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2021 Opponent Scouting Report: Week 8 Titans Defense- Ready for a letdown?

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Tennessee Titans Steve Roberts-USA TODAY Sports

Overview

On October 31st, 2021 the Indianapolis Colts will host the Tennessee Titans. In this week eight match-up, I sought to understand our opponent and get a better idea of how they may attack our Colts.

In week three these two teams squared off in a divisional matchup that Colts fans would like to forget. There is reason to hope the Colts might fare better this time around but the Titans aren’t going to come into town and just lay down. Not many “experts” are going to be picking Indy to win this one. So we’ll take a look at changes both teams have undergone in the past five weeks and compare them with what happened in week three. In the end, you’ll have a better idea of what to expect than almost every single expert you’ll see on your favorite pregame show this weekend.

Let’s see what we can expect in week eight.


Defensive System

The Titans run a base 3-4 defense but like every other 3-4 defense, you will see them in a variety of alignments from having four defensive linemen to having one or two with three or four linebackers on the field with them. On the back end of things the Titans want to play man coverage with a single deep safety. If you can play “cover one” effectively it can allow for more freedom from your front seven to do things like stop the run and rush the passer. Cover one is the easiest coverage to understand, as it’s just man to man coverage with a single safety whose job is to stay as deep as the deepest receiver and to make sure that guy isn’t open. Obviously that’s what the Titans prefer to do but no one can, or should, play one coverage all game long. From time to time they will mix it up and give different looks.

A season ago the Titans defense ranked near the bottom of the league in almost every category but turnovers forced. The Titans also tied an NFL record for the fewest number of sacks for a playoff team with 19. Not only was it a record setting result, it was third worst in the league. So far this season . The biggest reason for that success isn’t a scheme related change but it is worth mentioning. The Titans do blitz from time to time but they rely on other tactics to generate a rush more often than not.

Stunts and loops

The Titans love to stunt one defensive tackle one way or the other and loop the other DT behind them. Russell Wilson held the ball for about an hour (he was trying to make a play late in the game, I don’t blame him for hanging in too long here) in the pocket before the looper got free and provided a rush, but nonetheless this is the Titans go-to in passing situations.

Delayed stunt

Here the DT running the stunt does a great job engaging the left guard before crashing down into the center. This allows him to grab onto the arm of the left guard and keep him from being able to get out to block the DT coming behind him. The fact that the left guard was trying to get his right hand free tells me that this was defensive holding.

Good luck getting that call.

Unless offensive linemen have their jersey on sideways after the play, the DT’s aren’t likely to draw a flag. This is something that the Indy offensive line needs to be aware of and try to defend against. They need to all be on the same page passing defenders off to combat these stunts.

Another stunt and loop on third down

The defensive line does it again but Kyler Murray is ridiculous. This is almost impossible to defend.

Number one stunters

Another stunt up front and this one got home. The Titans still won that game but the officials missed this call in my opinion.

Effective stunt from week three

Here the Titans actually cut block the right tackle and Mark Glowinski isn’t able to recover quick enough to stop the rush effectively. If Chris Reed continues to get the majority of snaps at right guard I don’t see this being as effective as it was in the clip above, this week. But it’s still something to look for up front.

Cover one

Like I said above the Titans like to play man cover one, that’s what they’re in here when they get beaten by a good throw and catch. Also, the defensive line stunted again.

The Titans sent a lot of pressure in week three

In week three Carson Wentz could barely walk so it made sense to try to send pressure as often as possible and they did so with a lot of success. Wentz looked uncomfortable all day long, unable to move out of harms way, with rushers in his face we saw a lot of plays that looked like this one.

And this one

Eric Fisher has improved as the season has gone on, this clip makes that very apparent. That said it would be difficult to imagine a worse start to the season for the Colts starting left tackle.

Double stunts

Here the Titans sent stunt and loops on both sides of the line. The Colts offensive line did a good enough job picking them up this time around but this is another example of what this defense will try to do to generate a pass rush up front.

Schematically they don’t do a ton of exotic things that will confuse an experienced quarterback like Carson Wentz. As of right now we can’t confirm that Jacob Eason doesn’t get confused by coverage he sees at pickup flag football games, so Sunday could be interesting.


Defensive Line

The Titans set out to fix their putrid pass rush by adding former Colt Denico Autry and former Steeler Bud Dupree. Autry has 3.5 sacks on the season and while Dupree has missed three games due to injury. The most surprising part of this defense (to me at least) has been Harold Landry who already has 7.5 sacks on the season. Landry had 9 sacks in 2019 and 5.5 in 2020 and right now he is on pace to blow those numbers out of the water. I’ve always liked Landry as a player but he is producing at a completely different level than ever before.

Ultimately this defensive line is playing really well. This defense has played well recently and they largely have this unit to thank for that.

Nowhere to step up into

The Titans drafted Jeffery Simmons with the 19th overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. Had he not been injured at the time, he probably wouldn’t have been available for the Titans to take. Simmons is a good, young, defensive tackle. Here he and Denico Autry combine for the sack off of one of the Titans patented stunt and loops and the outside rush containing the passer in the pocket.

Autry

Here Autry is lined up as a defensive end, he does a good job of staying active and not giving up on the play. Russell Wilson is pushed back up in the pocket and Autry gets off his block to go clean up the sack. A lot of Autry’s production seems to come this way but there is absolutely value in a guy who just never gives up on a play.

Titans get a stop

Here Jeffery Simmons (I believe) and former undrafted free agent Teair Tart combine for the big run stop. The Seahawks offensive line couldn’t get a push on these two on this one.

It’s a lot easier when no one blocks you

Here former second round pick Harold Landy gets pressure on the quarterback, mostly because no one really blocked him, the right tackle just sort of rode him right into the QB’s path. Even when he is getting blocked well, Landry is a really good pass rusher.

No replacement for displacement

If the Titans send out three defensive linemen, three linebackers and leave to safeties deep, I’m not sure what they thought was going to happen. At this point in the season the Colts running game is firing on all cylinders and I hope that the Titans are content giving Indy a lot of looks like this one.

There are a couple other guys you might see on Sunday that I didn’t mention above. One of them is Larrell Murchison a second year defensive tackle out of NC State. He’s missed a few games but he played against the Chiefs a week ago and should see the field. The other guy I want to mention is Naquan Jones. Jones has seen between 30% and 42% of the Titans defensive snaps the past three weeks, so it’s safe to assume he’ll be out there on Sunday.


Linebackers

The names to know at linebacker are Rashaan Evans and David Long. Evans seems to be a good tackler but I really struggled to see what else he did well in while watching him play. David Long is mostly fine, but again I don’t know that he’s really good at much of anything.

Mismatch

Getting any receiver matched up with Evans in the middle of the field is a mismatch for the offense. Hopefully the Colts take advantage.

These guys really sell out to stop the run

The Titans have given up the 9th fewest rushing yards this season. Although they’ve seen the fifth fewest attempts, they’ve clearly placed an emphasis on crashing down on opposing ball carriers.

Evans with the stop

Here Evans did a good job getting through the junk and getting a hat on the ball carrier. If he did this more often I would be super concerned about Evans.

Look at the numbers

The way the Colts had this play drawn up meant that Ashton Dulin and Jack Doyle were basically two on four against the Titans defense. I don’t care if you’re a good linebacker or not, unless you’re playing a 26 year old Barry Sanders, you’re going to make that tackle. Hopefully Frank is finished trying to make the Ashton Dulin end around a thing.

Still biting hard

The Colts did not have a great day running the ball in week three but that didn’t stop these linebackers from biting hard on play action. Given where the offense is five weeks after this game I expect to see quite a bit of play action from Carson Wentz and I don’t see any reason why we should expect these ‘backers to bite any less hard.


Defensive Backs

If you thought the Colts defensive backfield has been riddled with injuries, you would be correct, however these Titans DB’s have had a very rough go of things. So far they’ve lost rookie first round pick Caleb Farley for the season and Kristian Fulton, who has been playing very well, has missed the past two games on IR and will miss his third game this weekend.

The Titans, like the Colts have been playing with Corners called up from the practice squad, guys like Greg Mabin and Breon Borders. The guys they have healthy who they haven’t had to call up like Jackrabbit Jenkins (real name now, I guess) and Elijah Molden are giving it everything they have but neither man is great in coverage. Chris Jackson was a healthy scratch against the Chiefs.

In a turn of events that literally no one saw coming practice squad call-up Greg Mabin played 100% of the Titans defensive snaps against the Chiefs and he looked like their best cornerback. It will be interesting to see how Mabin looks this weekend, if he can repeat the performance or if he just had one spectacular day.

Missed opportunity

Last Sunday the entire world watched as Michael Pittman Jr. made big plays in big situations. In week three we saw him win this route and have the pass sail incomplete. Five weeks later Wentz and Pittman seem to be on the same page. Pittman shouldn’t have any trouble getting open this week.

Attacking the zone

Wentz was able to find open receivers sitting down in zone coverage like in the play above. Wentz had his worst game as a Colt in week three due to his injured ankles. Opportunities like the one above are still going to be there and now that Wentz is much closer to 100%, I believe that we will see him have a much bigger day this week.

Kevin Byard is playing really well

For most of his career Kevin Byard has been a ballhawk. He had a down year in 2020 only intercepting one pass but he has three so far in 2021. Wentz looked like he was trying to give the ball away at times against the 49ers. It’s not going to rain Sunday inside Lucas Oil Stadium, Byard isn’t dropping the ball if Wentz throws one his way.

This secondary has been hit with injuries and won’t be anywhere close to full strength. The Colts should be able to take advantage of this group but that’s not to say they’ll be able to get away with making the kind of mistakes they got away with a week ago.


Final Thoughts

This Titans defense has turned in a couple of really good performances in a row. Based on the talent they have at linebacker and in the secondary I don’t think they can continue their level of play for the rest of the season. These players just aren’t that good. Up front they have some really solid players but that’s not enough to play great defense for 17 games.

Will this defense have a let down in week eight? I’m not sure. But I believe the Colts will be able to move the ball on the ground and Pittman will be able to get open and make plays in the back end of this Titans defense, which will open things up for Pascal, Alie-Cox and Hilton- if he’s available.

Week three was only five weeks ago but this Colts offense feels like a different team.