The Tennessee Titans’ 2009 report card: Defense

Tony Brown was the Titans best defender. Photo by Andrew Strickert for Total Titans

It’s good to see many of you have followed us here on our new temporary home. Thanks for being with us.
 
We looked at the report card for the offense the other day and will now turn to the defense.
 
As before, I’ve arranged the grades by position group, with a sentence or two about each player after their grades. Only the players who had significant playing time are graded here. Also, please note that these grades reflect only their performance on defense; any special teams play is not considered here.
 
As you might expect from a defense which had a poor year, many of their grades are not pretty.
 
Defensive line: A unit which was very good in 2008 became very average this past season. As Drexel noted, the loss of Albert Haynesworth was significant. Combine that with several other players having a decline in their games and it’s a big dropoff from the performance of the 2008 d-line.
 
Tony Brown: A- 
He provided a very strong pass rush again this year and while I believe there are better DTs in the league more deserving of Pro Bowl honors, I’m happy for him. Brown is my choice for Titans Defensive Player of the Year.
 
Jovan Haye: D-
While the RDT spot was once again the strength of the d-line, LDT was the weak link this year. Haye didn’t apply any pressure on the quarterback and was just as bad against the run. The man simply looked overmatched week in and week out. If he didn’t have Stephen Tulloch behind him to cover his butt, the Titans would have been in an even worse mess.
 
Kyle Vanden Bosch: C
After missing six games in 2008 and being largely ineffective in others with a groin injury, KVB was supposed to be a force once again in 2009. Although the effort was there, it didn’t happen, at least not up to expectations. Opponents didn’t rely on double-teams as much as they used to. KVB was still better than average on the pass rush in 2009 but hardly dominant.
 
William Hayes: C+
Replacing Jevon Kearse in the starting lineup in Week Five, Hayes went on to have a rather unremarkable year. Still, even as an average DE, he was an upgrade over the Freak. Solid against the run but still needs improvement rushing the passer.
 
Jacob Ford: B
He’d make a good platoon partner with Hayes, as they’re pretty much opposite in their skill sets. Keep Hayes on the field for run defense and put Ford in to rush the passer. I would have liked to see a lot more of Ford last year; the pass defense sure could have benefited from his play.
 
Jason Jones: B
JJ was a better than average DT when healthy. His shoulder injury was disappointing to all but if he and Brown are both healthy next season, they can combine to generate a formidable push up the middle and get in the quarterback’s face. A lot.
 
Kevin Vickerson: C+
He was a pleasant surprise to me, playing fairly well, and in my opinion, not enough. The Titans would have been better off with more Vickerson and less Haye. 
 
Sen’Derrick Marks: C-
The only good thing to come out of Jones’ injury was more snaps for Vickerson and Marks. If Marks continues to increase his core body strength we may be able to see the reason why he was a second-round draft pick. The encouraging thing about Marks was his late season improvement.
 
Dave Ball: D
He certainly wasn’t the player he was a year earlier. Ball came off the proverbial scrap heap to become a decent role player and it appears he’s now headed back to the scrap heap.
 
Jevon Kearse: D
It was only a year ago that the Freak was still a decent player. Being in Jeff Fisher’s doghouse and having a knee problem didn’t help him. We missed the Old Freak.
 
Overall grade for the D-line: C 
 
Linebackers: The performance here was very much a mixed bag. Some good, some not so good.
 
Keith Bulluck: B
Even though he had lost a little quickness, #53 was still a good player before his ACL injury.
 
Stephen Tulloch: B
This grade should really be broken down into two grades, an A on run defense and D in pass coverage. I didn’t like it on those occasions when he stayed on the field in nickel defenses.
 
David Thornton: D
It was not a good year for Thornton, who was hampered by his shoulder injury. He did manage to get in a couple of good games but had his face on a milk carton for most of the time. 2009 may have been his final year in two-tone blue.
 
Gerald McRath: C-
I wasn’t really impressed by McRath – he just didn’t show much – but I know LB coach Dave McGinnis thinks highly of him. If McRath is going to replace Thornton next year it was good that he got a little experience this year.
 
Colin Allred: C-
His two starts as Bulluck’s replacement were both terrible games for the defense as an entity. I didn’t think Allred played too well but certainly not as poorly as some of the others on the field. Maybe it’s just a case of him not being as good as Bulluck.
 
Overall grade for the linebacker corps: C
 
Secondary: We try to keep the language clean on this site so that limits what can be said about them.
 
Chris Hope: C-
I was tempted to make this grade a D but Hope was pretty good in run support, which raises his overall grade to C-.
 
Michael Griffin: F
He was absolutely, far and away the worst player on Tennessee’s defense this year. Hands down. No contest. Yes, a lot worse than Harper. Griffin was absolutely terrible in pass coverage and didn’t contribute much on run defense either.
 
Cortland Finnegan: C+
Another guy who had an off year. Funny how guys who were Pro Bowlers in 2008 had “off years” when the pass rush wasn’t there in ’09. In fairness to Finny, he was hampered with a hamstring injury for a while.
 
Nick Harper: D+
This is the guy that was hurt the most by the lack of a consistent pass rush but his coverage was still better than Griffin’s. Like Hope, he was good against the run, which raised his overall grade.
 
Vincent Fuller: C+
Although he didn’t have a strong year, when he was out his absence was noticeable. Fuller did come up with some big plays, three picks, two for scores.
 
Jason McCourty: D+
McCourty was thrown into the fire when Finnegan was out. Yes, he was burned, but when you consider two of his three starts were against Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, he played about as well as you could reasonably expect.
 
Ryan Mouton: D+
Similar situation as McCourty’s, he replaced Fuller at nickel and then Harper at corner. This grade is solely for his play as a defensive back and not as a punt/kick returner.
 
Rod Hood: C-
Making three picks is not enough to raise his grade, when you consider he was in the wrong place at the right time on at least one of those plays. Having said that, I do believe he was an upgrade over Harper in coverage. Hood’s run support, or lack of it, was the reason he wasn’t graded higher.
 
Overall grade for the secondary: D
  
Overall grade for the defense: C-
 
What do you think of these grades? Where was I too harsh or too lenient on somebody?
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