Tennessee Titans: The Man In The Box II – Jerry Gray


This is what we want to see more of. Mandatory credit: Don McPeak-USA TODAY Sports

As sporadic and inept as the offense of the Tennessee Titans has looked this season, the defense has managed to look worse until recently.  During the first quarter of the season, the Titans were on track to give up more points to opposing teams than any other team in history.  Through the first 7 games they have allowed a whopping average of 34 points per game.

The first half of the season showed us a defense that never called a blitz, wasn’t allowed to cover a tight end, and the safeties were supposed to line up in prevent defense.

In a previous article we examined the dysfunction of the Titans, and mainly the heat being put on offensive coordinator Chris Palmer.  Now that this particular situation has been rectified we will focus on Jerry Gray.

The Players

If the the offensive woes of the titans seem definable solely by scheme, the defensive has a twofold issue. Let’s start with the talent on the field.  Unlike the offense, the Titans defense is incredibly young, unproven, and inconsistent.  The majority of the front seven are first or second year players, and the secondary was suspect before letting Finnegan go for basically the same contract we gave McCourty.  I love McCourty, but I liked Finnegan/McCourty/Verner a lot more than McCourty/Verner/Mouton. Especially when you take into account the lack of pass rush.  In the past few games, Mouton has given way to this years draft pick Cody Sensabaugh which has returned mixed results.  He seems like he could be more of a playmaker, but still prone to making rookie mistakes, so call it a lateral move with upside.

Griffin has taken a lot of heat for the way he’s played this year, as well he should.  But why sign a player to a big extension and then move him out of position that you gave him the contract for?  Free and Strong safety are very different positions.

Overall, it seems that the Titans organization grossly overestimated it’s current players on the roster coming into this year.  The job the front office did in putting the ingredients together for Gray to cook with was less than stellar.

The Scheme

A lot has been said about whether teams play a 4-3 or 3-4 defense.  After signing Casey, there was talk of whether the Titans may move to a 3-4 mix.   What they ended up laying was more of a 5-2 front with corners  and safeties playing WAY off the ball.  Basically a more aggressive front in a cover 2 scheme.

If your linebackers can react and move fast enough, then this can work. They are in place for the run and gap assignments, but are supposed to drop into zone coverage as soon as they read pass.  I don’t have to tell you what play action and a capable QB can do to this scheme. You also have to have safeties that can trigger up after making sure there’s not a seam being run. None of this happened.  What the Titans were left with game after game was a gaping 20 yard free zone between linebackers and secondary where you and I could have run free.

There has been an obvious level of disgruntlement among the players which can be felt in their post game interviews. Especially when you have players answering media questions by saying “go ask the coach” (Gray).  We have heard time and time again that it’s the coaches job to put the players in position to make plays.  Then it’s incumbent upon the player to execute.  The first half of the season Gray was obviously not doing that.  Whether he was not trusting of the talent he was given or just bad play calling, we’ll never know.

Munchak moved Gray into the box like Palmer in hopes that the new perspective would allow him to make better in game adjustments.  This time it may actually be working.
Gray has slowly moved away from the soft zone shell scheme that was the staple of the first half of the season.  The safeties aren’t lining up on the goal line as much, and I often even see one creep into the box.

The defense seems to have turned the corner a bit during the last four games.  Gray seems to have his guys in position, but alas,  he can’t tackle for them.  Babineaux’s whiff on Cecil Shorts in the jacksonville game is just one glaring example of the guys on the field being unable to execute the basics.  Follow this up with Griffin’s miss on the opening drive in the Texans game and you’ve got two easy scores that never should have been.  These weren’t great plays made by the opposition, but rather atrocious plays on our part.

Coach Mike Munchak didn’t mince words when asked about replacing Jerry Gray, saying that he wouldn’t make any changes on the defense this year, but also saying that there wasn’t a better option available to replace Gray (at the moment) like there was with Chris Palmer.

With less proven talent on the defensive side of the ball, it’s hard to tell whether Gray is just playing the hand dealt him as best as possible, or if his scheme just doesn’t work.

Will Jerry Gray take the ax after the season ends?  Or does he survive this abysmal Titans season?

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