Titans’ Arthur Smith is the best coordinator you haven’t heard of yet

Tennessee Titans

The Tennessee Titans have one of the most complete offenses in the NFL, thanks to a coaching clinic put on by first-year offensive coordinator Arthur Smith.

No NFL team has perfected the art of going 9-7 quite like the Tennessee Titans. They have done so in the last four years and yet, this year’s campaign feels different.

After starting 2-4 with Marcus Mariota as the starting quarterback, Ryan Tannehill was inserted into the lineup. In 10 starts, Tannehill went 7-3 and guided the Titans to the playoffs as the sixth seed.

Was it really just a quarterback change that transformed the Titans from AFC mediocre to darkhorse Super Bowl contender? Sure, Tannehill’s numbers are outstanding (70.3 completion rate, 2,742 yards, 22 touchdowns, six interceptions), but he’s thriving in an offense finally suited for his unique style of play.

It’s time to talk about Arthur Smith.

Smith is in his first year as the Titans offensive coordinator. The former UNC Tar Heels guard of the  has been on the Titans coaching staff since former head coach Mike Munchak made him a defensive quality control coach in 2011.

Quietly, Smith slowly climbed up the Titans coaching hierarchy. From quality control, to offensive line, to tight end, to offensive coordinator. He has survived regime changes in Nashville and finally replaced Matt LaFleur as the Titans’ OC. Quite frankly, he’s been an upgrade.

It took a quarterback change, but Tennessee now has its most exciting offense since the Air McNair era.

Smith is spearheading the attack. He’s opening up the playbook with Tannehill, using weapons Mariota never tapped into. The Titans have an All-Pro running back in Derrick Henry, whose 1,540 yards led the league and helped him earn his first Pro Bowl honor.

In years past, the Titans’ gameplan was to play smash-mouth with Henry and DeMarco Murray behind their dominating offensive line, with the occasional pass to tight end Delanie Walker.

Under Smith, the offense is imaginative and open. Tannehill, a former receiver at Texas A&M, has 43 carries for 185 yards and a career-high four trips to pay dirt. At 31 years old, Tannehill might be following the Rich Gannon path of peaking late.

Additionally, Smith has been able to unlock the talents of rookie wide receiver A.J. Brown. Brown has hauled in 52 catches for 1,051 yards and eight touchdowns out of Ole Miss. Brown’s emergence has created a dilemma for opposing defenses, no charged with stopping Henry and limiting the big play to Brown.

At its very core, the Titans offense is complementary. No longer is it archaic, forever stuck in a three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust mentality. Your quarterback has to look to make throws down the field, something Mariota never bought into. Tannehill has bought in and he’s about to cash in. Same thing for Henry.

And that’s where this gets intriguing in the long term. While Vrabel, Smith and Brown will all be in Nashville for the foreseeable future, we can’t safely say the same thing for either Henry or Tannehill, with both hitting free agency.

Tannehill may want a long-term commitment, but his first seven years in Miami of only decent quarterback play have to be in the back of general manager Jon Robinson’s mind. It makes sense to apply the franchise tag (which is quite likely), but is this a long-term fit or a short-term boom?

As for Henry, he’ll make more money than any running back this offseason. Henry might very well play his last game for the Titans on Saturday if Robinson is concerned about his best days being either present or shortly behind him.

The good news for him is he has the body type of Marshawn Lynch and Adrian Peterson, meaning he can be a productive running back into his 30s.

It’s unfortunate we might only get one playoff game out of these Titans. They’ve started to gel and could have been a serious contender had they won the AFC South instead of the Houston Texans.

Still, Tennessee has to be the most ferocious No. 6 seed we’ve seen in quite some time. It could beat the Patriots on the road and bring the Evil Empire’s reign over the AFC to an end. The Titans would match up pretty well with the top-seeded Baltimore Ravens in the Divisional Round. And we all know about Andy Reid’s struggles vs. the Titans historically.

Tennessee may very well go one-and-done in the playoffs. However, we haven’t seen an offense change midseason for the better in the stratosphere of the 2019 Titans.

Smith needs more credit for his marvelous coaching job. He’ll get his due eventually, but he’ll certainly get some national attention if his Titans offense ends the Tom Brady/Bill Belichick dynasty in Foxborough.

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