The Tennessee Titans defense knows they will need a big effort in order to control Odell Beckham, Jr. and Saquon Barkley of the Giants.
The Tennessee Titans will face a big test in the New York Giants’ offense on Sunday, and they know exactly what they’re up against.
“We better be ready to play defense,” said head coach Mike Vrabel during his Monday press conference. “This is a much-improved team. When they’ve lost, they’ve lost close games. When they’ve won, they looked like they won them pretty convincingly.”
Early in the season, the Giants were all but out of things after a rough start. Now, they are right in the thick of a tight NFC playoff race.
Their turnaround has been propelled, in large part, by their two elite-level offensive weapons: receiver Odell Beckham, Jr. and running back Saquon Barkley. Luckily for the Titans, a handful of their defensive players have experience playing against those players.
Facing Beckham and Barkley
Cornerback Adoree’ Jackson faced Barkley while he was at USC, and the result was not pretty. Barkley gashed the Trojans’ defense for 194 yards in that game, though USC ultimately held on to win the game.
“The guy is good, a great runner, elusive,” Jackson said of Barkley. “He can run you over, run around you. He’s a guy that goes out there and puts his nose down. He sees the hole, has great vision, and he can make things happen, even when things aren’t there. When you see him on film, you see that.”
Cornerbacks Logan Ryan and Malcolm Butler played against Beckham in New England. Beckham had a relatively quiet day in that game, until he ran past Butler for an 87-yard touchdown bomb from Eli Manning.
Butler said that the best element of Beckham’s game is more than just his athletic traits. “He runs the route the same way every time, he stems you the same way every route he runs. To the end, he might break the opposite way, the same way. He just makes things consistent until it’s time to make a move.”
Safety Kenny Vaccaro also played against Beckham during his days with the Saints in one of the NFL’s all-time highest-scoring affairs. “I think everyone had a touchdown that day,” Vaccaro joked of the game.
Beckham certainly did his share of the scoring in that game, finding the end zone three times against a then-struggling Saints defense.
Vaccaro said that Beckham’s defining trait as a player is a rare combination of skills that he possesses. “Some guys are straight line fast, some guys are twitchy. There’s a difference between being fast and actually being able to give somebody a move. Some people think that fast automatically means that you can make guys miss, but that’s not the truth at all.
“Like Brandin Cooks, he’s not as shifty as an Odell Beckham. Keenan Allen’s not fast, but he’s shifty. That attribute, they don’t really go together. But when you can do both, you get a great one like Odell Beckham.”
Titans defensive lineman Jurrell Casey, and linebackers Wesley Woodyard and Derrick Morgan also played against Beckham in 2014 with the Titans.
Shades of Barry Sanders
The Giants selected Barkley with the second overall pick of the 2018 NFL Draft. Despite many analysts proclaiming that they needed to find Eli Manning’s replacement in that draft, New York instead elected to grab a player many people believed to be a generational talent.
While Vaccaro has never played against Barkley, he said that the film told him all he needs to know. “You’ve got to swarm him. When I watch the tape, he’s literally making someone miss every single play…I haven’t seen anything like it.”
Vaccaro went on to compare Barkley to one of the NFL’s all-time greats. “People compare him to Barry Sanders, but he’s way bigger. In my era, he’s the first guy I’ve seen where I’m like, ‘wow, that guy is like how the older guys used to talk about Barry.’ You know I don’t know how good [Sanders] was, but this is the guy in our era that’s going to be that guy.”
Plan of attack
Stopping Beckham and Barkley is an immense challenge, and the Titans know exactly what they are up against.
One theme stood out among the Titans defenders who were asked about stopping Barkley: swarming. “It’s all about swarming, said Adoree’ Jackson. “That’s what you want to do when you go down there and tackle. Make sure you’ve got a lot of guys around the ball so it’s not just one guy trying to tackle the running back.”
With Beckham, the Titans were a bit less optimistic. They understand that totally putting a stop to the Giants’ efforts to get Beckham the ball is probably not a realistic expectation.
“When they’re trying to get their plays,” said Vaccaro, “there’s going to be a certain call where the ball is just going to get to him. When you’re that good, there’s really no keeping him in check, it’s about keeping him contained. Don’t let him break the game.”
Malcolm Butler discussed the importance of not allowing Beckham to get chunk gains after the catch. “He just wants to make a play, he wants to score. He’s just got that dog mentality. A lot of guys don’t have that, but he’s got the complete package. He’s a competitor. They’re going to get their catches, you’ve just got to limit the YAC yards. Make the tackle.”
Defending against Beckham and Barkley will be perhaps the Titans defense’s toughest challenge of the season. They will need to rise to the occasion of they want to keep their season alive.
Cover image: USA Today/Jim Dedmon & Christopher Hanewinckel