Tennessee Titans third preseason game review: Defense

After covering the offense yesterday, I turn my attention to an in-depth review of how the Titans’ defense performed in the 27-16 win over the Atlanta Falcons.

General disclaimers apply to this post in spades. Preseason production values meant some plays were hard to break down. Camera work, while better than it was the first game, was still not up to regular season quality. Coaches film is not available for preseason games, so unless there was a good replay (rare), identifying precisely things like how a running lane was disrupted or coverages is an exercise in educated guesswork. What I write below, as is the case in just about every post I write, is what I saw and think rather than definitive statements of ffact.

Defensive line
Depth chart, roughly:
1. Derrick Morgan (36 snaps)-Jurrell Casey (34 snaps)-Antonio Johnson (23 snaps)-Lavar Edwards (35 snaps)
2. Keyunta Dawson (24 snaps)/Kamerion Wimbley (21 snaps)-Stefan Charles (14 snaps)/DaJohn Harris (8 snaps)-Zach Clayton (12 snaps)-Karl Klug (21 snaps)

Depth chart (nickel):
1. Morgan-Klug-Mike Martin (20 snaps)-Wimbley
2. Dawson/Nigel Nicholas (5)-Martin-Edwards-Wimbley

N.B. depth charts are once again an extraordinarily rough approximation of what the Titans lined up in. Dawson played in place of Morgan on the first-team nickel. Casey played on the first-team nickel. Dawson played in place of Wimbley on the first-team nickel.

The big question is just how much of the first team’s pass rush production was a result of their efforts and how much was the result of some sub-standard work by the Falcons offensive line, which has weaker links at left guard, right guard, and right tackle, where the Titans got the majority of their pressure. Straightforward stunts like T-E resulted in both players getting pressure  That is not supposed to happen.

Among individual players, Derrick Morgan did some good work in pass rushing. So did Jurrell Casey and Mike Martin. Antonio Johnson did not do as much in the pass game, but even against the first-string offensive line he did not stay blocked but instead showed good pursuit. Lavar Edwards had a couple moments, though if I had to give mental single-game grades, he probably still comes out fifth among the defensive linemen.

Linebackers
Depth chart:
1. Patrick Bailey (21 snaps)-Moise Fokou (40 snaps)-Tim Shaw (36 snaps)
2. Scott Solomon (10 snaps)-Kadarron Anderson (24 snaps)-Jonathan “Tig” Willard (13 snaps)

Depth chart (nickel)
1. Fokou-Shaw
2. Anderson-Willard

With Zach Brown and Akeem Ayers out, the linebacker depth chart means little to me for this game, though I would have liked to see Wimbely get some snaps at SLB instead of just filling Ayers’ DE spot in the first unit nickel. In the scheme of things, no linebacker particularly stood out to me. Willard had a nice interception, but he was in a zone coverage of some sort and Davis threw it right to him without noticing he was there. There were other good plays and less impressive plays, but no lasting memory stands out, especially with Anderson already cut.

Cornerbacks
Depth chart:
1. Jason McCourty (40 snaps)-Alterruan Verner (25 snaps)/Tommie Campbell (39 snaps)
2. Coty Sensabaugh (41 snaps)-Campbell

Slot CB:
1. Sensabaugh
2. Blidi Wreh-Wilson (11 snaps)

On review, less of Julio Jones’ damage came against Verner than it felt like live. Verner still had the couple penalties and a big play, but the other grabs were less his fault than I remember and Jones did more against other players. But we did not see Jones targeted with Campbell on him when Campbell was in the lineup. Given the disclaimer, discerning to what degree this is a causal relationship is impossible for me.

Some of the credit for the pass rush goes to the coverage, though identifying which players deserve how much credit is once again too hard for me to do reliably. I had Coty Sensabaugh down for a couple notable positive plays, one in coverage and one against the run, a key job if he will be the slot corner once again. No Verner reps in the slot tell me their decision at that position has pretty much been made.

Safety
Depth chart:
1. Bernard Pollard (40 snaps)-Michael Griffin (41 snaps)
2. George Wilson (40 snaps)-Corey Lynch (24 snaps)

Deprth chart (3S):
1. Wilson
2. Al Afalava (8 snaps)

A more extended tryout for Lynch this game, but otherwise I have only a limited amount to report. Wilson seemed to be around the ball a lot, including in coverage, and looked like I thought he would-like he was in roughly the right place but even in a strong safety role I do not love him in coverage. He did have a nice tackle to prevent a first down in the open field, though, and helped blow up a draw play inside the 10.

Defensive personnel notes

The Titans played base 4-3, 4-2-5 nickel with a cornerback, 4-2-5 nickel with a safety, and what looked like 4-1-6 dime with three safeties and three corners. This was more personnel diversity than I noticed the previous two games. I suspect linebacker injuries, particularly Brown’s, had a lot to do with how much sub package the Titans played, especially the 4-2-5 with three safeties.

The Titans dialed up the blitz a fair amount and it was part of the success of the pass rush. I would not like to see that as much against a Falcons team with Roddy White in addition to Julio Jones, but the Titans are unlikely to meet the Falcons in a meaningful game until 2015.

Conclusion-type things

On the whole, a much more positive performance than we saw the first two preseason games.

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