the division.

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