Titans defense is underrated, NFL should take notice
Story By: Brady Trapnell
In the Tennessee Titans locker room, following a 24-20 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals, a question came from a reporter, “Did this secondary take a step up in this game, holding AJ Green and Brandon LaFell limited?”
Titans corner Logan Ryan answered sharply, “We’ve been playing at high level.”
He wasn’t wrong. The Titans entire defense has been. It’s time for the narrative that the Titans offense carries the team to go away. It is simply not true anymore.
Let’s take a look back to week four of the 2017 season at NRG Stadium, in Houston. It was an opportunity to follow-up on a huge home victory over a top NFL power in the Seattle Seahawks. They blew it.
The defense allowed the parting of the Red Sea at the line of scrimmage, rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson looked like an MVP candidate and wide receiver Will Fuller V racked up yards ‘til kingdom come.
Safety Kevin Byard described it as, “Probably the most embarrassing loss I’ve took in my career, in my football life. Everything that could have went wrong, went wrong today.”
“Just do the basic things, get back to the basics,” said linebacker Wesley Woodyard on the Titans defensive plans moving forward.
At that moment, things changed. The Titans defense has not allowed more than 20-points in any game since that point, except against the Steelers. (Which let’s be honest, was because of a four-interception performance by Marcus Mariota.)
They gained confidence.
“When we play on all cylinders, we are a tough defense. We’ve shown it,” linebacker Brian Orakpo said after a week six victory over the Colts. “We had a disappointing effort against Houston, and something that we regret… When we are on all cylinders, we communicate, we fly to the ball, and we hit, we are a tough defense.”
The Titans have a safety in Kevin Byard leading the NFL with six interceptions and playing like an All-Pro.
The highest graded safeties through Week 12 pic.twitter.com/UoTEvDsuY6
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) November 29, 2017
Linebacker Derrick Morgan has seven sacks with five games remaining.
.@dmorg91 posted a team-high six pressures vs @Colts, matching his season-high. He has now recorded 34 total pressures from the left side — only four other 3-4 OLBs have generated more, per @PFF. Morgan had a sack vs Indy, and now has 7 on season for @Titans
— Jim Wyatt (@jwyattsports) November 27, 2017
And, in a win huge division win over the Colts last Sunday, the defense tallied eight sacks while setting a record for the most in a game in franchise history dating back to 1985.
2 of these 3 instances came against the Colts
— NFL Research (@NFLResearch) November 26, 2017
Yes, there have definitely been moments where this defense has struggled up-front. Other times the secondary has been porous.
But, look how far defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau’s crew has come, according to NFL.com stats.
Defensive rankings in 2016:
Total Defense: 20th, Passing: 30th, Rushing: 2nd
Thus far in 2017:
Total Defense: 11th, Passing: 20th, Rushing: 5th
The @Titans have not allowed an opponent to exceed 100 team rushing yards in any of their last 7 games. The last time the Titans defense kept opponents at 100 or fewer rushing yards for 7 straight games was 2007.
— Jim Wyatt (@jwyattsports) November 30, 2017
The numbers speak for themselves and the big-time playmaking on-field has helped the Titans win games they never should have.
When the Titans offense has staggered, this defense has carried the load until they find a way to grind out a game-winning drive, i.e. Colts, Bengals, Browns, Ravens wins.
Last season, this defense was bad. Sure, the front-seven was improved, but the secondary was horrific.
This group is different now. Rookie corner Adoree’ Jackson is proving himself to be an excellent cover corner. Logan Ryan is getting better every week.
Now, in the locker room following games you hear questions to Titans defensive players such as, “How much has this group improved? Are you finally gaining confidence? How much better is this secondary?”
It is time to stop asking those questions. The defensive is confident. They’ve said it, and they have proved it.
Now, it is time for the rest of the NFL to take notice of this Titans defense. They aren’t who they were last year.
(Featured Photo: Donn Jones, titansonline.com)