We take a look back at statistics from the 2016 season and where the Tennessee Titans could stand to improve in the upcoming season.
The Tennessee Titans hype train is barreling down the tracks towards the regular season. And, after a strong 2016 campaign followed by solid additions in the draft and free agency, the Titans are certainly deserving of the positive attention. But with so much buzz surrounding their upcoming season, it can be easy to forget that there’s definite room for improvement. I took a look at Tennessee’s 2016 stats to see what some major areas of concern were, and the likelihood of the Titans improving in those areas during the 2017 season.
When discussing the 2016 Titans and penalties, Taylor Lewan’s personal foul that arguably cost the Titans the win against the Raiders immediately comes to mind. It was an ill-advised penalty, but Lewan has become the scapegoat for what was a team-wide problem last season. The Titans defense had the most penalty yards of any team last year, while the offense was also at the bottom of the barrel, finishing 7th. Penalties can be back-breaking for a team, either by giving the opposing offense more chances to score or by stalling your own drive. The Titans defense allowed the 10th-highest totals for both plays per drive and yards per drive, while the offense finished 22nd in plays per drive.
At this point in the preseason, trying to predict whether or not the Titans can improve their game discipline is impossible. One would hope that a combination of a year of continuity for the younger players and the newly signed veterans on the roster would lead to a decrease in penalties. But the Titans also play an aggressive style of football, and stressing a reduction of penalties could potentially cause a team to lose their physical edge. There needs to be a middle ground where the Titans can maintain that physicality without losing control of the game. I would assume the coaching staff also realizes this, and I would expect the total number of penalties to decrease this season, if only slightly.
Creating turnovers is something the Titans have struggled to do for a long time. The Titans tied for 23rd in takeaways last year while 18.65% of the league finished with 20+ takeaways in 2016, but the Titans haven’t reached 20 takeaways since 2013. As mentioned above, the Titans need to do more to prevent long drives. More turnovers means better field position, time of possession, scoring opportunities, etc.
It will be interesting to see if the Titans improve in this department in 2016. Fumbles are almost impossible to predict, but adding physical secondary players like Logan Ryan and Johnathan Cyprien (who have combined for seven forced fumbles over the past four years) could help. I am skeptical the interceptions total will leap drastically, however. Neither Ryan or Cyp are especially known for their ball-hawking skills. Most of the turnovers will have to be generated from the young players. Adoree’ Jackson seems to have a nose for the ball, and Kevin Byard was an interception machine while at MTSU. If they can live up to their potential and become dynamic stars on defense, the Titans might have a shot at getting over the 20+ takeaways hump.
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It isn’t a secret that the Titans secondary struggled last season. But I figured I would dig into what specific aspects of pass defense the Titans struggled with last season. Looking at Football Outsiders, the Titans had the 27th ranked pass defense, but that only tells part of the story.
Against WR2s and RBs
The first notable stat is how the Titans performed against secondary receiving options, meaning players besides the #1 wide receiver. Against the #1 WR, the Titans ranked 18th overall; this isn’t great, but it was actually much better than I would have guessed. And, despite allowing a few big games by tight ends, the Titans fared well against the position, finishing 8th. But while they played decently against these two positions, the WR2s and RBs ran wild, as the Titans finished 30th in defense of both positions. The linebackers apparently played better than assumed against TEs, but the success of the RBs most likely was due to their struggles in coverage.
Another interesting stat Football Outsiders provides is defensive rankings against deep (>15 yards) and short (<15 yard) passes. FO has the Titans finishing 13th against the deep pass (also surprising), but 28th against short passes. The success of the WR2s and RB sprobably go hand in hand with the Titans struggles with defending short passes. They might have been good at defending the WR1 deep, but the other receivers created havoc underneath.
The Titans should improve in both areas of pass defense this season. The addition of Logan Ryan will undoubtedly help the short pass defense, as he is a physical, strong defender who attacks wide receivers right off the line. Former CB Perrish Cox was undoubtedly a big factor in the low rankings, and moving LeShaun Sims up to CB2 should make a difference. Even average play on his part will result in a significant upgrade to the position. Training camp standout Jayon Brown could also play a significant role this season. Brown was drafted to be a coverage specialist, and sticking to the RB or TE on short 3rd down plays will be a crucial development for the defense. Naturally, there are still a lot of question marks, but I think the prospects of improvement look good.