Friday, June 22, 2012

Titans Talk: Defensive Focus

Remember when the Titans first moved to Nashville? The team strived on a solid run game led by Eddie George and a sufficating defense led by a rookie defensive end, Jevon Kearse aka "The Freak". The team has changed drastically in the last 13 years, especially now that this is no longer a Jeff Fisher run organization. Instead of controlling the time of possesion while pounding the rock inside, the NFL has become a pass happy league and the Titans are on their way to becoming the same way. But we aren't here to talk about offense, we are here to talk what the Titans need to do so they can stop those pass happy teams.

There are some numbers that really stand out to me from last season: 1080, 32, & 128

1,080 - The number of plays that the defense played during the regular season, which is roughly 68 snaps per game. That was the 2nd most in the league behind the Arizona Cardinals. The average team in the NFL played 1,017 snaps last season, so the Titans defense practically played one more game than the average team. Our division rival, the Houston Texans, played the 2nd least amount of snaps, 960 (just under 60 per game). So in reality, our defense played two more games in a season than the Texans on a per snap analysis. This leads me to our next number...

32 - The Titans defense is on the field for an average of 32:11 per game, the third highest total in the league. Now these last two numbers do not necessarily reflect just the defense. Other factors play a huge role in them. Chris Johnson and company could score on a quick strike waisting no time to put points up on the board, or they could have gone three and out too many times on offense. Regardless of the reasoning, this number MUST go down in order for the Titans to have a chance at a playoff birth.

128 - Rush defense used to be a specialty by the Tennessee team, but last season they ranked 24th in rushing defense allowing an average of 128.3 yards per game. The Titans were slashed by Maurice Jones-Drew (JAX), Johnathan Dwyer (PIT), Arian Foster (HOU), Ben Tate (HOU), & Donald Brown (IND). The downside is that we will face those same teams again in 2012-2013, with all but Pittsburgh being a division opponent. I would also like to remind everyone of Curtis Painter also rushing for 79 yards at home against the Titans (yes, Curtis Painter of the Colts), but they mostly came in the 4th quarter while in a prevent defense.

Here are some other numbers I came across...
The Titans are 18th in the NFL allowing 355 yards per game, 227 of them being through the air.
They allowed 19.8 points per game which ranks them 8th in the NFL.
The Titans are tied for 9th in defensive third down percentage with 41%. To me, the is somewhat a surprising statistic. I personally felt that the Titans could not ever get off the field on 3rd down, so I really feel for the other 22 teams that think the same thing. The reason it seemed that way to many of us is because the Titans had opponents in 3rd down more than any other team in the league. So even though we gave up a lot of big plays on 3rd down, we also had a bunch of stops.

So what does this defensive unit need to do to improve on those numbers?

Grow together as a unit and someone step up and be a vocal leader. Let's not forget, this is a very young defensive team. The Titans lost their star cornerback to the Rams and now are expecting instant improvement from McCourty and Verner. They also will have the youngest starting linebacker group in the NFL. But one positive is the defensive line is getting bigger, and we could possibly even see more 3-4 than 4-3 this season.

First lets talk about the secondary. Michael Griffin was just recently resigned with the Titans to a five year $35 million contract. Jordan Babineaux should be starting opposite of him at the other safety position. The two starting corners will be Jason McCourty and Alterraun Verner. Even though Finnegan left for St. Louis, the team will be just as good last year with the secondary. If you remember, when all three were in the game, Finnegan played the slot which left the other two already on the outside. Yes, he was a tremendous leader and gritty player for the Titans, but I don't expect too big of a drop off. The first four games might be rough for our secondary going up against Tom Brady, Phillip Rivers, Matthew Stafford, and Matt Schuab, but after that things should get a little easier until we face Aaron Rodgers and Ben Roethlisberger in two of our last three games.

It looks as if the Titans will start the season at linebacker with one rookie and two 2nd year players. Colin McCarthy and Akeem Ayers will be back in a starting role after very production rookie seasons. McCarthy came in and gave the Titans a spark after Barrett Ruud went down hurt mid season. Ayers became the first rookie to start all 16 games for this franchise since 2002, playing both outside linebacker and defensive end. The third spot is still up for grabs. I expect rookie 2nd round draft pick Zack Brown to take the starting role over Will Witherspoon, but look for all four to be in when the Titans are in the 3-4 unless they use Kamerion Wimbley there instead, which would be the smarter decision.

As we have seen the last few years, the Titans defensive line will consist of rotation, rotation, rotation. Like the linebacking core, there were numerous rookies to step up on the d-line as well. Jurrell Casey, Karl Klug, and even Pannel Egboh made a splash on the rotation. Hopefully Derrick Morgan will finally play a full healthy season to see if he is capable of being the type of player he was drafted to be, if not then we can officially label him a first round bust. Other solid players in the rotation include Dave Ball, newly signed Kamerion Wimbley, and Sen'Derrick Marks. Marks will be on the hot seat heading into the preseason as rookies Mike Martin and Scott Solomon fight for a position on the depth chart. Regardless who is in the game, the focus needs to be on putting pressure on the quarterback and stopping the run. The Titans will face MJD, Arian Foster, and Ben Tate twice, plus Adrian Peterson, Fred Jackson, and Matt Forte. 128 yards rushing a game is just not acceptable this season, especially in a pass happy league.

A lot of positives came out of last season for this young defensive group and they have the ability to grow together as one of the top defenses in the league. They still need to search for more help in the secondary, but if the front seven can get to the quarterback more often putting more pressure on the opposing linemen, then the jobs of Griffin, Babineaux, McCourty, and Verner will become a lot easier.

Maybe, just maybe, the Titans can find that out nasty gritty style they had 13 years ago. They have the promising young talent to do it, only time will tell.

No comments:

Post a Comment