Tennessee Titans run defense was elite in a mediocre 2019

BALTIMORE, MARYLAND - JANUARY 11: Head coach Mike Vrabel hugs Rashaan Evans #54 of the Tennessee Titans during the closing moments of AFC Divisional Playoff game against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium on January 11, 2020 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
BALTIMORE, MARYLAND - JANUARY 11: Head coach Mike Vrabel hugs Rashaan Evans #54 of the Tennessee Titans during the closing moments of AFC Divisional Playoff game against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium on January 11, 2020 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images) /
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The Tennessee Titans defense didn’t take a complete step back.

No one really talks about it because of how the season ended, but I will be the first one to say that the Tennessee Titans was a little disappointing last year.

I mean, coming into the 2019 season I was banging the table that this group was going to be an elite unit that was highlighted by young stars.

Guys like Jayon Brown and Adoree Jackson could have really taken a huge step forward while younger players like Rashaan Evans and Harold Landry just had to keep following their current trajectory.

On top of that, Amani Hooker and D’Andre Walker were under the radar rookies that looked like they would have an impact on the season in their first year.

Well fast forward and some of those things happened, but at the end of the day the Titans defense as a whole just got much more passive in their play calling and whatever Mike Vrabel and Dean Pees were trying to get going, never took off.

However, that doesn’t mean the defense was bad. Instead, it is better to call it mediocre with some good games here and there. Most of those issues had to deal with an anemic pass rush, but it turns out that if you look at the other side of the coin, there is something to be very proud of from 2019.

According to PFF, the Tennessee Titans were one of the elite run defenses in the NFL:

While I don’t agree with it, maybe that was the reason why there were fewer blitzes in 2019. Fewer blitzes means fewer explosive plays in the run game or short passing game, and maybe the new and vastly improved Tennessee Titans offense gave the coaching staff the peace of mind to be comfortable forcing opposing QBs to make plays time after time.

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Will that hold in 2020?

In 2020, there are really two changes that we need to look at in terms of run defense. The first is the Jurrell Casey being replaced on a full-time basis by Jeffery Simmons. The other is Kristian Fulton replacing Logan Ryan as the CB3.

Last year, Casey had one of his better seasons as a run defender according to PFF earning a 78.2. On the other hand, Simmons only earned a 68.1 in run defense.

The big caveat with that is, Jeffery Simmons was playing on a recently recovered ACL and should probably see a healthy increase in that number. Also, Simmons wasn’t allowed to really attempt to stack and shed like Casey, instead of holding up blockers or driving them back frequently to open lanes for others.

A much smaller part of run defense, Logan Ryan had a 62.6 in run defense was not great. So, when I say that Fulton was better with a 64.4 in college, that isn’t a ringing endorsement of him as a run defender, but at the very least there shouldn’t be a big decline here according to PFF.

Is it going to be better? I’m not sure. However, the defense did get better as a whole and faster too. If they can just maintain their previous level while adding some speed, it would be a huge deal for the Tennessee Titans heading into 2020, and there is also a chance that they could get even better…but we will see.