NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Tennessee Titans raised a few eyebrows on Wednesday when they named Ryan Tannehill the starting quarterback over Marcus Mariota for Sunday's game against the Los Angeles Chargers.
At 2-4, the Titans are two games behind first-place Houston in the AFC South. They still have time to right the ship, but making Tannehill the starter has ramifications now and in the future, which begs a few questions:
Why make the QB change now?
Titans coach Mike Vrabel preaches the importance of complementary football in all three phases, but one-third of the equation has been missing. The offense has scored only one touchdown over the past two games. Vrabel said he chose Tannehill to provide the team with a spark.
Last Sunday's loss to the Broncos was one of the worst outings of Mariota's career; his 38.9% completion percentage was the second lowest of his career. The Titans missed out on a big play when Mariota's pass to Delanie Walker on a seam route was off target, costing the tight end a chance to gain yards after the catch as he fell to the ground to catch it. There were other throws Mariota missed that should have been completions.
Given how difficult it has been for the Titans' offense to move the ball, it's imperative they take advantage of their chances.
"I had an opportunity to play, but I didn't make the most of it. I am going to learn and grow from it," Mariota said.
What will Tannehill's biggest challenge be?
Finding a way to rally an offense that has been stagnant over the past two weeks. The offense's struggles aren't just on Mariota -- it has been a collective ineptness.
The objective for either quarterback should be to get the ball out of their hands to the playmakers in a timely fashion, giving them a chance to gain yards after the catch. That takes chemistry, which develops through reps over time.
Being thrust into the starting lineup doesn't afford Tannehill and the receivers the chance to fully develop timing in the passing game. Tannehill was primarily leading the scout team this season. Rookie receiver A.J. Brown once likened building chemistry with a quarterback to developing a relationship with a girlfriend. If that's the case, Tannehill and the pass-catchers need to learn how to speed date.
What does Tannehill do that gives the Titans a better chance to win?
Tannehill is a more decisive passer. Vrabel hinted at that when he was asked what different traits Tannehill brings to the field.
"He has shown that he can stay in the pocket and get the ball out," Vrabel said.
The Titans have allowed a league-high 29 sacks. Knowing where to go with the ball and getting it there helps negate a pass rush. Tannehill is more adept at recognizing windows in coverage and leading receivers into the open spots with his passes.
The other thing Tannehill does better than Mariota is evade pressure. Regardless of whether it's his fault of not, Mariota has taken a lot of sacks. Tannehill has a better feel for the pass rush and does a better job moving within the pocket.
One minor thing that could be of benefit is Tannehill is a former wide receiver. Having been in their shoes, he will naturally have a feel for where the ball needs to be to make it easier to make a play.
Is Mariota done in Tennessee?
Mariota will be a free agent after this season and appears finished in Tennessee. The current regime didn't draft Mariota, and they have to get a look at what they have in Tannehill at some point because they've lost faith that Mariota will be the guy.
There is a chance that Mariota could play again this season with the Titans. Vrabel hinted at that when he said he wouldn't rule out turning back to him.
"I am very confident after talking to Marcus and watching him prepare today that if called upon at some point in time, we expect him to be ready to go," Vrabel said of Mariota.
Mariota vowed to learn from being benched while making it clear he isn't ready to call it quits. Instead, he's going to keep fighting.
"No matter what, I can learn and grow from this situation," Mariota said. "This isn't going to bring me down. This isn't going to end my career."
His NFL career may not be over, but his tenure as a Titan looks to be nearing a close.
Would the Titans consider trading Mariota?
It's highly unlikely unless they received an offer they couldn't refuse. They haven't thrown in the towel on the current season, and trading one of the two quarterbacks would leave them vulnerable because they don't have another quarterback that is familiar with their scheme to be the backup. Finding one wouldn't be easy, either.
The Titans' coaching staff and front office is a competitive group. The same can be said for the players. Trading Mariota would be a sign of quitting on the season. They're not ready to do that. They also stand to get a pretty good compensatory pick if Mariota leaves via free agency.