This defense is such a killjoy. That’s the conclusion I keep coming to when reviewing this game. The defense put out a good performance. Their best game of the year in terms of points scored. Yet, given what I’ve seen from this unit before, I can’t help but feel skeptical.
Flopping around when the opponent basically gifts them sacks. Dropping interceptions thrown right to defenders. Mike Glennon missing open receivers, and receivers dropping balls when they are actually on target.
Those are the things that stand out when I watch this game, despite the fact that there were some legitimately good things. It’s just… given the disaster the defense has been this year, it’s hard to take those good things and project them forward.
So, instead of a glass half-empty analysis of the game, I’m going to try to focus on a bright spot I genuinely believe in – Malcolm Butler. He was excellent this game, as he has been all year. Of course, we’ll get into some other thoughts as well. First, as always, we’ll check in on our late-down defense.
3rd/4th Down Defense
A good game for the Titans on 3rd down. The late-down defense was buoyed by really good run defense on early downs. Though, good defense on early downs don’t always fix this this problem. We’ve seen in other games that despite having a long distance to go on 3rd down, the defense has still struggled. This even happened against Jacksonville in Week 2. Nonetheless, it didn’t happen this time.
However, despite this performance, this unit remains the second-worst 3rd-down defense since that metric has been tracked (1991).
Malcolm Butler continues to play at a high level
On a defense that has been mostly a trainwreck, Malcolm Butler has been one of the most consistent bright spots. The game against Jacksonville was no different. For most the game, he shadowed D.J. Chark. And, when he did he only allowed one catch for five yards on seven targets. We’ll look at a few of those in detail below.
Use the arrows to scroll through the galleries below:
- 2nd and 10. 6:38. Q2.
- Cover 1. Man across.
- Based on the depth of other Titans, Butler has to give a cushion so he doesn’t get picked.
- Despite this, he closes well and nearly forces an incompletion.
- 3rd and 5. 6:20. Q2.
- Butler is isolated in man coverage.
- Chark takes an inside stem here. Butler could be better using his hands and not immediately giving up leverage.
- Initially into his route, Butler gives no separation.
- At the top of his stem, Chark tries to get some room by extending his trail arm. Butler does a great job of knocking down that hand so he can stay on Chark’s hip and in a position to make a play.
- As the ball comes, Butler makes an aggressive play to break up the ball.
This play really captures Butler well. He’s not always perfect with technique, but he’s rarely gets out of position in the short/intermediate area. He isn’t afraid to be physical, and reliably makes plays on the ball. He’s currently sixth in the NFL in pass breakups, while only committing two penalties.
- 1st and 10. 12:09. 3Q.
- Butler is isolated on a post play as Byard chases the crosser.
- He’s beat because of his leverage, but it looks like he’s expecting help deep.
- Nonetheless, the ball is slightly underthrown and he makes an athletic “my ball” type of play to grab the interception.
A few things here. Just in terms of defensive organization, it’s strange to me that Butler would be isolated on a deep post with zero deep safeties, and only 4 pass rushers. So, either there’s a blown coverage here (Byard), or this is an odd playcall. I honestly don’t know which it is, but, based on Butler’s leverage, it sure seems like Butler expects help.
So, this play really captures my sentiment that I started this post with. This is absolutely a great play by Butler given the situation. It was underthrown and he capitalized. He deserves all the credit for that. But, I can’t help but question all these other things. An on-target pass here may have gone for a big gain.
- 1st and 10. 12:53. 4Q.
- Fade route to an isolated Butler.
- Butler does a good job initially of mirroring footwork and not allowing separation. He uses the sideline as an extra defender and doesn’t allow an easy vertical stem.
- Butler peeks a little early at the 10-yard line when the ball is just released and briefly loses a step.
- He quickly closes on Chark. A better look at this in the images below.
This shows the moments as the ball is approaching Chark. Note, Butler is studying the receiver for information. As Chark’s hands go up, so do Butler’s. At the last second, Butler breaks up the pass.
Keep in mind that Chark is 6-4. Butler is 5-10. This is a hell of a play. It’s also encouraging to see a play on the ball like this on a deeper throw. At times, despite being in position, we’ve seen Butler get beat on contested throws (I.e., the Vikings game in Week 3).
While Butler is far from perfect, he’s a fun player to watch because of the intensity and confidence he plays with. I wouldn’t call him a shutdown corner, and I think he’ll have tougher times against some of the premier guys in the league, especially those with top-end speed. But, that can be said for nearly every other corner as well. I think Davante Adams could be a difficult matchup, but that obviously isn’t unique to Butler. That said, Butler really appears to be finding his stride down the stretch, and looks to be playing his best football as we head closer to the postseason.
Odds and Ends
- Jeffery Simmons – OK. I’m officially concerned. He isn’t actively playing bad, but he’s not penetrating and disrupting like he did to begin the year. Maybe it’s an injury (he sat out of Wednesday’s practice with a “knee”). Maybe he’s struggling with volume. Hard to say where the issue stems from, but it’s showing up on tape.
- This pass rush leaves a lot to be desired. Neither of these plays below were converted to sacks. Pressure was better in this game than past games, but when gifted free looks at the QB like those below, they still couldn’t capitalize. Very frustrating.
- The defense did a good job of squeezing gaps. Robinson does most of his damage up the middle. You can see this in the image below.
The Titans did a great job of working their blockers inside and squeezing things – daring Robinson to bounce outside. This resulted in bottling up Robinson for only 9 yards on 7 carries in the first half.
- Tye Smith mostly played well, and aggressively. In many ways, he reminds me of Borders, who also played well, until he didn’t. I think Smith can be serviceable, but Adoree really needs to get back soon.
- Amani Hooker is not Kevin Byard. This game was a good look into the future of what would happen if that switch were made long term. I really like Hooker, but I think he plays much better as a post safety. Vaccaro has been so good lately, and it showed in this game. Hooker couldn’t do the same things Vaccaro is capable of in the box.