Tennessee Titans Defense Will Be Prepared for Gronkowski and Cooks


The Tennessee Titans defense gained valuable experience in the Wild Card round that will help them cover the Patriots’ talented weapons.

In last week’s comeback win against the Kansas City Chiefs, the Tennessee Titans offense converted all seven of their third down situations in the second half. On special teams, the team did a nice job of covering kickoffs and making sure that the Chiefs offense did not have any easy situations due to field position.

Despite the success of the other two phases, the Titans defense really deserves the bulk of the credit for the win.

Andy Reid and the Chiefs’ offensive coaching staff have been under fire from the media for the team’s second half debacle. Pro Bowler Kareem Hunt carried the ball only 11 times in the game, and the Chiefs suffered multiple three and outs in the second half.

The Chiefs offense may have been poorly schemed in the second half, but that shouldn’t detract from the fact that the Titans defense stopped everything that came their way as the game wore on. The play calls may not have been of high quality, but there were plays called.

Part of the Chiefs’ collapse can definitely be attributed to the loss of Pro Bowl tight end Travis Kelce, who exited the game late in the second quarter with a concussion after taking a hard hit from Titans safety Johnathan Cyprien.

Tennessee Titans
Tennessee Titans /

Tennessee Titans

Prior to getting hurt, Kelce had been having his way with the Titans defense. He abused linebacker Avery Williamson on a touchdown catch, and continually weaved his way through double coverage to find wide open spaces in the Titans’ defense.

It’s never good to see a player get injured, especially when the injury is to the head or neck area. But the Titans were certainly lucky that they avoided having to face Kelce in the second half, and head coach Mike Mularkey didn’t deny it.

“Well, we didn’t have to double team him anymore,” is how he responded to being asked what impact Kelce’s injury had on the game.

Unlike Kelce, Pro Bowl receiver/returner Tyreek Hill had a forgettable day against the Titans defense. Aside from one 40+ yard reception, his day was defined by drops, a lack of targets, and excellent coverage on special teams.

When a defense has to face weapons as talented as Hill and Kelce, it’s hard to expect for them to be completely shut down. There’s a reason why they consistently make the Pro Bowl despite every team they face paying them extra attention.

Perhaps thanks mostly to injury, the Titans defense had a respectable day against Hill and Kelce. When they travel to Foxborough this weekend to face the Patriots, they will face similar weapons in Rob Gronkowski and Brandin Cooks.

Gronkowski, arguably the most talented tight end to ever step on a football field, returned to All-Pro form in 2017 after sitting out most of last season due to injury. He hit the 1,000 yard mark, despite missing two games, and scored eight touchdowns.

Cooks became a member of the Patriots after being traded away by the New Orleans Saints in a deal that netted the Saints a first round draft pick (used to select RT Ryan Ramczyk). Though he still has yet to make the Pro Bowl, Cooks was again one of the NFL’s premier downfield threats in his first season with New England. He averaged nearly 17 yards per reception en route to 1,082 receiving yards.

Though Gronkowski has a different playing style than Kelce of the Chiefs, they share the trait of being elite tight ends that must be accounted for. And, while Cooks is utilized in a much different manner than Hill, he is just as fast and will give defensive backs headaches just as often.

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Mularkey has admitted as recently as last week that experience facing elite players at a certain position can really help a defense the next time they face similar talent. Just a week after facing one duo of an elite tight end and speed receiver, the Titans defense will have to do it again in the divisional round of the playoffs.

To be successful against New England, the Titans defense will need to look back on the game against the Chiefs as a bit of a “trial and error” experiment in covering Hill and Kelce. They did some things that worked well, and they did some things that blew up in their faces. Dick LeBeau, one of the best defensive adjusters in the NFL, has doubtlessly been sifting through the film from last week’s game to find a better plan of attack for Cooks and Gronkowski.

If the Titans defense is able to have even better success against the Patriots’ pair of a talented tight end and wide receiver, they will be well on their way to an upset of the defending Super Bowl champions.

Next: Tennessee Titans Injury Report vs. NE Patriots