I’m beginning to think I may have drawn the short straw to do the All 22 reviews of the defense. I picture Mike Herndon watching his film while wearing a top hat, twisting his mustache and laughing maniacally when he’s reviewing the offense instead of… whatever you’d call this.
If last week was bad, then this week was worse. This is such a frustrating unit to watch. In years past, the Titans just had bad players on defense, which was easy to see and explain. Now, the unit has players all over the field that have played at a high level at one point or another over the past few years. Yet, nearly everyone in the inside linebacker and secondary group has contributed poor play at one point or another this season.
For a few years now, the stronger points of the Titans defense have been the secondary, and, to a lesser extent, the inside linebacker play. The common refrain among fans and analysts had usually been, “Improve the front four, and the defense could be great.” Well, the front four has been fantastic, yet the defense remains dysfunctional. Let’s lean right into that dysfunction and see what went wrong.
If I could snap my fingers and fix one thing about this defense, it would be the way the linebackers and safeties fit the run. It’s become a huge problem. I don’t know exactly what happened between last year and this year, but Jayon Brown has really struggled in the run game in 2020. Rashaan Evans has been slightly better than Brown. Not by much. They are just a tick slow with reads. Evans has generally been “right” with his leverages, he just seems to lack instincts to make plays. Brown, on the other hand, has frequently been out of position and has also had problems making plays in the open field.
On the Vikings third series, it was 2nd and 10 on the Minnesota 35. Second play of the drive.
The Vikings run a sprint draw here. The blockers will pass set before working to climb and run block. This is the moment when Cook receives the ball:
Look at the position of the linebackers in this image compared to the one above it. No one is getting downhill. This is a recurring problem. In this play, I should note, it’s how the offense designed it. They are looking for this action with the faked pass set. Still, this is like stealing. I don’t know what changed year over year, but it’s feeling like Evans and Brown are thinking too much. And when you’re thinking, it’s hard to play fast.