The Tennessee Titans’ defense last year was quite offensive, ranking 27th in the league in total yards allowed and 29th in points allowed. As bad as the stats look on paper, the eyeball test was even more appalling. At times it seemed as though the defense had no clue what they were doing out there.
In fairness though, they really didn’t. The transition from a 4-3 scheme to a 3-4 scheme was indeed a rocky one for Tennessee.
So why do we think the Titans can have a top 10 defense this season? Well…a few reasons.
Last season, new head coach Ken Whisenhunt and staff had their hands tied. With a salary cap in place, it is virtually impossible to overhaul an entire roster. Players that were drafted to play the 4-3 were suddenly having to learn on the fly. With a full season under their belt, the defense should be much more comfortable in the scheme. Remember…Tennessee finished 14th in total defense in 2013, with basically the same roster. So the talent is there.
Having a Hall of Fame football mind like Dick LeBeau overseeing the defense is an upgrade in every sense of the word. Titans players have agreed that his presence looms large in the meeting room, and when he talks…people listen. On the field, LeBeau’s influence should give the defense an edge…especially early in the season. There will be numerous looks and schemes that Tennessee will throw at offenses that have not been captured on film….staying one step ahead of the scouting report.
Free Agent Acquisitions
After last year’s fiasco of a transition, Tennessee opened up the check book…bringing in several veteran defensive players that are comfortable in the 3-4 scheme. Linebacker Brian Orakpo says that he’s been studying LeBeau’s defense his entire career, which makes him an ideal vocal leader and coach on the field. Cornerback Perrish Cox and safety Da’Norris Searcy not only filled critical areas of need, but they also bring veteran leadership and a knowledge of the scheme. Derrick Morgan transitioned from a 4-3 end to a 3-4 linebacker quite nicely last year, and was re-signed this offseason. This year’s veteran-laden group will not look clueless out there.
Coach Whisenhunt never got the chance to see if middle linebacker Zach Brown could make the transition, after suffering a season ending injury in last year’s opener. Prior to his injury, Brown was showing signs of being a Pro Bowl caliber talent. Seeing him running around in mini-camp was an encouraging sign. Brown’s return immediately upgrades the defense.
For all of their defensive woes last year, the offense certainly didn’t do them any favors. Tennessee was one of the worst teams in the league in time of possession, leaving the defense on the field way too long. I guess a non existent rushing attack and anemic passing attack will do that to you. With rookie qb Marcus Mariota set to start this season, look for the Titans to be more conservative on offense. Tennessee drafted a running back and fullback. They also brought in a tight end, and run blocking specialist in Anthony Fasano. Looks like a ball control…dink and dunk approach will be the order of the day, and I’m sure the defense will be fine with that. Now it becomes a numbers game…the less you’re on the field, the fewer yards you give up.
While a turnaround of this magnitude is daunting, it is not impossible. In 2006, Tennessee had the worst defense in the league. And that’s not hyperbole, they were ranked 32nd in total defense. The following season they finished 5th. And the year after that, 7th.
It has been done before, and the pieces are in place for it to happen again.