What Advanced Stats Tell The Titans About Will Levis Versus Ryan Tannehill


Jake Downard is a law student who creates NFL and NBA content focused on analytics on Twitter as @JakeAndBall. He also works with fanspo.com. A glossary of the analytics terms he uses is at the bottom of the piece.

For a glossary of the metrics and terms used in this post, please see this earlier file.

A team rarely loses such a frustrating, winnable game and the fanbase comes out of it relatively happy.

That’s what happens when you have a rookie quarterback that you drafted in the second round, who once again shows flashes of his special attributes and a seemingly unlimited ceiling.Will Levis

With Levis flexing the off-balance throws, layered targets, and overall malleability as a passer, it is clear that Titans fans have something to be excited about under center. There should be no question about who the Titans quarterback is for the remainder of the 2023-24 season at this point. As I said in my Falcons analysis, I am an optimistic guy, so let’s get into the positives. 

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First, how many quarterbacks have completed at least 40 passes, thrown for at least 500 passing yards, four passing touchdowns, and one interception (or none)  in their first two career starts? Think about all the illustrious quarterback play we’ve seen in the last century. From Dutch Clark and Sammy Baugh to Tom Brady, Patrick Mahomes, and everybody in between, the quarterback position has seen some insane talent over the last hundred years. Got your answer?

If you read my piece earlier this week, you probably know that the answer is one quarterback, and his name is Will Levis. Through two weeks, here are Levis’ basic counting statistics:

  •  41/68 Cmp (60.3 Cmp%)
  •  500 Passing Yds (7.4 YPA)
  •  4 Passing TD’s
  •  1 INT
  •  96.4 Passer Rtg

Let’s get into the Titans' advanced numbers for the offense in Pittsburgh. Since we will not have league-wide numbers until Monday, I’m going to list the Titans’ numbers followed by parentheticals signaling where those numbers would slot them on the season. So, the stats will look like: Titans in Week 9 (where that figure would rank on the season). Here we go: 

  •  0.036 EPA/Play (8th of 32)
  •  0.097 Rush EPA (1st of 32)
  •  40.0% Rush Success Rate (15th of 32)
  •  0.004 Dropback EPA (20th of 32)
  •  43.8% Dropback Success Rate (21st of 32)

The Rush EPA and Success Rate numbers are certainly eye-popping. If you watched the last two games, you do not need a spreadsheet to conclude that Henry and Spears are benefitting from the improved play-action threat.

Henry has racked up 176 yards on the ground in his last two games, and he is now on pace for nearly 1,300 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns. The Dropback EPA and Success Rate numbers are a little discouraging, but with eight offensive linemen logging multiple snaps and constant pressure from T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith, it is hard to expect consistent production on dropbacks. Levis still managed to finish the game with a positive CPOE (+0.3%) while throwing it 10.6 Air Yards downfield on average. 

After a serviceable performance at home, the Titans' offensive line was, once again, dreadful on the road. With Chris Hubbard already sidelined with a concussion, Andre Dillard, Nicholas Petit-Frere, Daniel Brunskill and Peter Skoronski all suffered injuries at some point in the game.

It is truly unbelievable to think that play was stopped due to injury for every starting offensive lineman except for the center. This led to snaps for Dillon Radunz and rookie Jaelyn Duncan, and the offensive line just could never find any real rhythm aside from the drive to end the first half. I came away genuinely impressed that Levis took just four sacks. 

With two games under his belt and a real chance that Ryan Tannehill is available the next time the Titans take the field, let’s set aside the narratives of “play the rookie and tank,” or “play X player who gives you the best chance to win,” and look at the quarterback battle through an objective lens.

The basic counting stats are lean almost unanimously in Levis’ favor. Levis has the advantage in passing yards per game, passing yards per attempt, passing touchdowns, interceptions thrown per game, sacks taken per game, passer rating, and total QBR. Tannehill has a slight advantage in completion percentage by 1.7%. 

As I have stated before, counting stats do not always tell the entire story. Here are their numbers in some of the most noteworthy advanced statistics. 

Levis: 0.048 (18th of 39)
Tannehill: -0.001 (22nd of 39)

Levis: +3.8 (11th of 39)
Tannehill: -0.6 (24th of 39)

Air Yards: 
Levis: 11.4 (1st of 39)
Tannehill: 9.5 (3rd of 39)

Success Rate: 
Levis: 38.1% (38th of 29)
Tannehill: 41.4% (36th of 39)

Aside from the slight advantage in Success Rate that Tannehill has, Levis again appears to have the objective advantage over Tannehill. He’s generating more points per play than Tannehill, he’s completing more passes over expected than Tannehill and he’s throwing it further downfield than Tannehill, a key ingredient to the offense Tim Kelly is working to implement. 

And finally, as we all know, the Titans love to establish the run. How does the tandem of Henry and Spears perform with Levis and Tannehill under center? 

Rushing Yards Per Carry: 
Levis: 4.70
Tannehill: 4.62

Rushing Yards Per Game: 
Levis: 110.50
Tannehill: 99.33

Rush EPA: 
Levis: +0.013
Tannehill: -0.082

Rush Success Rate: 
Levis: 47.4%
Tannehill: 38.1%

Across the board, the run game has been more efficient and more effective with Levis under center. Make no mistake about it, Levis is the quarterback of the future, and he gives the Titans the best chance to be competitive right now. 

Simply put, there is no real argument at this very moment for Ryan Tannehill to start when he is available. It is time for the Titans to turn the page. Tannehill played some incredible games in Nashville, and he was the guy under center for some very competitive Titans teams, but the time has come to turn the page.

Objectively, statistically, and analytically, the decision is crystal clear (cc: Mike Vrabel).


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