The Tennessee Titans have not exactly been known for elite pass rushers over the last few years. In the past five seasons, the Titans have had only one player eclipse nine sacks in a season: Jurrell Casey, who had 10.5 sacks in 2013. This lack of a sack threat hasn’t always been the case, as the Titans have had stellar pass rushers throughout the ages, from the Jevon Kearse years to the Haynesworth-Vanden Bosch era. But the drought finally appears to be over, as the Titans now have a two-headed monster in their front seven: Brian Orakpo and Derrick Morgan, who are currently the only teammates in the NFL with nine or more individual sacks.
Morgan and Orakpo have really blossomed in their second year together under defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau. Prior to 2015, their current level of success may not have been conceivable. Orakpo was regarded as a big free agent acquisition for the Titans, but he had only played 50% of his games in his previous three seasons due to injury. Many teams passed on him out of fear that he might never be able to stay healthy. And Derrick Morgan had just been re-signed for a good sized contract, but some people questioned that move as he had never topped 6.5 sacks in his career.
But this season has been a revelation, as these two players are proving that they not only were worth those contracts, but that those contracts may end up being a huge bargain for the Titans. Even when they don’t manage a sack, they seem to provide pressure on almost every drop back. And while there are players nowadays who are pass rush “specialists”, both Morgan and Orakpo are on the field for the majority of the snaps and are contributors to the run defense as well.
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The pressure that Orakpo and Morgan (along with the rest of the front seven rotation) have been able to provide has been the key to the defense this year. The Tennessee secondary has unquestionably been the weakest link for the entire team this season. There are 5 players on the Titans who are in the top 85 for QB hurries: Orakpo, Morgan, Casey, DaQuan Jones, and Karl Klug. The secondary has underperformed all year, but just imagine how much worse it could have been without that QB pressure. The lethal Titans pass rush has been able to mitigate a lot of mistakes made by the defensive backs. And if the DBs were able to cover for just a bit longer, it’s easy to assume that some of those pressures would turn into additional sacks.
As teams begin their final push for the playoffs, they will need to lean on their stars and playmakers to pull out tough wins. Both Orakpo and Morgan did their part against the Chiefs, helping to provide consistent pressure against Trevor Siemian and each recorded a sack. The Titans offense will surely need big plays from Mariota and Murray, but the continued high level of play from Orakpo and Morgan (and Jurrell Casey, when he returns) will also be crucial if the Titans have a chance at making the playoffs.