Ryan Tannehill's improved efficiency and big-play capabilities are undeniable, but New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton doesn't seem most impressed by that aspect of what the Tennessee quarterback has done in his first season as a Titan, after spending his first seven NFL seasons with Miami.
It's the wins.
Notably, six of them, in eight games, for Tannehill as a Titan, as the Saints (11-3) prepare to play Tennessee (8-6) on Sunday at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tenn. That winning percentage thus far tops any winning percentage he accomplished in any season as a Dolphin
"There's so much that goes into the fit, the scheme, the vision," Payton said of Tannehill's improvement after leaving Miami. "Not any one case is the same as another.
"I think a lot of it is finding the right fit relative to what vision does the team, the coaches have. And then remember, when you're at that position, it's still about winning first. That's the thing that stands out when you watch him now. When they went on that four-game winning streak, they were playing a complementary game offensively and defensively and the special teams – they were doing all the things necessary to win football games. And he was part of that."
Tannehill mopped up in the season opener, sat four straight games, then came off the bench against Denver in a 16-0 loss and completed 13 of 16 passes for 144 yards, with an interception. He's been the starter since, and in the next eight games, completed 158 of 223 passes for 2,128 yards and 17 touchdowns, with five interceptions.
He's at a career high completion percentage (71.5), yards per attempt (9.5) and passer rating (114.6). And Payton said the Titans have one of the league's best big-play offenses.
"Every week on a Monday, I'll come in and look at every touchdown scored in the NFL," Payton said. "It'll start on the 1-yard line, so you'll see all the goal line plays. And the reel will be sorted, closest to longest, and so this reel will go to the 2, the 5, the 10 and then pretty soon, the last play I watch will be the longest touchdown of the weekend. I would say every week, I've seen either a long run by their runner (Derrick Henry) for a touchdown, (or) a quick-strike play action pass. They've done a nice job."
Henry, in fact, is one of the best big-play backs in the league. He's listed at 6-foot-3, 247 pounds, and has run for 1,329 yards (second-most in the NFL) and 13 touchdowns on 271 carries, most in the league.
"He's a guy that, if he gets into your defense, he's got the speed and he's got a magnificent stiff arm," Payton said. "He's got balance, he's strong. We faced a similar type of runner earlier in the year down in Jacksonville (Leonard Fournette). And so, you've got to populate the football. Each week he's having the success he's having and that offensive line is playing well. There's a physical nature to how they play and I think that if you let him get into your defense frequently, it'll be a long day."
"A sizeable running back," Saints defensive end Cam Jordan said, while comparing Henry to former Giants running back Brandon Jacobs. Jacobs, who played his ninth and final NFL season in 2013, was 6-foot-4 and his last listed playing weight was 264 pounds.
"It's probably been some years since we faced a guy like that," Jordan said of Henry. "When he gets to that second level, he's creating problems. But I feel like we go out there, we execute our game plan, then everything should be taken care of."
Defensively, the Saints appeared to get back on track against the Colts, allowing seven points and 205 yards a week after giving up 48 points and 516 yards to San Francisco. To stay on track, they'll have to slow down a hot quarterback and massive runner.
"He's brought a spark back to their offense," Jordan said of Tannehill. "They're clicking, they're playing well. Derrick Henry is creating these explosive runs. Tannehill extending plays, finding (receiver A.J.) Brown. When you talk about what their offense is able to do, they're clicking on a high level right now and that's something we have to be aware of."