Time for some Tennessee Titans draft sleepers to open some eyes.
The key word this week for the Tennessee Titans should be versatility, which is necessary when you look at the NFL’s soon to be MVP, Lamar Jackson.
Guys like Logan Ryan, Kevin Byard, Kenny Vaccaro, and plenty of others have proven that they can be versatile on defense. One play you can see Byard defending a tight end in man coverage and the next he can be in the box getting his run fit.
The unique problem that Jackson presents is that he is dynamic in space, but the offense he plays with usually likes to feature two or three tight ends on the field at the same time.
So you have a QB who has the arm strength to hit the deep pass, but who nickel and dimes (if you are lucky) you with his legs. A big reason why he can make so many splash plays on the ground is because those formations I mentioned earlier force defenses to match big on big.
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If you are forced to play a lot of 4-3/3-4 looks and limit the amount of nickel you are allowed to play, the offense can outright scheme Jackson one-on-one with an outside linebacker.
Now, if that linebacker is Jayon Brown then the Titans are alright because he has the speed to hang with Jackson in that situation. However, if Jackson gets in the open field against Wesley Woodyard it is going to get ugly quickly.
So now you are in a pretty sticky situation when you are game planning for this offense because do you give up size and risk the Ravens running it right at you, or do you go heavy and ask guys like Woodyard and Rashaan Evans to tackle Jackson on the edge or to drop into coverage?
Enter the Titans rookie class.
Last week the two played 40 snaps on defense with Hooker as the third safety and with Long as the part-time replacement for Jayon Brown.
The reason why they are important this week is because those two players give you real options to do whatever you want on defense vs Baltimore (to an extent).
If you want to go heavy, no problem because David Long can come out and play in space with the quickness to stick with anyone. Is he polished and a great tackler? No, but he is exceptionally quick and he explodes out of his stance to be the first to the ball.
All you need is to slow Jackson and let the troops rally behind you and gang tackle. Long can definitely do that.
Alright, but what about if the linebackers are getting beaten vs play action passes? Again, no problem because you can bring in Amani Hooker.
In college Hooker moved all around the defense and was a good tackle, but even better in coverage no matter where he was lined up. For the Titans, he has spent the bulk of his rookie snaps at safety pushing Vaccaro or Byard in the box.
This flexibility is great because both Byard and Vaccaro are fantastic blitzers, so when they walk into the box your offense has to be alert. Just because they are in the box doesn’t mean they are there to cover a tight end and if you don’t account for them correctly on a read-option it could lead to a QB or RB getting their teeth rattled.
We don’t know who is playing or who is banged up for the game this weekend on either side, but the simple fact that the Titans have rookies who have gotten their fair share of snaps during the season that could play a big role in this game is impressive.
Ideally the Titans can somehow dictate the pace on defense with a combination of confusing coverages and interesting pressures that force the Ravens away from what they are comfortable doing. However, if that isn’t possible I fully expect Dean Pees to shift to a more conservative style of play calling which would rely on this young players.