How the Titans’ Secondary has actually Improved
The Tennessee Titans are one of the most talked about teams heading into the 2017 NFL Season. Playoff contenders, division champions, and the latest prediction of a 12-4 record are conversations the Titans have not been the subject of for years.
Now, they must live up to all the expectations to prove the hype is real. Led by QB Marcus Mariota, the Titans have added new offensive firepower to the receiving corps – which outside of Rishard Matthews and Delanie Walker’s contributions – was a low spot lacking elite level talent.
Add Eric Decker, and three rookie pass catchers in Corey Davis, Taywan Taylor, and Jonnu Smith to the mix. Tennessee’s lackluster offensive receiving weapons have transformed into a potentially dangerous group that will help improve the passing attack by leaps and bounds.
The running game that was the Titans identity is returning in full force. DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry will carve up defenses and should have even more space to work with if the passing game truly has improved. Rookie RB Khalfani Muhammad looks to prove that size doesn’t matter when running behind the league’s best offensive line. He could be a nice change of pace speedster that can do major damage in space.
The Defense is the only concerning aspect of this Titans team. There are no questions about the Jurrell Casey-led defensive line – they’ll do their part. The linebacker corps will toe the line led by veterans Brian Orakpo and Derrick Morgan. Avery Williamson will continue to rack up tackles and Wesley Woodyard will continue to bring enthusiasm and leadership.
The biggest concern is how will the secondary avoid from being the weak link that could contribute to the Titans not meeting expectations.
But, will the secondary be worse than a unit that ranked 25th last season?
I don’t’ think it will be worse. And it could be a lot better than expected. Below are charts that outline the production of the Titans’ secondary losses, key returns, and additions.
Who They Lost
Of the names mentioned above, no loss is that detrimental to the team. McCourty would be the most notable loss – mainly because he brought stability, leadership, and the occasional interception.
Then, there’s the old saying of addition by subtraction. This is true for Blake and Cox. The team will be better off without those two, who were big reasons for the Titans’ woes both on the defensive and special teams departments.
Although Cox had a few key interceptions, he was getting roasted almost every play. Some of the key defensive plays that lost the game were plays he gave up.
Who They Kept
Byard came on strong towards the end of the year. Despite the stat reflecting zero interceptions, Byard came very close quite a bit. He’ll have used the offseason to address that area of his game and turn “almosts” into “sure things”.
Sims also came through late in the season and had some season defining plays that helped keep the Titans in contention for the post season. Searcy and McCain bring the veteran experience to the group. They’ll look to use their experience to help them contribute to the defensive unit and mentor the younger players throughout their growing pains.
Who They Added
Adding veterans Logan Ryan and Johnathan Cyprien’s production to the defensive unit will be a factor in how much the team did/did not improve from last season. Ryan has been criticized and some do not consider him a shutdown corner. Cyprien’s criticism stems from his struggles in coverage. Dick LeBeau will find the perfect schemes that allow both Ryan and Cyprien to excel in what they do best.
Compared to the secondary losses, the new boys on the block have 4 interceptions compared to the 6 of their predecessors. However, they did register one more tackle. It’s interesting to note that Trawick and Hurst both recorded a pick while only contributing in a combined 25.5% defensive snaps. Not sure if Hurst makes the team, but if he has a good camp and a productive preseason, he may make the cut. Trawick is in, and despite being brought in as a Special Teams ace – he may prove he’s more than just a one trick pony.
Adoree’ Jackson – the 18th overall selection – will be put in position to prove he was worthy of a first-round pick. His skills as a returner are unquestionable. But Jackson is aware that the Titans’ didn’t just draft him to return kicks and punts. They know that’s a bonus of adding him to the squad. How he produces as a cornerback at the next level is what leaves some uncertain if he was the answer to improve the secondary.
Jackson thrives off this. He will approach the pressure with a calm, cool attitude. He’s confident in his abilities and will have the opportunity to finally dedicate 100% of his focus to refining his game. Camp battles with the Titans’ receiving core will help him improve. LeBeau will be providing his guidance and expertise and – as mentioned above – will utilize Jackson’s skill set to the scheme’s advantage.
With training camp just days away, the Titans will be that much closer to answering questions about how their secondary will hold up this season.
Jackson’s production as a cornerback may make those who questioned the pick have second thoughts.
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Statistics referenced at pro-football-reference.com and nfl.com
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