The Tennessee Titans’ defense has plenty of talent, so why aren’t they the clear strength of this roster?
Going into the season, hopes were high that the Titans’ defense would maintain the elite status they had as they finished the 2021 season and postseason. However, those hopes took a big hit when Pro Bowl EDGE and 2021 sack-leader, Harold Landry went on I.R. with a torn ACL before the first game.
That is a serious blow, but the defense still has plenty of talent. Jeffery Simmons looks and feels like a guy poised to be a Pro Bowler every year, and he had two sacks in Week 1.
Kevin Byard is one of the top safeties in the NFL and he might be the best ball hawk in the league. During his 100th game, he even had a touchdown-saving interception to help seal a game that was decided by less than a field goal.
His partner in crime Amani Hooker had a great pick in the first game and then nearly had a second in Week 2, but the refs ruled that he didn’t maintain possession.
Bud Dupree, Denico Autry, and Rashad Weaver have flashed often with the trio totaling 5 sacks and 9 QB hits in just three games.
So what is the problem and can they fix it?
Tennessee Titans’ biggest problem on defense
The good and the bad news with the Tennessee Titans defense is that the answers are right in front of them. Unless they can magically heal Harold Landry’s knee, then they are going to need to do a better job of coaching and managing the cornerback position.
The outlier of the season’s defensive woes was in Week 1 when the Titans struggled to stay in their gaps as run defenders and they seemed poorly prepared to deal with the motions and lateral movement of the New York Giants’ offense. That would have been fine if not for the two huge plays given up that setup scores from New York and even the play given up by Kristian Fulton was partially caused by him sustaining an injury during the play.
After that, the Buffalo Bills simply targeted Stefon Diggs as often as they could and the Tennessee Titans looked shocked as UDFA Tre Avery was torched by the All-Pro.
Following that, the Las Vegas Raiders tried to get the ball to Davante Adams and Darren Waller early, until they realized that the Tennessee Titans seemed content to leave Terrance Mitchell on Mack Hollins who had a career day that doubled his receiving yardage from his previous career day.
With Kristian Fulton hurt in Week 2, it is understandable that Stefon Diggs had a big day. He is a superstar receiver in an aggressive offense that was playing against a team fielding two rookie corners and a second-yard player in Caleb Farley.
What is inexcusable, is for the Titans to punish Caleb Farley and relegate him to the bench so that they could start a 30-year-old cornerback who was on the roster for less than a week before somehow earning the trust of the coaching staff.
Speaking of the coaching staff, these coaches seem entirely disinterested in developing a 6’2 cornerback with elite speed. Forget that he is a first-round pick for a second (because they sure have), but Farley as a player is someone who added muscle in the offseason, took strides in the preseason, and who has seemingly put in the work.
Farley is relatively new to the cornerback position after converting from wide receiver in college and sustaining a season-ending knee injury as a rookie. He is lacking in experience and knowledge, not in talent.
The role of the position coaches is to develop players, identify what they do well and where they struggle, and then to put them in positions to succeed. It is aggravating to see them settle for UDFAs and old veterans when Farley could be getting valuable experience.
The good news is that the Tennessee Titans starting trio of Kristian Fulton, Roger McCreary, and Elijah Molden should be reunited soon since (after this week) the rules of I.R. will allow Molden to return.
Caleb Farley’s future with the Titans is a mystery, but fans should hope that this coaching staff takes his development seriously and honestly that they just do a better job going forward. In the NFL, injuries are always going to be a matter of “if” and not “when” so having depth at cornerback can be a massive asset.
Since there is no hope of Harold Landry coming back this season, the Titans’ coverage is going to have to pick up the slack in the pass defense. If cornerback can get figured out (or just managed correctly) then the Tennessee Titans’ defense should be able to dictate the flow of games more and exert their will by using multiple coverages and attacking from different angles.
If not, the opposing teams will just quickly scan the Tennessee Titans starting defense and play “find the Terrance Mitchell” and attack the weakest link on the field. That would put an incredible strain on the Titans’ offense that seems like they might be starting to finally figure out what they do well.