Welcome back to another edition of “the part of the team Titans fans don’t like to bring up.” Kind of like the crazy uncle at a holiday dinner. The wine starts flowing, and, for many years, these dinners have gone fine. But, in the back of everyone’s mind, there’s a worry that eventually it’s going to get to people yelling at each other about whether jet fuel melts steel beams. Sure, things have gone well, but at some point this is probably going to be a problem.
This team is obviously doing just fine as they currently sit at 5-0. And, at the end of the day, the objective is to score more points than your opponent, which, of course, they’ve done. Still, there are very clearly fundamental problems with this defense. While my main focus will always be understanding the “why” with film review, it’s good to check in on the data from time to time which I’ve included below.
|Points Per Game
|Yards Per Play
|Rushing Yards Per play
|Passing Yards Per Play
|Red Zone TD%
|DVOA vs Run
|DVOA vs Pass
|Explosive Pass Plays
|Explosive Run Plays
|Third Down Conversion %
A mixed bag here. PPG is king. Tennessee could give up 500 yards/game, but if they’re keeping the points total low, it is irrelevant. The Titans have had two games where they held the opponent to 16 points or less (DEN and BUF), which is helping keep this total low. But, those games happened, and they obviously deserve credit for those performances. Still, there are metrics above that are not sustainable.
Last week’s game was really more of the same of what we’ve seen from this defense all year. It’s a unit that’s almost entirely reliant on the front four to function well. In other words, if the front four doesn’t make a splash play/pressure, it’s rare that we see someone step up elsewhere.
I’ve said this before, but this team is lacking people making plays on the back end of the defense. I’m hesitant to say there are no play makers, because we’ve seen these guys make plays in the past. But, we’re not seeing players make instinctual, aggressive plays at linebacker or in the secondary.
This problem is confounded by the style of defense the Titans play. Here are the coverage shell splits for this game.
This doesn’t capture every snap. There are some plays where they ran either unusual/exotic coverage, or situational coverages. Those situations where almost exclusively end-of-the-2nd-half, prevent-style defense, and goal line situations.
What you see here is a pretty balanced approach. Other than quarters defense, which they almost never run other than at times in the red zone, the defense is pretty varied in how they play on the back end. As we drill further down, though, we see that if you remove red zone snaps, the defense only played 10 man snaps, and 6 of those were 3rd down situations. The overwhelming amount of the time, this defense is playing a soft zone defense. Moreover, on passing downs outside the red zone, the team only brought 5 or more rushers on five plays.
All of this adds up to what we’ve seen most of the season. A defense that mostly brings 4 pass rushers with a soft zone behind it. They will occasionally bring simulated pressure – ie, bringing an unconventional rusher like a CB or Safety, and dropping a DL – from time to time. For the most part, the defense works to rotate safeties and disguise coverage shells presnap, and try to win conventionally. A bend, don’t break, strategy, to an extent.
With all that said, let’s get into some of the things that jumped out at me this past week.
Throw inverted coverages in the trash
A change up to traditional Cover 2 is an inverted defense. They haven’t run this a ton this year, but, if you’ll recall, this was the same coverage they got beat on for an explosive vs. Jacksonville. Here’s an example of what the play looks like:
The idea is you tip your hand at one type of look – usually Cover 1/3 – that signals different key defenders at the high safety position. Then, post snap, the picture is different. Now the corners play the deep halves. The hope is it creates confusion, or even better, an interception.
The problem against Houston was the way the Titans organized this defense. There’s a missing element of disguise. The team does a decent job of disguising Cover 2 and 3 from each other, but this particular look always just looks unusual pre-snap. The safeties are shallow in these looks and/or the corners are unusually deep. There isn’t one distinct tell, but pre-snap it became fairly easy to determine whether this playcall was in place.
And, when it was, Watson abused it.