Tennessee Titans: One defensive statistic that’s truly hard to explain

Tennessee Titans Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
Tennessee Titans Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports /

Under Mike Vrabel‘s leadership, the Tennessee Titans have always been a frustrating team. That isn’t to say that they have been bad. As a matter of fact, the Titans have been a much better and more consistent team than most people realize. Tennessee has never had a losing season with Vrabel in charge, and they are two years removed from an AFC Championship appearance.

The question under Vrabel has never been, ‘Can this team be good enough to win in the playoffs?’.  The real question is whether a Mike Vrabel-led Tennessee Titans team can ever avoid the pitfalls and head-scratching losses that seem to be an annual tradition.

For the better part of two years now, it has been Mike Vrabel’s ‘specialty’ that has let the team down. The defense just hasn’t been an imposing force no matter how much talent they are given.

To be fair, the 2021 defense is miles ahead of the Tennessee Titans 2020 unit. Here are two key areas where they have improved:

2020 3rd down conversion rate: 51.98% (32nd)

2021 3rd down conversion rate: 39.22% (13th)

2020 sacks: 19 sacks (30th)

2021 sacks (projected): 38 sacks (tied-13th)

So if the defense is consistently better, then what is the problem? It has to be explosive plays right?

Are explosive plays the Tennessee Titans issue?

Well…no, not really. Explosive plays are generally defined as runs of 10+ yards or passes of 20+ yards. It might actually surprise you to see where they are in explosive plays allowed (h/t to Marcus Mosher):

That’s right, the Tennessee Titans are a top-10 defense when it comes to allowing explosive plays. They are even higher than they look on this list because this was before Monday Night Football where the Los Angeles Chargers and Las Vegas Raiders both allowed multiple explosive plays and fell behind Tennessee.

So if the Titans are the eighth-best team in the NFL in terms of explosive plays allowed, and they are also in the top-half of defenses in terms of sacks and third-down conversion rate, then why are they bottom-ten in points allowed?

The simple answer is that they are just unlucky and you can break that down into three parts.

Firstly, they haven’t been creating turnovers. Just 4.3% of their opponent’s drives have been stopped by a turnover. That ties them for 30th in the NFL.

Secondly, Ryan Tannehill has had terrible turnover luck this season. Two of his three interceptions came off of drops where receivers essentially handed the ball to the defensive back and he is credited with three strip-sacks where an offensive lineman allowed him to be blindsided.

Too often the team’s turnovers have given opposing offenses very short fields and have led to cheap, easy points.

Finally, even though the Titans have only allowed 22 explosive plays this season, four of those explosive plays were touchdowns.

To piece all of this together, the Titans’ defense has allowed 13 touchdowns this season. Of those 13 touchdowns, more than came from drives that started inside the Titans’ 40-yard line (3) or on explosive plays (4).

Trending. 4 most disappointing Titans from the 1st month of 2021. light

Tennessee Titans fans might not want optimism right now, but when they force opponents to drive the entire field without shooting themselves in the foot first, they have only allowed 1.5 touchdowns per game.

It is impossible to play perfect football, but if they can just limit opponents to one easy/explosive touchdown per game then they have a great chance to turn this around quickly. Now the question is whether or not this Titans team can get out of their own way.