Tennessee Titans defense reason for optimism

Brian Orakpo has led the Tennessee Titans defense to a surprisingly promising start over the first four games considering how poorly the unit was ranked last season.
Christopher Hanewincke/USA TODAY Sports

By David Bradford

I know it is easy right now for Tennessee Titan fans to point at rookie quarterback Marcus Mariota as the central reason for continuously growing optimism, and while Mariota deserves credit for bringing stability to a position the Titans have not had stability at in nearly a decade, the Titans also feature a number of additional optimistic components to their team.

The Titans possess a young, but promising receiving core that features Justin Hunter, Kendall Wright and rookie Dorial Green-Beckham. They have three running backs who play different roles, Bishop Sankey being the elusive back, Dexter McCluster being the most diverse, and David Cobb (when he returns) the power back.

What is slipping under the radar is the performance of the Titans defense, which has gone from one of the worst defenses in the league last season to one of the most rapidly improving.

If we look at side-by-side comparisons from last season to this season, it is evident that the offseason acquisitions of cornerback Perish Cox, outside linebacker Brian Orakpo, safety Da’Norris Searcy and defensive innovater/wizard/genius Dick LeBeau have had an immensely positive impact on the team. So has defensive tackle Jurrell Casey, who has been dominant all season.

Through four games, the Titans defense currently ranks third overall in yards per game, compared to their 27th place finish last season. In third down defense, the Titans have allowed the fewest third down conversions (15) and rank third overall in conversion percentage, allowing slightly over 31% of third downs to be converted, compared to a 19th place finish last season. Despite playing one fewer game than the teams ranked ahead of them, the Titans’ 13 sacks on the season are the ninth best in the NFL. They are on pace to record 52 sacks after recording a 16th best 39 last season.

The most substantial improvement comes in the pass defense, which has been downright dominant for the majority of the season, aside from a couple of big passing plays from Johnny Manziel and a fourth quarter collapse against Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts. Overall, the Titans pass defense ranks first in yards per game (167), third in opposing quarterback’s completion percentage (55.2%) and have not allowed a 300-yard passer thus far.

The Titans currently have the 8th best defensive efficiency rating according to Football Outsiders, a far cry from their 2014 29th overall rank.

The quarterback position is the most important position in football and the Titans do have a promising young quarterback, but what does not need to be ignored is the sudden refinement of their defensive unit. The Titans do have lapses in the running game at times, especially when they allowed Buffalo Bills’ quarterback Tyrod Taylor to convert a crucial 3rd & 23 with his legs, but for the most part, the Titans defense has been the brightest spot for the team this season.

Quarterbacks receive the most attention, but no team can pose a legitimate Super Bowl threat without a defense that can make plays. The Titans defense has been making plays all season. With time, the defense will correct their mistakes and slowly turn into one of the league’s top defenses, which they already have accomplished.

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