All-22 Review – Titans Defense vs. Texans Offense

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.

Statistic#Rank
Points Per Game25.215th
Yards Per Play6.230th
Rushing Yards Per play5.129th
Passing Yards Per Play7.025th
Red Zone TD%87.5%32nd
DVOA5.1%22nd
DVOA vs Run-11.5%16th
DVOA vs Pass16.8%24th
Explosive Pass Plays7%9th
Explosive Run Plays16%31st
Third Down Conversion %57.81%32nd

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.

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Comments

  1. If we lose to the Steelers, this will be the main reason why. They will control the ball and keep the defense on the field too long, then when we do get it, we will be cold and they will bring lots of pressure, especially focused on Ty Sambrailo. If we don’t find a solution, or get lucky with some turnovers ala the Bills game, this could get ugly quick.

    I do so want to showcase our offense in this game. I’m afraid we won’t get the chance.

    1. Ben is NOT mobile like almost every other QB we faced this season. Not sure if that will help with him getting the ball out as quick as he has, but I’m hoping we can get to him with our pass rush that has been “close”.

    1. Butler is definitely the second-best CB on the roster still, he just needs to play within his role better (and also his role needs to not ask him to be a safety).

      1. Who do you guys think slides in to the slot when Adoree is healthy? Is it possible that becomes the next move for Butler, or is it more likely the rookie who gets bumped in while he’s still developing?

        1. Butler’s best position would be in the slot, IMO. He’s a great tackler and box defender. Plays well in confined spaces.

          But, if the staff saw him that way, I suspect they would have already kicked him inside and put Fulton outside. They’ve been playing Fulton in the slot.

          As for as ease in the slot, it might seem easier to play inside, but there’s actually more to think about as that play is the apex player (between the end man and the outside corner), which nearly always means they have a run responsibility. Outside corners usually don’t have a run responsibility other than as a flat defender in Cover 2.

    2. Just different. If I knew someone was going to be in lock man coverage, I’d absolutely take Butler. In terms of technique, Butler and Joseph are similar, but Joseph takes less risks, and gets caught out of position less as a result.

      Fulton still has some growing to do as a rookie.

    1. Not sure. Some may just be getting back into game shape. But, even when scouting his tape from last year, I didn’t think he was much of an upgrade from Correa. I’m not expecting big things.

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