By Logan King

Coming off of two upset road wins in the AFC playoffs, the Tennessee Titans are scoring in a manner that is unmatched by any team in recent years. 

Since Week 9, including postseason action, Tennessee has scored 39 offensive touchdowns while kicking just one field goal. When including the season’s first eight weeks, that total climbs to 56 touchdowns and eight field goals. Looking back to the beginning of the 2015 season, this 7-to-1 touchdown to field goal ratio (TD-FG Ratio) over the course of a season is unprecedented, with Tennessee almost doubling the ratio of the next closest team. 

Season Scoring Ratio Leaders (Since 2015)
Team Season TD FGs Made TD-FG Ratio
TEN 2019 56 8 7.0
NYG 2019 46 12 3.8
PIT 2018 53 16 3.3
KC 2018 77 26 3.0
TEN 2015 41 14 2.9

Shouldering some of the blame for this unbalanced scoring ratio are Tennessee’s struggles at the kicker position. The Titans have fielded four different kickers and are 8-of-18 on field goals (1-of-6, since Week 9). 

A glimpse into Tennessee’s play calling tendencies provides a clear explanation for their scoring ratio. On fourth down, when compared to the rest of the NFL, the Titans have shown a propensity for conservative play calling outside of the red zone.

The table below displays the decision-making comparison for the Titans and the rest of the NFL, broken down by area of the field. There is a clear upward trend in the Titans’ fourth down aggressiveness as they approach the end zone. Outside the red zone, Tennessee is notably more conservative than the rest of the league in its decision to go for it on fourth down. 

4th Down Decision Making Comparison
Team Field Position Not Go For It Go For It Plays
Rest of NFL Inside RZ 78% 22% 590
Rest of NFL Outside RZ, Opposing Side of Field 72% 28% 1,063
Rest of NFL Own Side of Field 91% 9% 1,998
Titans Inside RZ 40% 60% 10
Titans Outside RZ, Opposing Side of Field 84% 16% 38
Titans Own Side of Field 97% 3% 73

Inside the red zone, the league reverts back to more conservative play calling while Tennessee nearly quadruples the rate at which they go for it on fourth down. This decision making has had a clear impact on their scoring ratio. As noted in Rich Hribar’s article for Sharp Football Analysis, under Ryan Tannehill, Tennessee has converted 18-of- 21 red zone third-and-fourth down opportunities into first downs or touchdowns. 

Tennessee, while remarkably successful in its third and fourth down opportunities, has not necessarily shown considerable aggression on its third down red zone opportunities, when compared to the rest of the league. 

The following table displays the play call comparison for the Titans and the rest of the NFL, broken down by area of the field. Conservative plays include all designed running plays (not scrambles) and screens, while aggressive plays include all designed pass plays (including scrambles) minus screens. 

3rd Down Play Calling Comparison
Team Field Position Conservative% Aggressive% AVG To-Go Plays
Rest of NFL Inside RZ 25% 75% 5.5 1,041
Rest of NFL Outside RZ, Opposing Side of Field 24% 76% 7.0 1,925
Rest of NFL Own Side of Field 21% 79% 7.9 3,580
Titans Inside RZ 29% 71% 5.9 28
Titans Outside RZ, Opposing Side of Field 9% 91% 7.9 53
Titans Own Side of Field 27% 73% 7.9 131

On its own half of the field, Tennessee’s third-down play calling is less aggressive than its NFL counterparts. However, between the 50-yard line and the red zone, Tennessee becomes extremely aggressive with their third-down play calling. Though its average yards to go is higher in this situation than the rest of the league, a difference of less than one yard does not justify a nearly 15 percent higher rate of aggressive plays. 

This disparity is likely due to Tennessee’s precarious kicker situation. In the red zone, the Titans actually become less aggressive in their third-down play calling, which has multiple possible explanations. While average yards to go in this situation are slightly higher than the rest of the league, Tennessee is comfortable with less aggressive third-down play calling as seen by their fourth-down tendencies in the red zone. Furthermore, having Derrick Henry in the backfield certainly justifies their conservative play calls on red zone third downs. 

It will be interesting to see how the Titans’ scoring ratio holds up this weekend in their AFC Championship matchup with the Chiefs. If Tennessee can continue to convert in its high- leverage scenarios instead of settling for field goals, a Super Bowl could be on the horizon for the AFC’s hottest team.