Dec 17, 2012; Nashville, TN, USA; Tennessee Titans cornerback Jason McCourty (30) celebrates with safety Tracy Wilson (35) and cornerback Alterraun Verner (20) after intercepting a pass against the New York Jets at LP Field. The Titans defeated the Jet 14-10. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-USA TODAY Sports
With analyses of the defensive line and linebackers in the rear view mirror, it is time to evaluate the secondary. In 2008, the last line of the defense was arguably the best position group for the Tennessee Titans. The defense finished ninth in the league in passing yards against per game, allowing just below 200. Conversely, the unit with the most to prove in 2013 will be the corners and safeties on the defense that was gashed for nearly 250 passing yards per game last season. Let’s take a closer look at exactly how they stack up.
2008: Nick Harper, Cortland Finnegan, Chris Hope, Michael Griffin
2013: Jason McCourty, Alterraun Verner, Bernard Pollard, Michael Griffin
Even with the addition of veteran enforcer Pollard, the Titans’ secondary is still the biggest question mark on defense. McCourty is considered by many to be inferior to his twin brother, Devin McCourty, who plays safety for the Patriots. Verner’s play during his career so far has been wildly inconsistent.
However, the Titans’ safety play should be the highlight of the secondary. Griffin and Pollard both have produced consistently for their teams since they entered the league in 2007 and 2006, respectively. Additionally, Griffin is the only defensive back who has ever been to the Pro Bowl. He was invited in 2008 and 2010.
Finnegan’s and Hope’s play in 2008 also earned them invitations to Honolulu alongside Griffin, while Harper made solid contributions as well. The four players forced a combined 20 turnovers (18 interceptions and two forced fumbles). Griffin lead the team with seven picks, which tied him for second most in the NFL.
Finnegan was also a 1st Team All-Pro selection in 2008 with five interceptions (one of which he took back 99 yards for a touchdown) and 58 solo tackles. Although he was only in his third season, the seventh-round draft pick out of Samford emerged as one of the best shutdown corners in the NFL and had a strong presence against the run.
Neither of the Titans’ current corners play with the same tenacity Finnegan did and neither has a knack for getting under opposing receivers’ skin quite like he did. However, the Titans’ coaching staff seems committed to McCourty and Verner. That may be a sign of improvement.
At the safety position, it is not out of the question to expect Pollard to produce at a level similar to Hope’s in 2008. Although he is not generally a ball hawk in the secondary (he only has nine interceptions in seven seasons), he has topped 70 solo tackles five times in his seven-year career.
It is also hard to imagine that Griffin could be worse next year, his sixth NFL season, than he was in 2008, his second year in the league. If Griffin and Pollard can play to their potential, they should be able to cover up some of the mistakes the corners in front of him will inevitably make.
All things considered, the Titans’ defense next year should be much better than the bottom-feeding group last year. It still has a way to go to match the performance of 2008’s unit. When it is all said and done, I expect the Titans to be near the middle of the pack in terms of points and yards per game, with the play of the cornerbacks determining whether they are slightly above or slightly below average. Keep an eye out for a breakout season from at least one of the young players in the front seven; my money is on Akeem Ayers, Jurrell Casey or Derrick Morgan.