Huge change the Titans defense made that you didn’t notice

Adoree' Jackson, Tennessee Titans. (Photo by Will Newton/Getty Images)
Adoree' Jackson, Tennessee Titans. (Photo by Will Newton/Getty Images) /

Big change for Titans defense.

The Tennessee Titans defense has been talked about a lot recently, probably because they are on pace to set an NFL record for being the worst 3rd down defense ever.

But, I don’t want to focus on the negative today because I do think the Tennessee Titans actually have an excuse for their terrible performance this week.

Reading the tea leaves, it is pretty clear that the Titans expected Adoree Jackson to be back for the Pittsburgh Steelers game. Not only did they expect him back, but they made a huge change on defense that left them high and dry when he couldn’t play.

Before I go any further, the most important thing is that Adoree Jackson gets fully healthy before coming back. One game isn’t worth jeopardizing the rest of the season, so none of this is Jackson’s fault.

Having said that, the big change that the Titans defense made is that for the first time in about two years, Tennessee was using cornerbacks to match up with specific players instead of just picking one side of the field and staying there.

PFF tracked this stat, and Malcolm Butler played 39 of his snaps in his usual spot on the right side of the field. However, he played 29 snaps on the left side, and that 43% is his highest rate on that side since December 16, 2018, where the Titans shut out the New York Giants on the road in Week 15.

That is a pretty big switch in the scheme for the Titans and that could explain why Tennessee’s defense has been…well terrible.

My (conspiracy) theory is that the Titans were going to play more man coverage with Adoree Jackson following the speed receiver and Malcolm Butler trailing the more physical receiver.

That makes a lot of sense and that would let the Titans play the rookies more sparingly with Kristian Fulton (or Chris Jackson) as the CB3 instead of the full-time slot cornerbacks.

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The Fulton point is more speculative based on what he did at LSU as a boundary cornerback, but I feel pretty confident that the evidence we have, points to that being the plan before Adoree Jackson got injured.

Adoree got hurt a day or two before the first game of the season, forcing Tennessee to scramble and go back to an easier and more conservative defense. The Titans had good results in Week 1 vs the Denver Broncos when they allowed just 14 points while playing their corners on specific sides of the field.

That probably gave them the confidence to stick with that defense until Adoree Jackson came back. Fast forwards to the Steelers game and after practicing all week this week he was a late scratch. By that time the team had already switched to match coverage in the secondary, so that is what we got to see on Sunday even though they were missing a key piece.

After Johnathan Joseph and Tye Smith got worked for a game, you can see why they didn’t stick with that defense initially when Adoree Jackson got hurt.

What does all this mean?

Well, I am not going to blow smoke and tell you that this defense is going to magically be fixed now. As long as the linebackers are playing the way they have been playing this season, there are going to be some drives that are tough to stomach as Titans fans.

However, all the huge cushions on defense and the easy underneath passes should be gone once the Titans get their top two corners on the field together.

Maybe that added confidence leads to more blitzing out of aggression and not out of panic as we have seen over the past three weeks. Maybe this helps the safeties be more confident that they don’t have to play so deep and take themselves out of the play.

Again, not blowing smoke but now that we have seen the Titans commit to matching corners to wide receivers, there is hope that the Titans trust Adoree Jackson to shut down the likes of Will Fuller, A.J. Green, T.Y. Hilton, etc. while Malcolm Butler is allowed to go after the WR2s.