Not allowing big plays focus for improving Titans defense
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Tennessee has the NFL’s stingiest defense against the pass, ranks third in fewest yards allowed and has the most sacks per pass play. A couple Titans even rank among the league’s sack leaders.
But giving up big plays at the wrong time has hurt them during a three-game skid.
The Titans gave up a 24-yard run on third-and-23 when they had Buffalo backed up to its own 7, and Indianapolis converted not one, but two plays on third-and-20. Tennessee blew double-digit leads in both those games. In Cleveland, they gave up two touchdown passes of 50 yards or longer.
Even in their opening win at Tampa Bay, Jameis Winston threw a 41-yard TD pass.
”The bottom line is that isn’t the first time that’s happened, and we have to eliminate that,” Titans assistant head coach Dick LeBeau said Thursday. ”We can’t allow that to happen plain and simple. All of us, coaches, players, we can’t let that situation happen again, and I’m very positive that it’s not going to happen again, not like it has happened.”
The Titans rank third allowing 283.5 yards per game with a league-best 166.5 yards passing allowed. Tennessee sacks the quarterback 11.9 percent of pass plays, and they allow a league-fewest 15.5 first downs per game. Only Denver and Houston have been better on third-down with opponents converting only 31.3 percent of the time against the Titans.
Last season, the Titans ranked 27th giving up 373 yards per game. Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt credits the improvement to the second year of being in the defense scheme with coordinator Ray Horton. They also brought in veteran linebacker Brian Orakpo, cornerback Perrish Cox and safety Da’Norris Searcy.
LeBeau, the Hall of Fame cornerback and defensive guru, was their biggest addition.
”I think when he stands up in front of the defense and he talks to them, certainly when he says, `You guys are a good unit and we are going to be a really good unit,’ it lends a lot to guys believing in that,” Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt said. ”A lot of this game is mental, and that helps.”
After Tyrod Taylor ran for 24 yards, the Buffalo quarterback also completed a 46-yard pass to set up the winning touchdown.
”If we don’t give up a third-and-23, we don’t see any play that takes place after that,” cornerback Jason McCourty said. ”So obviously we have to improve on being able to knock the ball down, catch it on the deep throws. But we also have to improve just in situational football.”
Only two players in the NFL have more sacks than linebacker Derrick Morgan who has 4 1/2 through four games, and tackle Jurrell Casey has 3 1/2.
The Miami Dolphins (1-3), who visit Sunday, have only one sack as a team.
Morgan credits the offense, which is tied with Washington for best time of possession in the NFL, for keeping the defense fresh and limiting the number of plays they see. That allows them to be more aggressive.
Along with the big plays, the Titans also need to improve when backed up near their own goal line. Opponents are scoring on 75 percent of drives inside the Tennessee 20. The Titans have forced seven fumbles but recovered only one.
”We’re by no means where we want to be defensively,” Morgan said. ”We have a lot of room for improvement, the red zone being one of them. We have to do a better job keeping guys out of the end zone.”
Notes: LB Avery Williamson (hamstring), NT Sammie Hill (right knee/illness), and LT Taylor Lewan (left shoulder) were limited Thursday. TE Anthony Fasano (concussion) and S Michael Griffin practiced fully after sitting out Wednesday. … TE Chase Coffman missed practice for the birth of his baby.
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