Titans focus on finishing games, limiting 4th-quarter points
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Mike Vrabel knows any improvement this year on defense for the Tennessee Titans starts with how they finish games.
Not giving up an average of 8 ½ points in the fourth quarter would be a big step forward.
“We’re going to do a better job of finishing games and understanding that’s when you have to be at your best is late in those games,” the Titans first-year coach said. “And whether it’s offensively there was a turnover or what you have you, but if you look at the numbers 8 ½ points in the fourth quarter.”
The Titans finished 9-7 last season, not good enough even with a playoff victory to save Mike Mularkey’s job . Getting the most out of quarterback Marcus Mariota prompted the coaching change, but the Titans have plenty of room for improvement on defense where Vrabel’s 14 years’ experience as a linebacker and four years as an assistant coach in the NFL should pay dividends.
Vrabel looked at what Tennessee did last season and liked how the Titans ranked fourth in the NFL against the run giving up just 88.8 yards per game. Yes, that’s something where he wants them to be better too. They also tied for fifth with 43 sacks. All-Pro safety Kevin Byard led the league with 10 total takeaways.
But the Titans finished 17th in points allowed, giving up an average of 21.7 points per game. Tennessee struggled in fourth quarters, giving up 138 fourth-quarter points.
“Just going out there and finishing the games,” cornerback Adoree Jackson said. “Some games we start off strong, sometimes in the second half points got put on us and it was a battle going through. For us, keep pushing, fighting and everyone says, ‘Keep the pedal to the metal.'”
Vrabel lured Dean Peas out of retirement to be his defensive coordinator, replacing Dick LeBeau. Peas quickly won over the Titans with his plans to switch up the defensive fronts with the possibility of flipping outside linebackers Brian Orakpo and Derrick Morgan to chase quarterbacks, and Orakpo loves what Peas wants to do.
“It’s attack-attack-attack,” Orakpo said. “That’s what it’s all about. You’re going to see all kinds of different packages. I’m not giving away nothing right now, but man, we’ve got a lot in store to free up a lot of guys, get some good matchups, flip-flop here and there, just all kinds of different things. I’m excited about this defense.”
The Titans also bolstered the defense by signing cornerback Malcolm Butler , who’s been installed as a starter opposite his former Patriots’ teammate Logan Ryan, and drafting linebackers Rashaan Evans and Harold Landry . Evans has missed most of the preseason with an undisclosed injury, but Landry has taken advantage of a shoulder injury sidelining Orakpo since the second day of training camp to get plenty of work.
Two-time Pro Bowl left tackle Taylor Lewan has been giving Landry tips throughout the preseason. Morgan, who’s also been helping Landry, likes what he sees in how the Titans will be able to attack opponents.
“You always want to attack on defense and in an intelligent way,” Morgan said. “We have a lot of different things that we can do schematic-wise. They do a good job of putting us in the right position to be successful.”
NOTES: Butler, Morgan and TE Delanie Walker did not practice for a fourth straight day with undisclosed injuries. Both missed last week’s game against Tampa Bay. Orakpo (shoulder), Evans, S Kendrick Lewis and WR Michael Campanaro also did not practice Thursday. WR Rishard Matthews ran routes and caught passes before practice, appearing closer to being removed from the physically unable to perform list.