Tennessee Titans Play of the Week: Cornerback Alterraun Verner Intercepts Philip Rivers


The Tennessee Titans struggled to create turnovers in Week 1 against the Patriots. Facing a dynamic Chargers’ offense in Week 2, the defense really needed to improve if the Titans were going to have a chance to win this game. While the defense did surrender 17 first half points, they actually played quite well considering the field position and ineptitude of the Titans’ offensive effort. The most exciting play of the half came when Alterraun Verner intercepted Philip Rivers with 4:23 left to play. (Note that you can click on the pictures for a full-screen view)

With 3rd and 10 at their own 30-yard line, the Chargers are lined up in a basic 3 WR/1 TE shotgun formation. The Titans are lined up in Jerry Gray’s exotic “Ruby” package, and for a better understanding of the personnel, let’s rotate the picture and take a closer look.

The Ruby package is a 3-2-6 scheme, requiring 3 down linemen, 2 linebackers, and 6 defensive backs; however, there are 3 safeties instead of the normal 2. As the 2nd leading tackler for the Titans last season, Babineaux is well suited to fill the 3rd safety role. Both McCourty and Verner are in man-to-man coverage on the outside receivers, with Griffin covering the tight end and Robert Johnson roaming centerfield.

The Titans bring 6 pass rushers, with Ayers and Babineaux blitzing on the edge. The linemen (left to right) are rookie Scott Solomon, Klug, and Wimbley. Wimbley occupies 2 blockers, so Witherspoon stunts to the right and comes free through the middle of the line.

Griffin is in good position on the tight end, and Mouton is right behind the crossing receiver. Rivers senses Witherspoon coming up the middle and heaves a deep ball to Malcolm Floyd (bottom right), who is being covered downfield by Verner.

Verner is all over Floyd, and the safety help that he’s expecting over the top arrives just in time. Johnson reads Rivers the whole way and leaps in front of Floyd for a certain interception.

Inexplicably, the ball slips right through Johnson’s hands and into the awaiting arms of Floyd. But no worries, Verner (5’10”) is right there to wrestle the ball away from Floyd (6’5”). You can almost see the surprise on Floyd’s face as he wonders, “Did I really just let that little guy take my ball away?” Verner continues to play well this season and notches his 5th career interception. 

In an otherwise bleak game, this play highlights the exotic defensive schemes and blitzes that Jerry Gray claims he will deploy. This play also has strong implications about our personnel decisions. With Johnson and Griffin starting at safety, the coaches have struggled to get the newly resigned Babineaux on the field. Having him near the line of scrimmage in the Ruby package plays to his strengths: instincts and tackling. On the flip side, this play also shows that while Johnson has the athletic ability to start at free safety, he still lacks consistency. The Titans need to continue getting to the quarterback if our defense is going to improve throughout the season.

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