Tennessee Titans have an elite defense that demands respect

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

Coming into the 2021 season, the big question for the Tennessee Titans was whether or not their defense could do their job, while the offense was supposed to be one of the most potent in the NFL.

Instead, Titans fans got to see an offense that couldn’t script an opening drive to save their life and a defense that was constantly bailing them out of trouble.

In fact, saying that the defense was “bailing them out” already isn’t giving them enough credit. What the defense was really doing was stepping up and winning games for the team when the offense just didn’t have the firepower or execution to pull it off.

By the end of the 2021 season, the Tennessee Titans finished with the top-ranked run defense in the league, allowing the fewest yards-per-game at 83.5. Even if someone isn’t going to call them an “elite defense”, no one can argue that they aren’t elite in that specific area.

So, the question every Titans fan is asking themselves is whether or not this is a repeat of the 2020 offense that flamed out the next season, or if this is sustainable and something that they can depend on in 2022.

Luckily for Tennessee Titans fans, the answer seems to be clear.

Tennessee Titans’ defense didn’t have the turnover that the 2021 offense did

While the 2021 Tennessee Titans offense certainly had heavy expectations coming into the year, they underwent some key changes the previous offseason that hampered them. The departure of Dennis Kelly hurt them on the right side of the offensive line, and Taylor Lewan and Rodger Saffold battled injuries all year.

They failed to adequately replace Jonnu Smith, and Julio Jones turned out to be a step down from Corey Davis, as he was ineffective in the rare moments when he was not injured. And that is not even getting into Ryan Tannehill’s regression,  Derrick Henry’s injury, or the debacle that was Todd Downing’s play calling.

It is easy to see why the Titans had a tough time scoring in 2021, as even with the injuries, there were a lot of changes to overcome from the 2020 season. But when you look at this year’s defense, none of those same concerns apply.

Defensive Coordinator Shane Bowen, who proved everyone wrong last year, is not going anywhere. Jim Schwartz, who was in charge of the pass rush for the Titans, is also coming back.

The entirety of the ferocious front four that led the charge is returning. Harold Landry re-signed, Jeffery Simmons is continuing to emerge as one of the best defensive tackles in the NFL, Bud Dupree figures to be better and more consistent after giving his knee time to heal, and Denico Autry is a solid presence who is a problem when he can benefit from those around him.

Ola Adeniyi, Teair Tart, and Naquan Jones proved to be nice depth options, and adding Rashad Weaver could give them a huge boost as well. There have been times in the last decade where these backups would have been better than the starters that the Tennessee Titans fielded.

Both starting middle linebackers in David Long and Zach Cunningham are coming back as well, and Monty Rice should give them a nice third option. Essentially, the Titans very well may have a top-three run defense again this year, with the potential to repeat as the best.

The only notable change on this unit is cutting Jackrabbit Jenkins, whose loss is not even that big since he was brought in only to be a stopgap option while the younger cornerbacks on the team developed.

His void looks like it will be filled by Caleb Farley, who Mike Vrabel and Jon Robinson have spoken glowingly about during the offseason. It is an unknown, but the Titans very well might be getting a huge upgrade at the position this year, considering they only got Farley after his draft stock took a hit due to injuries.

Other than Farley, Kristian Fulton had a great sophomore season and should continue to improve, and Elijah Molden continued to get more and more comfortable as the slot corner as his rookie year progressed. The Titans have the rare advantage of having three top-100 picks set to start this season and all three are young but have seen NFL snaps before.

Kevin Byard and Amani Hooker are a tremendous safety duo and round out the secondary. You could write a whole article about these two, but Tennessee Titans fans understand just how great this duo is.

As if that wasn’t enough firepower in the secondary, rookies Roger McCreary and Theo Jackson, along with the return of depth corner Buster Skrine only add to a secondary that has a lot of versatility.

When you look at this defense, it is hard to find a true weakness. The linebacker core does not have anyone who is a star or has shown that potential, but they are solid starters and are tough to contain when they can benefit from the rest of the group.

The Titans defense is not being given much of a chance by anyone to be in the top ten, but look at what they did last year. That entire group is going to be nearly identical this season, and might be even better with the additions at their disposal.