Titans Defensive Quarterly Evaluations
DE Austin Johnson- Johnson has three games where he predominantly played end and one where he predominantly played nose tackle. First of all, he’s not playing enough. He’s only played in 30 percent of the teams snaps and that’s just not enough for a key defensive end. His stats are poor, but he is regularly “right there” to make a play while someone else gets a tackle. Since he only played one game at End as a rookie, this is essentially his rookie year there. He gets bulled over by offensive linemen but yet other times he also shows real good fight to him. The “jury is still out” on him as an end. I would predict good things but only give him a C for a grade.
DE/NT DaQuan Jones- He plays 48 percent of the snaps which is too low. Once he became a fine “fill-in” at nose tackle, his stats and snaps should have increased considerably. I think he likes getting moved around. My impression is that he is somewhat stagnant when he is always at end, but there’s a ‘skip to his step’ when he is moving around the defensive line. When he’s fired up, he’s a pretty solid defensive end. He won’t remind anyone of Reggie White, but he can hold his own just fine. I see him as the best defensive line player four games in. Grade: A.
DT Jurrell Casey- Mister wonderful is having issues this year. On the rare occasion that he doesn’t have 3 or 4 blockers to fend off, he is his typical wonderful self. Offenses are smothering him with unfair numbers. Still trails a play better than any defensive lineman in football. fGrade: B.
Sylvester Williams- As I’ve said, he gets pushed around at least 80 percent of the time and regularly looks at his feet. He has a surgically repaired ankle and while it’s a total guess on my part, looking down at the ankle so often could mean he has an issue with it. His 21-32 percent snap counts for weeks 1-3 don’t warrant $7 mil per season nor display confidence from the coaching staff. Grade: F.
Wesley Woodyard- Dig out the cliches of the fountain of youth, he has been either very good or excellent each week. Grade: A.
Erik Walden- The defensive linemen listed as an outside linebacker rarely lines up off the line of scrimmage. Did the Titans switch to a 4-3 and not tell anyone? He is good, not bad, not excellent….good. I absolutely never expected him to play 50 percent of the snaps. He sees as much time as some starters.
Kevin Dodd- Still can’t cover, essentially a defensive lineman with his hands in the dirt. As I’ve written often, I don’t see it with him. I think he’s a bust and Mularkey or Jon Robinson need to move on. He was only active for one game. Grade: F.
Jayon Brown- There are good long stretches where all he does is cover the tight end. That limits his effectiveness and I wish they would use him more as a traditional ‘backer. Their usage of Brown in preseason was perfect- do that. He’s only “soso” covering the tight ends. He’s a rookie and he is often there, but not making a play. Brown will develop. There’s much to be hopeful for here. Grade: C.
Avery Williamson- My Man! What happened? He is not holding up as he used to. In every prior year, the Titans had weak nose tackle play making Williamson’s job more difficult than necessary. He still got it done. This year, he is struggling. He often misses tackles and/or holds on until someone else makes a tackle. In the past, he would wrap someone up or lay a hit and the play was over. Grade C.
Derrick Morgan- There have been moments that he is the lone bright spot. He is on his way to having an impressive 2017 season. Grade: A.
Brian Orakpo- The man impacted by Casey switching sides is Orakpo. He’s got his hands full trying to get around the swarm of linemen smothering Casey. He’s still a beast and clearly can still be a top linebacker. His job is just unusually difficult thus far. Grade: B.
Logan Ryan- Outstanding slot corner came over as advertised. He doesn’t play so well outside. He’s a shutdown corner in the slot and that should be enough for the Titans staff to work with. Grade: B.
Adoree Jackson- The Titans staff needs to pull him when he’s whooped. My goodness does he have the talent and athleticism to be a super cornerback. Some Sunday’s he takes his lumps and looks like a glutton for punishment though. I imagine a series on the sideline to get his head back would do wonders for the future star. He has allowed a ton of catches but he is also “right there” step for step with some of the best wide receivers. Grade: C.
Brice McCain- Last year he struggled outside and was good in the slot. This year it’s been the same. Why put him outside if the results are predictable? Just let him be a dime cornerback and Ryan’s backup. Sometimes when he gets subbed in, quarterbacks go right after him. Grade: D.
LeShaun Sims- Still a human blanket. He (and Ryan) have had some bad snaps here n’ there. In totality though, he’s been sharp. Sims playing less than 50 percent of the snaps has been a head-scratching decision by the staff. Grade: B.
Kevin Byard- Still stuck as a free safety, rocks as a strong safety. As I’ve written often, the Titans did not address the lack of an outfielder and didn’t keep (Denzel Johnson) the one outfielder they had this summer. Free Safety grade: D. Strong Safety grade: A.
DaNorris Searcy- He’s “out of place” as a free safety splitting the field or a free safety playing outfielder. He hasn’t done well and a strong safety shouldn’t have to. Grade: F.
Curtis Riley- I have been impressed with Riley. This is his first extensive taste of NFL action and he gets better each week. I don’t know that he’s fast enough to be their outfielder, but with his effort, he will “die trying” and I applaud that hustle. He is an effective shoulder tackler too; looks like a well-drilled pupil. Grade: B.
Kalan Reed- Curiously absent thus far. Zero games, always inactive.
Brynden Trawick and Daren Bates- I had written that the Titans were “blowing smoke” and they wouldn’t truly play much on defense. Those two combine for two defensive snaps. Without the special teams effectiveness, they don’t appear to be good free agent signings by the Titans. I am hopeful special teams will improve though.
The legend that is Dick Lebeau can only use what he has. That’s the first problem. It’s not totally on Lebeau that the defense hasn’t done so well. It’s on Mularkey and Robinson that decided the roster.
(Beating a drum) Antwaun Woods must be activated. MUST. Everything falls into place when he takes the field. Woods is an immovable object of a nose tackle and he has the ability to get into the backfield which few NFL nose tackles truly have. Defenses are always taught to funnel things toward the center. When the Titans do this and Williams has been pushed around, it’s hardly effective. Woods commanded double-teams against starting units all preseason. Austin Johnson would be getting one on one matchups and Casey would only have to beat one or two men. Behind Woods, “my man Avery” could play the middle linebacker role and just swallow up running backs rather than have to take on two blockers while simultaneously tackling the running back. All of these people in their spots with favorable matchups yields more effective pressure so less time for the defense to cover. Woods doesn’t have to be Aaron Donald or Albert Haynesworth during their best seasons. He can be Haynesworth during his younger years where he just held his ground moreso than pressured. That is sufficient. The domino effect Woods has on this defense is tremendous.
With difficult times at nose tackle the Titans have resorted to having four men on the line of scrimmage, often blitzing Woodyard, using Jones, Casey, Klug, and Johnson as an out of position nose tackle. If Woods plays, all of them play their typical roles. Some of them have the toughness to man the nose for a play here and there, but they don’t have the “beef” to handle it every snap. Lebeau is clearly compensating for the loss of Woods. In prior years, Lebeau will stack five or six players on the line to apply intimidating pressure. This year it appears to be a way to compensate. It’s lost its effectiveness without Woods since those out of position nose tackles are still weak up the middle.
Free up the safety- Denzel Johnson needs to play or last year’s starter, Rashad Johnson, needs to be brought back. Kevin Byard needs to do what he does best. There’s no gain from making a star strong safety into a below average free safety. Start Johnson and let Byard roam; let Byard remind us just how vital great strong safety play is to a Lebeau defense.
Let them all do what they do well, everyone. Sylvester Williams played a few snaps at defensive end this summer. He did fine. He held his ground and allowed Orakpo to get to the quarterback. Let Brown use his speed and some of the times let the Safety cover the tight end. Let Ryan stick on the slot and go into games knowing one wide receiver is shut down. Let Sims continue to blanket wide receivers and develop opposite Adoree. Blitz Woodyard sometimes, not “every down” as it often seems. Let him play linebacker. Stop running this faux 4-3 where Avery is the middle linebacker, run the 3-4 that Lebeau is famous for.
No, no, and no!
Stop having Leshaun Sims be the gunner and down on every punt and kick return. Starting corners should not be risked like that. Eric Weems should have one spot manned and there are a plethora of wide receivers and David Fluellen who should be able to man the other spot. Another option would be to treat Brice McCain as the backup and play him there, not Sims.
The Tennessee Titans rank 30th in total defense. They have way more talent than the 30th ranking indicates. There’s a curious exercise that teams do where they play vanilla defense in preseason to not show the other teams too much on tape. Well, what they did in preseason worked well. Start Woods and Johnson and play the preseason defense. Let Lebeau scheme off of that base, not some faux 4-3 with everyone playing different roles than normal. Let the players and coaches do what they do best.
Missing spark plug-
It may seem minimal but its effect has never been. Karl Klug has to play and he has to be at defensive end. When that man makes a play, the entire defense and the crowd are instantly energized. Stop playing him at nose tackle, let him do his thing, and watch the trickle down effect it has on the other players.
Video snips from NFL.com
Notice how the line performs as one cohesive unit and how they don’t.
Recapping the 49ers’ Week 4 loss