Looking at the upcoming game with the Tennessee Titans from every angle, there’s interesting insight to be found in NFL Next Gen Stats. They’re rolling out a lot of new metrics that gauge things often talked about but never quantified before. Browsing through that data, I found some interesting notes about the skill position players for the Titans that will give us a look at what to expect on Sunday.
QUARTERBACK: Loss of Feeling
It’s hard to wrap my head around how this Titans offense will look compared to how it has looked. I’ve been critical of them for their uber-conservative play-calling both from a run:pass ratio perspective and their decision-making on fourth downs. There’s plenty of reasons for the risk aversion, not all of which I wholly buy, and not all of which I have confidence will change soon.
That’s a good thing for the Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles. If quarterback Marcus Mariota is still battling two numb fingers, they have nothing to fear defensively. Here’s why:
Mariota is dead last in AGG%, which measures the “amount of passing attempts a quarterback makes that are into tight coverage”. His cellar dwelling 8.8% aggressiveness has no close rival at this juncture.
Mariota is dead last in IAY (Average Intended Air Yards). This one is self-explanatory. The Titans offense has been severely limited by his inability to take shots downfield and outside the numbers. His average air yards per throw is 5.1. That’s less than Andrew Luck with his still recovering shoulder and his teammate Blaine Gabbert.
Before you scoff about air yards and yell at me about Carson Wentz, who understandably ranked low in his rookie year, consider this.. Mariota’s 5.1 is still 2.8 yards less than Wentz in his rookie year.
Mariota is also throwing well short of the sticks; his -2.4% AYTS (Air Yards to the Sticks) ranks 29th out of 34 qualifiers. Side note: he’s tied with Dak Prescott, who oddly enough isn’t suffering from funky nerves... or is he?
Despite the emphasis on a quick passing game, which usually breeds high completion percentage, he’s only completing 61% of his passes and his xCOMP is one of the worst in the league. What’s xCOMP? I’m glad you asked. It combines completion percentage with another factor, “Completion Probability”.
“Completion Probability: The probability of a pass completion, based on numerous factors such as receiver separation from the nearest defender, where the receiver is on the field, the separation the passer had at time of throw from the nearest pass rusher, and more.
Expected Completion Percentage (xCOMP): Using a passer’s Completion Probability on every play, determine what a passer’s completion percentage is expected to be.” - NFL Next Gen Stats
Mariota’s xCOMP of -8.2% ranks 32nd out of 34 qualifying quarterbacks.
If he continues to struggle with numbness in his bottom two fingers of his throwing head, his biggest threat to the Eagles will be with his legs. In two games, he’s carried the ball on designed read options or scrambles 10 times for 66 yards. They like to dial it up in key situations when they need a conversion, so look out for that on Sunday.
RUNNING BACK: Derrick Henry Makes Haste
We can debate Henry’s fit in the Titans’ heavy outside zone fit until the cows come home, but one things is true: HE FAST! He’s real fast. When he’s given a clean bounce read and doesn’t have to cut, he can be gone in a hurry. Next Gen Stats tracks speed and has a list of the fastest ball carriers on any given play.
#NextGenStats clocks this run by Derrick Henry at a top speed of 21.46mph, the 6th fastest ball carrier speed of the year. He's bracketed by Julio and DeSean. (called back for holding) pic.twitter.com/zUByHGbzS0— Michael Kist (@MichaelKistNFL) September 28, 2018
Through four weeks, Henry’s 62-yard touchdown scamper in Week 1 that was called back for holding ranks as the 6th highest miles per hour achieved (21.46mph!). Bracketing Henry on that list is DeSean Jackson (you know the play) and Julio Jones, two much lighter, very fast dudes.
WIDE RECEIVERS: Taywan Taylor’s YAC Attack
Next Gen Stats has created a metric called “xYAC”, or expected yards after catch, which uses leverages “numerous factors using tracking data such as how open the receiver is, how fast they’re traveling, how many defenders/blockers are in space, etc”.
In terms of overachieving on expected YAC, Taywan Taylor ranks 9th in the league with an average difference of +3.4.
Considering the Mariota data dump that showed how conservative that Titans’ offense has been or needed to be, that comes in handy. The Eagles will need swarm him quick and limit his effectiveness after the catch.