The Tennessee Titans defense is at, or near, the bottom in most of the prominent statistical categories used to evaluate NFL defenses. Whether it is pass defense (28th), total defense (29th), third down defense (last), or sacks (last), the Titans are noted basement dwellers on the defensive side of the football this season.
#Titans Defense went 27 days between QB sacks
— Austin Stanley (@AustinStanley81) December 28, 2020
While there have been plenty of hurdles and hoops to jump through in COVID-19 season, the Titans theoretically have plenty of talent on defense to perform at a competent level.
All year, teams have had to rotate players on and off of the active roster to comply with the NFL’s safety protocol, and the Titans certainly are no different. Couple that with an injury bug that has hamstrung the Titans all season and there you have it – one of the NFL’s worst defensive units.
One respected former coach had a counterpoint that the @Titans were made for this time of year after their flop on SNF vs. @Packers.
The Titans offense is made for inclement weather, he said.
The Titans defense is not – bottom feeders in pass defense and sacks, he punctuated.
— Chris Mortensen (@mortreport) December 28, 2020
The loss of key players on defense for extended periods of time, such as Adoree Jackson, Jadeveon Clowney, Vic Beasley, and Jayon Brown, have opened up spots for players deeper on the depth chart to step into a bigger role. And nobody has looked quite as ready for the uptick in snaps and responsibility as David Long Jr. on Sunday Night Football against the Green Bay Packers.
David Long Jr. has been the best player on the field for the #Titans tonight
— Justin M (@JustinM_NFL) December 28, 2020
Yes, the Titans went up to Green Bay on primetime television and were bent over a barrel in front of a national audience by MVP frontrunner Aaron Rodgers in the snow. But even on this gloom and doom snow day, Long was one of the few bright spots in the Titans’ loss.
Long finished the night tied for the most tackles (9) in the game, along with Kevin Byard. Long’s football IQ was on display once again in just his fourth career regular season start at the inside linebacker position.
However, this was not the first time Long had been thrown into the fire against one of the NFL’s top offenses. Titans fans were privy to Long’s ability to step up in big moments as a rookie in the 2020 playoffs after Brown left the game in New England with a shoulder injury.
Video courtesy of @Nate_Tice: David Long clearly did his homework on the Ravens offense. Unbothered by a lot of the motions and formations that they were running #Titans #TENvsKC pic.twitter.com/knBNsxuTdC
— Buck Reising😷 (@BuckReising) January 14, 2020
After being given the starting nod in Baltimore, Long went on to total six tackles, including a TFL against a Lamar Jackson-led Ravens offense that had not been slowed down all season.
Long will play a pivotal role in stopping the run as the Titans gear up for a Week 17 matchup against Deshaun Watson’s Houston Texans. Although Watson’s status for Sunday is up in the air, the Titans have to feel confident in Long’s ability to disrupt the Texans’ offensive plans.
Idk what the hell kind of tackle that was by David Long but he flew at Dillon like the Wolverine
— Buck Reising😷 (@BuckReising) December 28, 2020
Even with a small sample size of success at the NFL level, Titans general manager Jon Robinson will be left with a tough decision at season’s end. With Brown scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent in the off-season, Long’s performance could directly impact whether or not Brown takes another snap in a Titans uniform.
If Robinson elects to let Brown walk, Long is set to make just south of $900k in 2021, which allows a bit of flexibility in the Titans’ salary cap budget.
Featured image courtesy of Dylan Buell/Getty Images