How this year’s Titans defense compares to the NFL’s best

CLEVELAND, OH - SEPTEMBER 08: D'Ernest Johnson #30 of the Cleveland Browns is smothered by the Tennessee Titans defense after catching a pass in the third quarter at FirstEnergy Stadium on September 08, 2019 in Cleveland, Ohio . (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OH - SEPTEMBER 08: D'Ernest Johnson #30 of the Cleveland Browns is smothered by the Tennessee Titans defense after catching a pass in the third quarter at FirstEnergy Stadium on September 08, 2019 in Cleveland, Ohio . (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images) /

How does this year’s Tennessee Titans defense compare to the NFL’s best?

Outside of Tennessee Titans blogs and the Nashville media, you won’t often find people discussing the Titans. They remained largely anonymous the previous three seasons while the team was winning and have especially been lurking in the shadows of the national landscape while getting off to a lackluster 3-4 start this year.

However, despite the lack of national media attention, Titans fans have been given the pleasure for some years now of witnessing one of the most overlooked and underappreciated secrets in the NFL: the Titans defense.

Dean Pees’ squad has looked the part of an elite defensive unit through the first seven games of the season and has even improved from their dominant 2018 season.

Starting this year, the Titans defense has improved in just about every major statistical category on defense. Compared to last year, Tennessee is allowing fewer yards per game, giving up a lower third-down conversion percentage, averaging more sacks per game, and are on pace to force more turnovers than they did last year.

These are all improvements on a Titans defense from last year that was still one of the best units in the NFL. The team’s offensive struggles are only made more frustrating when compared to how brilliantly the defense has been playing.

The poor performance by the Titans offense on a weekly basis (with the exception of Ryan Tannehill’s solid performance against the Chargers) this year has come in tandem with a defense that seems to always dominate and force competitive, low-scoring games.

Despite the Titans’ losing record, the defense remains a bright spot worth celebrating. While they may not get the attention of New England or San Francisco, Tennessee’s defense is playing on an elite level that compares to some of the best in the NFL.

Where the Titans defense especially shines is in keeping their opponents from scoring. Through seven weeks, Tennessee’s defense is allowing just 16.0 points per game, the fourth-fewest in the NFL. Through seven games this year, the Titans defense has allowed their opponents to score a combined 13 touchdowns, tied for the fifth-fewest in football right now.

The Titans have been consistent with their dominant scoring defense too. The most points the Titans have allowed a team to score this year has been 20, which occurred in a Thursday night game against the Jaguars and last week’s win over the Chargers. That season-worst performance is less than what 22 NFL defenses are allowing on average.

Tennessee’s success with scoring defense isn’t coming because of a “bend but don’t break” type strength in the red zone, either. In fact, despite the goal-line stand against Los Angeles, the Titans’ defensive weakness surprisingly comes in the red zone.

So far, the Titans are allowing teams to score touchdowns 61 percent of the time when they get within the 20-yard line, making them the 21st-ranked red zone defense in that category. Rather than tightening up in the red zone, Tennessee has been forcing so few points by shutting down drives before they even get started.

The Titans defense on average is forcing teams to punt five times per game, ranking them seventh in the NFL in that metric. They also rank within the top ten in terms of yards allowed per drive, giving up on average just 27.9 yards, where the NFL average is 32.1 yards.

The Titans have made a habit of forcing teams to end their drives early and punt the ball away. A lot of this success comes from how Tennessee can control third downs. Tennessee has smothered teams on third-down, allowing conversions on just 31 percent of their attempts and allowing fourth-down conversions just 27 percent of the time.

Reading off the rest of the Titans’ defensive accomplishments helps to paint an entire picture of how good this unit has been. They are in the top 12 in the NFL in yards allowed per game, opponent yards per rush attempt, opponent yards per completion, and opponent yards per play. Despite not getting much attention, this defense is one of the best in the NFL and has the stats to back it up.

The Titans offense has been hard to watch this year, playing in essentially polar opposite to how their defense has. However, that shouldn’t take away from how well the group has played on the year. The Titans have assembled a roster of dominant defensive talent on every level of the starting group, and if the Titans offense can find enough of a rhythm to be among the NFL’s average in the next nine games, the defense is absolutely good enough to carry the team to another winning season.