Tennessee Titans linebacker is the NFL’s best run stopper

Tennessee Titans (Mandatory Credit: The Tennessean)
Tennessee Titans (Mandatory Credit: The Tennessean) /

For some reason, people seem to forget that the Tennessee Titans added one of the best young linebackers in the NFL last season.

Early in December, the Houston Texans parted ways with Zach Cunningham. It is always a tricky proposition to pay off the ball linebackers the kind of money that the Texans were paying Cunningham because linebackers don’t translate into every scheme the same way.

When the Texans switched schemes, they started asking Cunningham to do things that he wasn’t especially good at and they stopped letting him play the way he did when he earned his contract. Basically, imagine a world where the Titans gave Derrick Henry his big contract, and then if they asked him to play like Alvin Kamara.

Sometimes it is hard to watch one player throughout a game, and if you didn’t get a chance to follow #41 on a play-by-play basis. If you didn’t, then the best analysis I can give you is that Cunningham plays football like he has thumbtacks in the heels of his cleats.

What I mean is, that he is itching to attack the line of scrimmage and he hates moving backward. On screens and running plays he runs like a heat-seeking missile for the ball carrier regardless of any blockers that might be in his way.

Advanced metrics can be hit or miss, but this is a great way to describe how he plays.

How good can he be for the Tennessee Titans?

The good news is that the Tennessee Titans sign players with specific roles in mind. For the bulk of his snaps Shane Bowen is going to ask Cunningham to read-and-react instead of asking him to go man-to-man with a slot receiver.

In fact, the Titans probably won’t even have Cunningham on the field on clear passing downs. Instead, they are likely to lean on their dime package (6 DBs) with someone like Elijah Molden or Amani Hooker coming down into the box to play as the other “linebacker” in those looks.

Tennessee really doesn’t blitz often because they have such an incredible front four, but when they do blitz they prefer to do it with defensive backs. So using the dime package on passing downs kills two birds with one stone by replacing Cunningham with a defensive back and by bringing another potential blitzer on the field.

My advice for Titans fans is that when you read that Seth Walder tweet above, get excited about having two incredibly range run defenders on the field in Cunningham and David Long Jr., and don’t worry about the coverage because Bowen won’t ask him to do that.