NASHVILLE — As good as 2020 has been for the Tennessee Titans (9-4) franchise, their greatest weakness remains unsolvable. Tennessee is fresh out of options at outside linebacker.
Unfortunate, considering that GM Jon Robinson spent $21.75 million on that position this offseason.
The Titans cut “pass rusher” Vic Beasley ($9M paid out) in early November. Outside linebacker and free agency prize Jadeveon Clowney ($12.75M paid out) was placed on IR later that month and reportedly had knee surgery that will cost him the rest of the season. Tennessee placed Tuzar Skipper went to Injured Reserve on Tuesday leaving coach Mike Vrabel with even less options to help improve a pass rush that is among the NFL’s worst.
Where Do They Turn?
14 sacks through 14 weeks of the 2020 season. That total ranks the Titans dead last in NFL at bringing down the quarterback.
Without the ability to get effective pressure, Tennessee’s Super Bowl hopes are nonexistent.
“There were some good things,” Vrabel said on Monday after defeating the Jacksonville Jaguars (1-12) 31-10 but still leaving that game without a sack. “We missed some opportunities. That’s the biggest takeaway is that we missed some opportunities to sack the quarterback, to intercept the ball. There were some then some MOBPs (). There are times that it looked really good and there were times where we’re jumping up in zone coverage and they throw it over our head and continue to improve in stacks and bunches that teams are going to do.”
Getting the best out of players is a Vrabel hallmark. There’s only so much he can do with the Titans current personnel limitations.
Harold Landry (4.5 sacks) and Derick Roberson (0 sacks) are the only outside linebackers listed on the active roster right now. Wyatt Ray, who has appeared in only one NFL game (Week 9 vs Chicago), and 33-year-old Brooks Reed (added Nov. 29) are currently stashed on the practice squad. Veteran Nate Orchard reportedly visited Tennessee for a workout but was unsigned as of Wednesday morning.
No more than three outside linebackers have been active on a game day all year.
If only it were that simple.
“I hate to use the word satisfied,” Vrabel said on his defense’s progress. “I think we’re always going to have to play better, especially this time of year as we work towards the end of the year. I think that’s when you have to be playing your best in all areas. We’ll get back to it. Again, it’s another challenge. It’s a new offense. It’s a team that we don’t know much about, and get them playing as a unit and get them playing together. It’s a lot better than individuals. Team defense is always going to be better than a few individual efforts.”
So far, the improvements just are not enough.
Football Outsiders lists Tennessee’s defense as 26th in Total DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average) and 28th in that same metric specifically against the pass. DVOA stats are adjusted to an average percentage of fumbles recovered by the offense. Quarterback scrambles are counted as passing plays rather than rushing plays. Defenses are also adjusted for playing indoors.
The strength of the Titans, defensively, has been turnovers this year (12 interceptions and six fumbles recovered) and an offense that takes care of the football for a Top 4 NFL turnover differential (+9). Still, per Zach Lyons, the Titans are currently tied for 3rd for fewest sacks by a team in a single season in the last 20 years and the only one to do so while winning more than seven games.
Rookie corner Kristian Fulton was activated off of IR on Tuesday and Adoree Jackson’s first playing time of 2020 appears to be on the horizon. Tennessee will pray that those reinforcements can help bolster a struggling defense.
The solution is not coming from the pass rush.
Featured Image: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports.