The Tennessee Titans won their first two games of the 2020 season, but they didn’t get a whole lot of help from the defense in those wins.
The unit gave up a handful of big plays to the Broncos in Week One, including a 31-yard catch by TE Noah Fant. Against Jacksonville in Week Two, the Titans allowed RB James Robinson to average 6.2 yards per carry and QB Gardner Minshew to throw for 339 yards.
“I think we can clean up everything, honestly,” safety Kevin Byard said after the Titans’ game against Jacksonville.
The unit’s disappointing early-season performances can mostly be attributed to two factors, both of which could be resolved very soon.
REASON #1: Injuries Galore at Outside Linebacker
The Titans have been razor-thin at outside linebacker so far this season, and it’s taking a toll on the entire defense.
Thanks to Vic Beasley and Derick Roberson’s respective injuries, the Titans played their first two games of the season with just three active OLBs: Jadeveon Clowney, Harold Landry and Kamalei Correa.
While Clowney, Landry and Correa are certainly talented players who can hold their own on the edge, the Titans’ lack of depth has led to them playing way too many snaps.
Playing such a high volume of snaps can easily lead to fatigue, and it looks like that’s what has happened with Landry and Clowney.
Neither player has registered a sack so far in 2020, arguably due to the fact that they’ve been tired late in games when opponents are throwing the ball more.
Having Roberson and Beasley back in the mix, which could happen any week now, will give the Titans more options in their rotation at OLB and, in turn, allow Landry and Clowney to have much more stamina at the end of games.
Getting after the quarterback more often—the Titans have just two sacks so far in 2020—will improve the entirety of the defense.
REASON #2: Missing Adoree’ Jackson
Cornerback Adoree’ Jackson’s absence from the Titans’ starting lineup has affected more than just one position.
Without Jackson, who was placed on IR before the season, the Titans have been forced to rely very heavily on very inexperienced corners.
Rookies Kristian Fulton and Chris Jackson, respectively second- and seventh-round draft picks, have played major roles so far in 2020, as has 36-year-old veteran Johnathan Joseph.
While none of those players have made any major mistakes, part of the reason behind that is that the Titans have played a lot of off coverage.
While playing off coverage ensures Fulton, Jackson and Joseph don’t get beat with any downfield shots, it gives opposing receivers free releases and plenty of room to work on shorter routes.
That’s come back to bite the Titans so far in 2020, especially against Jacksonville.
When Jackson returns, something that could happen as early as Week Four, the Titans will be able to play more press coverage and challenge receivers at the line of scrimmage.
Cover image: Christopher Hanewinckel / USA Today